Fix This!

By Greg Bronson

OK, so I’m really into AV stuff. And, along the same line, use of IT tools has long intrigued me. Whether AV or IT, new technology often gets my wheels turning on what’s possible. And, while it’s one thing to kick the tires to learn about (new) features, it’s a homerun when new technology gets applied for enhanced communications, with perhaps the epitome being the use of a new gadget in a public (presentation) forum.

Ah yes, technology is great! …When it works. And when it doesn’t, a plea is likely to be forthcoming: “Fix This!”

Ever have one of those bad technology days (or weeks) when it seems everything you touch doesn’t work right?  You know you’re in a real funk when it’s not just the cutting edge stuff, but even the clothes dryer stops working! But, the public doesn’t see the wet laundry hanging all over the back room after the dryer breaks. So, who’s interested in having their “undies” shown when technology fails in public?

Of course, no real end user does.  But when it happens, there is great opportunity for those that come to the rescue. 

Back in the day, I counted myself as a skilled troubleshooter. I’m sad to say due to a “use it or loose it” reality, those particular skills have been in decline for some years.  But, I do still get tool box envy when the experts arrive on scene!  Anyway, while the technology has changed, these tried and true troubleshooting processes have not:

Error detection.  Out of the gate, one must know if it is user error or a technology problem.  Most technology problems are repeatable, and without laying blame, any additional details (with the best being able to watch a duplicate scenario of what lead up to the problem) from the real end user is invaluable.

Remain Calm.  Whether you are a technology failure victim, or rescuer, emotion needs to be suppressed.  Backup plans help, and for higher profile events, ideally a two person rescue team is on hand.  One, as facilitator, is designated to assure the presenter and begin prep for backup; the other, as repair technician, troubleshoots the technical issue.  The facilitator must be calming, but also share the presenter’s sense of urgency.

Keep it simple.  By their very nature, backup plans need to be simple.  While this seems obvious, it is likely not obvious to a cutting edge technology end user.  Talk ’em (or yourself?) down, way down, to a rock solid, temporary backup.  We’re talkin’ plain white boxers, here.

Pursue.  As the saying goes, stuff happens!  However, with technology, there is certainly a “root cause.”   Don’t let up until it is found.  No disrespect to solder iron masters (I, myself, once soldered a circuit board trace so small I used a magnifying glass and piece of audio transformer winding as jumper), but the real hard part can be troubleshooting and isolating the root cause (finding that bad trace took days). 

PM.  Preventative maintenance, at its core, should do just that — provide maintenance to prevent something unpredictable from happening.  It also may include pursuing a root cause not previously resolved.  While I once knew a guy who swore that WD-40® represented a preventative maintenance program in the form of a can, a real PM is much more comprehensive.  Today, that includes software upgrades, in addition to physical device maintenance.  It also includes verifying accurate up-to-date documentation.

So, especially in these lean times, make sure your (rescue) service includes solid troubleshooting principles. Whether you are rescuer, victim, or facilitator, don’t let a bad experience prevent you from forging ahead.  And remember to hug a rescuer today, because they understand how to respond to: “Fix This!”

The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of the authors? employer(s), past or present.


Greg Bronson, CTS-D, applies AV technologies in the development of innovative learning spaces for higher education. Greg spent the first 10 years of his career as AV technician and service manager, with the past 12 years as an AV system designer and project manager. Bronson currently works for Cornell University and has also worked for two SUNY (State University of New York) campuses as well as a regional secondary education service depot.  Bronson is the originator of concept for Infocomm’s Dashboard for Controls and has had completed projects featured in industry publications.   You can reach Greg at gregthetechie@netscape.net