Emails that don’t let you ever stop working

I got an unexpected Christmas present from a customer. One of those emails that makes impossible for you to ever stop.

“First I want to thank your for creating ConnectCAD.  I originally used Visio for all of my A/V drawings, but it was never meant for this use and was slow and cumbersome.  I built a TV station from the ground up last year and did the drawings in Visio.  After that experience I decided to look at other software to aid me in my A/V drawings

I then tried X but it crashed too often and I didn’t care for how regimented it was in making you put your devices and cables in a database.  I also looked at Y, but it seemed like I would have the same issues of X.

Then I tried ConnectCAD and haven’t looked back since.  I just got done rebuilding a TV station (they went from analog to complete HD) and had the drawings done in record time.

On ethical grounds I’ve deleted his specific references to certain products. The disadvantages of other companies software is irrelevant. What matters to me is knowing that what I’m do is making a difference to peoples lives the world over.

Emails that make you think

Every now and then I get a mail that overturns my assumptions. In the many years I’ve spent designing broadcast systems the task was to understand the need, create a concept design, write tender specifications (formal or otherwise), send out a call for bids, select the final gear and complete detailed design.

But yesterday a designer told me the kind of brief he often hears from his bosses.

“We’ve bought a station group in <major US city>. We  need to move them from SD to HD by the end of the year. They are an Evertz house, with a Sony switcher. We just signed a huge deal with Grass Valley/Miranda/a Belden Brand. Get it built using the Miranda version of whatever you need. In fact, use all Miranda audio processing gear. Maybe leave the Sony switcher. We’ll see.”

“On occasion stuff just lands on a loading dock, and we need to make it work.”

So the big manufacturers are setting the rules. One day I’ll have no more assumptions left and I’ll be a free man…

CAD for the mad, mad world

Ever been involved in one of those projects where the client doesn’t know what they want? the budget and the goals keep changing and the deadline is yesterday?

Of course you have. That pretty much describes every project in the world of show business. The situation can get under your skin when you have work to get finished and there are consequences if you don’t. But that’s how the world is – the question is can we live in it?

Broadcast System Design
Photo by Jan Starzak

Back in the day when I was a broadcast systems designer it was terribly hard to progress under these conditions. Each change of wishes and resources meant painstaking re-drawing and re-calculating everything. Computers came along, but the software we had was little more than a glorified piece of paper. The big bonus was that you didn’t have to cover the screen in Tippex every time you needed to change something.

With CAD we got pristine beautiful drawings of the state of play about a week ago. But producing  drawings and keeping them up to date was almost as slow as doing them in pencil. Remember the old joke? ” What does IBM stand for? It’s Better Manually !!! ”

I have the advantage that I’m not that young and the first personal computer emerged just as I was finishing college. So as a true geek (to the consternation of my parents) instead of putting down a deposit on a house, I spend my entire savings and bought one. It was just as exciting as I’d expected. I switched it on, it beeped and a glowing green > prompt flashed at me on the screen. That was all. But you could program it in BASIC. And happy months passed as I taught this dumb box more and more tricks.
Hidden deep inside MiniCAD was a script editor and while I was spending another late night at the office drawing yet another distribution amplifier I began to think, ” what if I taught the computer to do this for me”. I stopped working on the project and dusting off my dormant programming skills I began to build some macros to make my life a bit easier.

The whole thing spiraled wildly out of control. The macros became longer and more complicated and then they started talking to each other. In the process I had bent MiniCAD (by then called Vectorworks) away from being merely tool for a visual  representation into an actual functional model of the systems I was designing.

example of schematic design in connectCAD

Suddenly deadlines held no terror for me. Change requests – welcome. Updates processed in seconds. Reports – no problem. It was way to good to keep to myself.

Finally CAD for the mad, mad world. A program that lets you get started on a “normal” project with no clear goals, unknown resources and budget. Where changing your mind is not a crime to be punished by hours of hard labour, but just a natural way of evolving your thoughts.

It’s called connectCAD.