On Language, Juggling, Lunchtime in the Park, AV, and Networks

bryantpark-0214Quite a few years ago I earned the CTS (Certified Technical Specialist) certification from InfoComm. Last year I began studying to take the ICND1 (Interconnected Network Devices) in pursuit of my first-ever Cisco certification. Last week I started learning to throw a juggling pattern called a 4,4,1.

What do these three seemingly disparate items have in common? At their core, they are all largely about language.

We’ll start with the end, at 4,4,1. It’s a fairly simple trick with which I’m still trying to convince my hands to cooperate. Throw a ball straight up with the right hand, then straight up with the left hand, then zip the third ball straight across from right to left. Repeat in the other direction. Repeat in the first direction again. It looks pretty nifty, and can lead to other tricks.

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Office Juggling Selfie!

The part I didn’t get (aside from the accurate catching and throwing, which kept eluding me) was the name. Finally, I asked one of the more experienced of the Bryant Park Jugglers. For those of you who don’t know, Bryant Park is a smallish park behind the main branch of the New York Public Library on 42nd Street. It has a lawn in the summer, an ice-skating rink in the winter, a fountain, a carousel, a statue of Gertrude Stein and, of course, jugglers (and ping-pong, and even the occasional super-literate topless women – link NSFW). The answer was simple: A “one” throw is that quick lateral pass, and a “2” is the ball held in hand for a beat. After that, the numbers sync up with the number of balls one would be juggling: a three is a lob from side to side as if it were part of a three ball cascade. A straight up and down toss caught by the same hand that threw it is a “four” because that’s what you throw when juggling four balls. A double-height three is a five because the standard five-ball patter is like a three only higher. Etc.

Why is this exciting to me, and why is it important? For the same reason that the CTS was important, and the same reason that a basic understanding of routing and switching is important. I’ve described the most important part of the CTS as learning the language of AV; someone who passes might not know enough to install, test, commission or design an AV system, but they would know enough to talk about it. Knowing the names of various connector types, what various signal formats are called, and other technical terms is the first step to being able to learn more. Before newcomers to the industry for example, can learn about various methods of EDID management and emulation they need to know what EDID is in the first place. To give instructions on wiring, testing, routing, and patching a video-edit system without the assumption that ones audience will understand the terms “SDI,” “BNC,” “Router,” “Patch-panel,” or “coax” is an exercise in frustration; it would be like having to describe what a steering wheel, a tire or a road is before giving someone directions to your house.

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This goes a long way to explaining why I’m approaching network certifications. Not only are modern AV systems are increasingly dependent on data networks in order to function, but future AV systems might actually be components of a larger converged network. Systems being designed and installed today might use network-based protocols such as Dante or  AVB for audio transport, video streams encoded as H.264 or similar, and centralized IP-based control systems. From a system design perspective, different protocols and systems have differing network requirements as well as final AV requirements. This adds another step in evaluating varying technologies.

What was once a simple matter of needing a network port now becomes a more complicated discussion in which ports are needed on separate VLANs, in which a layer 3 switch may be required, in which certain devices need to communicate across networks, in which switches need to be configured with various services or protocols. Suddenly “give me a data port” isn’t enough.

This is different than mere jargon; the phrase “layer three switch” or “balanced audio” or “four-four-one” aren’t simply fancy words: they stand for concepts that, absent the language for them, we might not even realize exist. It’s important to be able to communicate network or AV requirements in a manner which is understandable and professional. It is vitally important to see these concepts in the first place and to internalize them to the point that they become part of how we think about our jobs and the world around us. For this we need to learn the language.

I’ll have more details on this later (including my impressions on some current technology on the market). For the nonce, I’ll leave you to reflect on the importance of language.

And if you happen to be in my city, drop by the park around lunchtime. You might find me there, and we just might have a ball.