The Projectionist

English: A movie projector on display in the C...

A proper projector. If you lived like a thousand years ago...

The Church is a beautiful organisation, which is often likened to a body for the way that the different parts of it work together. Ignoring the obvious issues of the appendix, it often seems that every part of the Church is important, and equally so. Indeed, one could argue that the Church is the ultimate in Communist societies, although that would of course be wrong as everyone knows that God supports deregulated businesses and laissez-faire capitalism.

Nonetheless, despite supposed equality, everyone knows that some jobs are better than others. Take the role of the speaker. If there was no speaker, could one truly have a Sunday service? It would just be constant repetition of liturgy. Even if there were a speaker, without the leader to introduce them, there would be no point. No-one would know who this weirdo standing up was. There are the more ‘background’ scenes, but these still are still jobs that have a certain amount of prestige. Imagine life without the coffee-makers, the flower-arrangers, the front-of-house welcomers. Even the putting out of chairs is a key, and fairly well respected role.

Not so the projectionist. The projectionist is the person who sits, usually at the back, and tries to ensure that the display systems don’t overheat, fail, or cause singularities and rips in the space-time continuum. It’s a position that occurs in any facility that has a computer and a screen, and someone smart enough to say “look, we could link those together”. It’s not even a particularly Christian role.

Anyone can do attempt to do projectioning. It can be just a simple matter of putting a powerpoint presentation on a screen, then pressing a button whenever the speaker nods/winks/shouts at you. However, this supposed simplicity hides the fact that powerpoint presentations never look good. This is in part due to the fact that it’s powerpoint, and, as everyone uses powerpoint, everyone can tell when you’ve just typed text into the default settings. However, on top of this, what happens when you want to change to a different presentation? You could attempt to roll all the presentations together, but, as the key speaker will always hand his powerpoint in five minutes before he speaks, this will always result in disaster, stress, and ultimately a shortening of your life.

Another alternative is to find another piece of software that will automatically allow you to change between powerpoints. There are a number of these around. Sometimes they even work. However, there are still problems with them. For example, imagine how many times powerpoint breaks down. Remember while you’re doing that the issue of dealing with the faceless beaurocracy that is the Microsoft help center. Now imagine how many times that a cheap, fairly open source piece of software breaks down. Add onto this that it was probably designed to be used by the people who made it, and not by members of the ordinary folk. Now you’re using the second piece of software in combination with the first piece of software, imagine how many times one, or the other, or even both break down.

Yeah. Again, this isn’t helped by the speaker who hands his presentation in five minutes before he speaks, and then complains when it doesn’t work. As a side point, handing in a presentation via, say, memory stick just increases the chance of something going wrong. Not only are you assuming that my programs and your files are compatible (for future reference, ‘Presi’ presentations are incompatible with anything), but you are also assuming that your stick has saved them correctly, that you’ve still got your transfer device, that your computer isn’t crawling with viruses, and that your screen resolution is the same as mine and we aren’t going to get *ahem* issues.

As a side point, that wasn’t just a cough to, you know, *coughs* draw your attention to something. I am actually currently dying of cough, the irritating thing being that no-one appears to be taking me seriously.

Let’s assume that not only will your presentation accept Powerpoint (of all versions), OpenOffice Impress, the funny Mac version that’s actually quite good, mp3 files, mp4 files, wav files, wma files, ogg files, and any other file you care to name, up to (but not including) prezi files. Now imagine the person who comes up to you, again five minutes before he’s about to speak, and presents to you his laptop, which has the presentation on it, but no visible means of transfer. “Don’t worry,” he says, “We can just swap the cables round.”

Don’t worry? DON’T WORRY? I’m surprised someone hasn’t made a thirty minute documentary suggesting that you should be arrested before the end of 2012 and let it go viral! You, sir, are the ruin of nations.

Let’s analyse this in somewhat more detail than my previous coherent rant. Swap the cables round. Let’s assume that we are just going to swap the cables round, because there are ways of getting round this. How long do you think swapping the cables round takes? I’ll tell you. There is no known way of transferring the cable from my computer to yours without the projector realising that a cable is unplugged. To be fair, it is not designed so that cables are being unplugged constantly. It’s designed so that cables stay in place until it is switched off. It’s a good thing that the projector realises that a cable is unplugged, because then it can produce a screen explaining that a cable is unplugged, and thus help the projectionist work out what the problem is. It’s a rudimentary form of diagnostics. It’s a case of computers trying to be nice.

But wait a minute. Are you meaning to say that the first slide of your presentation is going to be a blue screen with large font telling the audience that ‘the connection to @CPU1@ has been lost’ and advising them to check the cabling? Do you really want that? Imagine, briefly, what the BBC would think if halfway through their highly praised documentary on homosexuality in the Amazon wash basin the screen went blue and a message appeared on screen saying ‘the connection to camera 4 has been lost, please check the cables’. I ask you to merely think briefly about this because wondering what the BBC is thinking must take up vast quantities of everyone’s time, judging by the column inches that are filled by journalists’ ponderances.

I’ll assume you’ve decided that merely unplugging the cables and changing them is a bad idea. I worry for you if this is not the case.

There are alternatives. Some projectors will allow you to plug in multiple inputs. This is almost acceptable, but for the fact that you are assuming that I can get at the projector’s input sockets. I may well have sent one input cable through the ceiling, around the walls, under the floor, to come out in a socket by where I will be sitting keeping an eye on proceedings. Why oh why does that mean that I’ve set up two of those cables? Especially when you realise that if I did, there would be a far greater problem.

Again, it is important to remember that computers are trying to help you. Computers are not humans, and so not subject to the foibles, quirks, and other little things that make us human, which makes it hard for them to understand what we’re trying to get them to do. However, programmers are human, in general, and so they try very hard to make catches for those foibles, quirks and other little things. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start. Take the projector. Imagine you’re teaching a lesson, and you’ve got a simple audio-visual suite attached to your projector that allows you to play videos, use your computer, listen to the radio, and whatever else you want. Let’s say you’ve finished your powerpoint, and you want to switch to playing a DVD clip that you think is relevant. You fiddle with the projector and find that you can flick through the inputs until you get to the DVD player. Not only that, but when you reach the DVD player, a little note appears on the screen saying ‘DVD’, so you know that you’ve reached the DVD player. It’s the projector trying to help you.

This however, is the source. The projector can’t read your mind, and so when you switch from CPU1 input to CPU2 input, it will not be able to realise that this is one of those situations where discretion is required, and it will almost certainly tell everyone what it’s doing. A bit like that awkward friend who sits on the toilet and then tells everyone what they’re doing. We really don’t want to know sometimes.

Again, take the BBC. Please. They used to film Blue Peter live. I have no idea if they still do, but the old Blue Peter bloopers are brilliant in large part because they were actually screened. While in the studio they regularly had to switch between different cameras to do close-ups, broad shots, cuts to different parts of the studio, and other things that professional camera people do. Imagine if, when switching between camera one and camera five, a little notice popped up in the top left hand corner of our television screens telling us that the input was now ‘camera five’. Considering that to entertain teenagers one has to change the image every six seconds to keep their attention, and that children have an abysmally low attention span, and so the camera changes very often, imagine how irritating this could get. Imagine how unprofessional Blue Peter would look. Compared to how it normally looks, I mean.

The issue of course is that many projectionists are perfectionists. I’m not entirely sure why this is, but it seems to be true of many people who deal with computers. Second best is never acceptable, although handy shortcuts are highly encouraged. (As a side point, this is an odd contradiction: projectionists spend their whole time trying to make something work as perfectly as possible while expending as little energy.) So when you come in with your powerpoint presentation with animations everywhere and a hundred different styles of font, they start cringing. But then when you come in and expect them to have to make fools of themselves to cater to your presentation, they are highly unamused.

Is there anything you can do? Well, try being early. Almost all of the above issues can be dealt with extremely easily. There are ways around almost anything. The problem is when you turn up five minutes before you want to start. A week’s notice is brilliant. Two weeks notice is probably too much, because you’ll just be forgotten. A working week would probably be acceptable. A couple of days is fairly fine. The evening before is tense, because not everyone checks their e-mails at half past three in the morning, but at least you’ve tried. On the day is just not good enough.

There are other things. Use sensible formats. Provide the projectionist with your notes (and then speak from your notes). Making up what you’re saying on the spot and then assuming that the projectionist will be able to guess is extremely risky. However what it really comes down to is time. Next time you’re giving a talk, make sure you give other people that time.

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