Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Outdoor Theater on a Budget

The weather is breaking so that means time to fire up the outdoor theater!!!!!  Here is how it developed. Last spring I was cruising around the web looking for parts for an old projector. I came across www.backyardtheater.com, an incredible resource for all things outdoor projection. I was hooked. Now how could I do this without spending a fortune. BYT has great suggestions and I used them to formulate my own solution. I wanted something big, quality, and easy to put up and take down. I started with a 20ftx12ft grey tarp. Mounted it on 2 12ft high pressure treated 4x4's. I tethered them with 18" landscape stakes. The key to this early project was the tension to reduce the creases. I was ready for a show. Had my projector rebuilt, sound system in place and ran power and coax out to where the projector would go. Turned it on, and WOW!!!!  A TV screen 20x10. It was pretty incredible, but after the WOW factor I began to pick out improvements that needed to be made. The finish on the tarp created shiny hot spots of reflection and the creases from lack of center support needed to be addressed. So back to BYT for some research. Behr makes a paint called Silver Screen. It was designed just for projection systems. Question was, could I really paint a tarp?? Well, not exactly with great results. I was into this project far enough that it was worth the try. I primed the tarp then applied 2 coated of SS paint. I created 2 pvc stand alone post with hooks on the end to simply apply upward pressure to relieve the creases. I was ready for another showing. This time an even bigger WOW. Picture was outstanding. Creases were invisible and hot spots were gone. It was done. 20ftx12ft screen. Great picture, 1/2 hour to put up and take down. All was good. Then I realized why you can't paint a tarp, the expanding and contracting from both temperature and wind began to crack the paint in spots. I could live with this. A 5 mins touch up before viewing. The the storm of June hit. We had a ferce storm come through our area very quickly and I did not have time to take down the screen, 80mph winds, the screen lost that battle. I knew that a professional screen would run about $200, but I decided to replace the tarp for $55 including paint. This system lasted until October. Many nights of fun. A graduation party, having the kids friends over for a movie night. Countless sporting events. Well worth the time and money spent. As the fall hit, the chipping to the paint was more severe and it was obvious that this had now become a part of our home, so I put out the $200 for the professional screen. I used 8in buggee cords to secure it to the posts. Now this was even better. I vinyl screen, able to withstand temperature changes and 30mph winds. This was what I had envisioned in my crazy head.

The screen was on almost every night. Baseball playoffs, football games all looked and sounded great. Family, friends and neighbors all enjoyed the invites, and a hidden benefit, everything was outside, so very little clean up or mess as compared to entertaining inside. I had a process down of 5 minute equipment setup. I built a small platform to hold the projector, STB, dvd and sound amp. Everything fit nicely on a 24"x18" platform. Speakers are 10lbs a piece. So my setup was to pickup the platform from the shed with all of the components in their place, carry it about 20ft, place the speakers in the yard. Connect the 25ft speaker wires to the amp, connect the coax to the STB and plug the power strip in. All done. Take down was just as fast.

So, over the winter, I began to think if there was a market for this type of service, outdoor theater. I talked to many of the people who experience our system and their response was quite positive from both the rental standpoint and design build. I then started to research what the competition would be in my area. I put down on paper a business plan, ran the financials and talked it over with my partner(my wife). For the investment, it seems to be a viable business plan. So born was Twilight Theater Productions, www.twilighttp.net. A DBA, website and some graphics work and we are off!!

So, for those who are intrigued by this type of home entertainment, I will spell out in my next post the details on how to build your own, step by step and what I learned. The cost for DIY should be under $1000.00 and around 4 hours of work. For those who either want a rental or to purchase a turn key system please visit the website. For those outside the PA, NJ and DE area, drop me a note and I will connect you with a good, honest company to help.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Solution for Networked ITunes

I have always tried to find "out of the box" solutions for this problem. I love music. I have a lot of music. I have eclectic tastes in music. I have a stereo that plays speakers inside and out. How can I have full access to my Itunes library and play it through my existing stereo system? Sound easy, right? WRONG. 4 years. I tried every trick, network device and posting I could find. Everything had limitations. I used my Ipod on a dock, but that was cumbersome and did not offer the flexibility I wanted. I was basically looking for a user interface at the tips of my fingers to play any song I wanted, when I wanted. Now maybe your one who knew the answer to this, but let me tell you, you are a small minority. So here is how I solved this problem.

Stereo is housed out of sight in a remote cabinet. It is connected to two sets of speakers. One set in my kitchen(which really plays everywhere because of our layout) and one set on my patio in the back yard. I have a very large Itunes libary so I decided to centralize it to a media desktop(older Dell retro with hard drive and A/V card). This computer is housed in my basement. The Dell runs Windows 7 Pro and is running on ethernet. It is accessible so I can sync my Ipod as well. I have an audio cable running out of the computer into the stereo. (25ft cable) So now when I turn on the stereo and select Audio 1, whatever is playing on the computer, plays on the stereo. Now for the aaahhaaaa moment for me. I took an old laptop that had XP Pro running on it and configured Remote Desktop to connect to the Dell. The trick here is to change the settings to "Leave audio at remote computer". I then open Itunes on the RDP screen and, wait for it, all of my music at my finger tips inside or out. Awesome. I can cook and listen to Sinatra, then after dinner go out back smoke a cigar and listen to Van Morrison!!  Magic.

Now to complicate things a bit more, I needed to split that audio signal at the source to also play through my Home Theater System in the basement. Enter my local Radio Shack. RCA splitters!!!!!

I have read that the Ipad has the ability to remotely connect to your Itunes, but I have not tried that yet. My wife has the Ipad and if I try to add something else to that, we may need an intervention. So I will stick with my home grown, inexpensive solution. BTW a netbook with XP or seven will work great on the client end, but the transmission computer must have XP Pro or W7 Pro to give access to RDP.

I have also used RDP on my Android phone to connect via WiFi. It does connect, but screen is too small to really control well. I also used a RDP program on the Ipad, this too works, but the touchsceen is a bit difficult to navigate.

Good luck and drop me a line if you need any help.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

What is a Common Sense Facilitator Anyway?

A couple of years ago amid a very busy time in a previous career, I found myself consumed with putting out fires, trouble shooting. Some of this was self inflicted, but most was cause by an overwhelming case of CYA by others. Frustrating was an understatement. After one day of insanity, I was talking to a trusted customer on the telephone reviewing the days activities. One phrase was repeated over and over again.COMMON SENSE. I asked this gentleman how he would define this phrase. He stated, "doing was is easy and right quickly". That caused me to have a "save the world" philosophical moment. Common, meaning known or often,and sense referring to what we perceive. This gentleman went on to discuss the strength of my ability to facilitate processes that were in his (the customer) best interests. The aaahhhhaaaa  moment.

A common sense facilitator is one who does not let process, negativity or fear allow people to hesitate on common sense decisions. They are versed in motivation, compassion and process analysis. In laymen terms, they would be someone who walks up behind someone was is not using common sense and pops them on the back of the head to reengage the sense of common. We all need this from time to time, but in the business world it is desperately needed. Too many companies miss opportunities or loss clients because of their lack of common sense.

Common sense is simply what is known to be good and right. Stealing is not good or right. Ignorance is not good or right. False advertising is not good or right. So let's just say for example we had champions at every company simply focusing on these common sense principles. How would that change the landscape of business?

Common sense has nothing to do with your intelligence level, skill level or sales expertise, it has to do more with the ability to apply sustainable business practices into your everyday tasks.We have all seen the marketing for "your trusted resource for "x" ". How can a company be trusted if we don't know them? Common sense marketing is all about showing a product or service for what it is. If its a widget, then show it as a widget, not a Porsche. If your service model commits to a turnaround time then stick to it or be upfront and adjust the end users expectation levels. This is common sense. We need more facilitators.

So when people ask me why I use that title, I simply explain that it best defines my core principles no matter what business model I am involved in at the time. Currently I am involved with video surveillance projects. I refuse to oversell anything. It is video. It does not need a premium name. It needs to work, period. People do not need the latest and greatest, they need what works consistently. That is common sense. In my social media consulting, I do not feel companies should spend for quantity, ie followers,hits,network alliances. They should pay for a carefully thought out plan to utilize their funds for a sustainable program. That is common sense.

PS.....If someone finds a way to make a million dollars off this concept, I expect to be compensated by a simple thank you.