That Bastard Murphy Rears His Ugly Head

Well, things are finally starting to calm down a bit. But I’ll tell you, I really needed that three-day break after the big firmwide meeting on Friday.

I haven’t talked all that much about it here (not out of any confidentiality concerns, but just because I haven’t had time), but I’ve been working for the past two weeks on producing a couple of videos for a company-wide meeting this past Friday afternoon. They’re fun projects, to be sure — basically gag videos meant to lighten the otherwise relentlessly heavy atmosphere of a large meeting — but they’re still a lot of work, particularly when a lot of people are either (a) still on vacation, or (b) swamped trying to recover from what vacation they did take.

I’d worked with a few coworkers to take point on each of the two video segments we had planned. One was a mock newscast giving fake Olympic event coverage (the visual “theme” of the meeting materials was inspired by the upcoming Olympics) and the other was a satire of MTV’s Pimp My Ride entitled “Pimp My Meeting” (see, we put on these big national meetings around the country, and... you know, it doesn’t really matter).

As it turns out, we were further along in the production of the second video when word came down that the speeches were running long, and they were going to cut one of the videos. Since the first video would only be relevant for this meeting, we decided to run with that one and put the second in the can for the next meeting. The schedule was tight, but as of Thursday evening, we had most of it under control (thanks to Ginny’s whirlwind editing job).

That is, until they let us know that they needed another video-related segment — a mock commercial to promote a big referral campaign, centered around a CD of gag songs by one of our firm’s marketers (all set to his karaoke vocal stylings).

Ooookay. So it looks like I won’t be going to any of the various training sessions across the day — which, frankly, I’d been anticipating anyway. I spent Thursday evening doing some graphics I had to finish for the Olympics video, then pulled Adam to finish editing that piece while I tackled the new one.

I recorded a voiceover, assembled graphics, ran out a quick 3-D rendering of a CD with the marketer’s photo on it, and scrambled to edit it all together. Mastering the DVD for the meeting took me until the last minute, naturally, but I sent Adam over to the hotel to coordinate the technical setup, and I joined him just a bit later.

See, for some reason I’ve been put in charge of making sure everything goes smoothly on the technical side of things for these firmwide meetings. Never mind that I’m not an engineer, or a tech expert, or a meeting planner... since I happened to produce a video for one of these things a few years back, I’ve been the go-to guy. At least this year, we managed to convince the powers that be that it might be a good idea to tap our in-house meetings department — who plan and coordinate meetings for a living — to handle most of the details. But still, I have to sit up at the front of the ballroom with the CEO and our outside speaker, hook up the laptop, make sure everything’s running smoothly, and otherwise hold hands.

All seemed to be going fine until our outside speaker got about halfway through his presentation. And then the laptop spontaneously went into “sleep” mode.

I immediately jumped up and checked connections — everything was hooked up properly. The switch on the surge protector looked to be not fully seated in the “on” position, but other than that, all looked good. I pressed the switch down firmly and ran my finger across the laptop’s trackpad; it popped right back awake. Okay, looks fixed. Back to the presentation.

Three minutes later, the laptop shut down completely.

The speaker — to his credit — improvised as best he could, but as I wasn’t able to get it back up and running, he had to call for a five-minute break. So I’m sitting there in front of the entire company trying to troubleshoot a situation of which I have at best a basic user’s understanding.


I grabbed the AV tech (who was running the board at the back of the room), and we diagnosed the problem: The hotel had apparently blown a circuit, and there was no power running to the laptop. Its battery had just finally run out. Not that this was a quick diagnosis, as all of the power cables were bundled together and split off into multiple directions. But we managed to get a new cable hooked up, restarted the laptop, and (eventually) got the presentation back to where it belonged. The meeting was called back to order, the presenter started again, and I sat down and tried to look inconspicuous.

And then the speaker’s presentation came to a slide with audio. Audio we’d fully tested beforehand, but which now was nowhere to be... heard, I guess. Once more up to the podium. Apparently, the default setting for a PC laptop (or at least this variety) on startup is to remain in mute mode. Halfway through the audio portion, I figured this out and got it working again. Back to my seat.

Now, the speaker had warned us that the two audio clips in his presentation were of varying quality and volume. But we weren’t really prepared for just how different they were. When the second one came up, the AV tech had to do some scrambling with the mixing board to make the clip even understandable. But at least he did it, without too much awkward fumbling.

So we finally get to the videos — really, the only reason I’m there. The Olympics video goes over pretty well, but the audio sounds a bit off. I had double-checked the mix before I mastered the DVD, and it sure as hell hadn’t sounded like that. But still, it wasn’t bad enough to lose sleep over.

And then the referral campaign video came up. The narration (yours truly) came out fine, the graphics looked great (naturally), and the music... not so much. We still don’t know exactly what equalizer manipulation caused it, but the vocals were gone. Backing music only. Now, I had done karaoke-style lyrics on the screen, so the audience could read the joke, but that doesn’t exactly make for a very good humor video.

Eventually, the whole thing was over. Afterward, I went home and prepared for the company Holiday Party (which, in an effort to save a few bucks, was held in mid-January — fair enough, but I think at a certain point you have to stop pretending it’s a holiday party anymore). When I told Pam about it all — and my dead certainty that much of the evening would be taken up with people coming up and expressing their sympathies — she wondered aloud why I’d even want to go. But go we did, and despite the near-incessant stream of understanding winces from friends (not to mention total strangers), we had a pretty good time at that. After the party itself ended, we hit a hole-in-the-wall bar, a techno-thumping club (both of which Pam had to sweet-talk her way into, as she hadn’t brought along her ID), and wrapped it all up with some late-night falafel.

In fact, we didn’t get home until almost five a.m., prety much a record for a couple of (relative) oldsters like us.

Three days later, and I’ve started to catch up on sleep.

And no, I don’t expect that that overlong rant was of particular interest to anyone out there, but I had to get it down. Call it therapy.

Well, that and the Scotch.


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