Hardware

Peter Cochrane's Blog: Presentation SNAFUs

The gremlins attack when we least expect it

Written on KLM1508 flying from Amsterdam to Norwich, and dispatched to silicon.com from London via a free wi-fi service

Several times over the past decades I have contemplated writing a book detailing all the things that can go wrong when making presentations but as time moved on I realised it would be a never-ending story.

With each new raft of technology comes a new breed of SNAFU. Over the past 40 years I have seen people fall off the stage, projectors burst into flame, audiovisual interference from taxis and police, screens collapse, applications crash, and people freeze mid-sentence. The list is endless and rapidly growing!

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Of late I have witnessed a new subset of SNAFUs: the intelligent projector and application. You can test your setup multiple times but as soon as the audience is seated then the gremlins strike. Movies refuse to run, or run without sound. Spurious error messages pop onto the screen. Trusted applications freeze without warning. And worst of all, the projector refuses to talk to the laptop.

Fortunately I do not use the same OS or applications as most of the victims of this 'e-perversity' but this stuff still makes me nervous! It seems these problems are always lurking in the background, waiting to get us when we are least prepared.

I always stretch the technology to the limit with animations, movies and sound files, and this has to increase the probability of failure by virtue of introducing new modes. But what I am witnessing seems to be failure without discernable patterns.

As an engineer I am more than thorough in my testing of systems but gremlins still break through from time to time. What really bugs me is the prospect of unrepeatable failure modes because they are by far the hardest to pin down and cure.

After a recent and repeated loss of sound during a presentation to an audience of more than 400 people, I decided to investigate. It turned out to be a software problem with a faulty plug-in dropping in and out at random. A rapid software reinstall fixed it but without identifying why it failed in the first place.

This I find very frustrating but I found a cure! I have abandoned the most commonly used, industry-standard presentation software for something far more reliable.

Despite all of this, I have to ask: is there more to come? As clients get thinner and software packages become more lightweight, I suspect a lot of people will be adopting my solution, or some variant of it.

But the real fun will start when the more adventurous among us try to present using online applications. This will surely be the biggest opportunity for a new range of SNAFUs!

About Peter Cochrane

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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