What is Normal? by Paul Parrie

The event is about to start and the technology isn’t cooperating. The Event Planner is standing behind you, tapping their shoe, checking their watch, and wondering why you are sabotaging their event!

Few things are more frustrating than walking up to a piece of gear minutes before you go live only to discover that the last user configured the gear in such a way that even Houdini wouldn’t be able to untie the virtual knots.

As the National WWII Museum continues its Capital Expansion Project and brings more venues on line, the chances of testing Houdini’s virtual knot untying skills increases exponentially. Not only is the amount of technology in the facilities increasing with the square footage,so is the complexity of the technology.

Adding more venues means increasing the number of staff to operate the technical gear. More venues, more staff and more gear increase the chances of testing Houdini. The more staff that operate the gear, the better the chance that someone is going to leave the gear in a state that the next user may have trouble figuring out.

To alleviate the stress of trying to untie someone else’s “virtual knots”, The Technology Department has developed a system of “Normalcy”. “Normal” means that a particular piece of gear is ALWAYS returned to its original state after use, no matter what configuration changes have been made during the actual use of the gear.

For instance, all audio boards have all the channels panned to center, EQ removed, and all channels muted (Audio Board Normal has many more settings. For simplicity, I’ve only listed a few). This ensures that any technician walking up to an audio board knows the status of the board without having to look at it. At the very least, a channel can be unmuted, the Master fader brought up, and sound will flow through the system.

Every piece of gear in the facility has this type of definition. Definitions of “Normal” vary depending upon the type of gear (i.e. Audio Board, Lighting Console, Projector, etc). There are times when identical pieces of gear may have differing definitions of “Normal” due to their physical location. We have attempted to keep these anomalies to a minimum, but in certain instances this isn’t possible.

Creating the definitions didn’t happen overnight. Each piece of gear was looked at individually, in context of the venue in which it is used and the types of use required in the venue. This process took time to develop and became a team effort. Everyone on the team had to be comfortable with the definitions. Definitions may change over time due to technology changes, changes in venue usage, etc. The key thing to remember is that all the technicians are always aware of “Normal” even if there are changes to the definition.

Defining “Normal” has resulted in smoother transitions between events, fewer embarrassing situations involving clients and reduction in setup times for events. Technicians know the status ofgear prior to walking into a venue. There is no need for Houdini to “untie the knots” in a configuration left over from a previous event.

Paul Parrie is the Associate Vice President of Technology at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, LA. Paul has over 25 years experience in Broadcast Media, Information Technology, and Media Creation.

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