The Gordian Knot

red rope tangled knot gordian

The legend goes that an oracle had prophesied that whoever undid the Gordian Knot in the palace of the Phrygians would rule all of Asia. When Alexander the Great and his armies arrived in Gordia, he faced the knot, drew his sword and cut through it.

The point of the story of course is that the simplest, most direct solution is usually the best one. There’s a parallel here to the scientific principle of Occam’s razor: that the simplest, least complicated explanation for an observed phenomenon is usually the correct one.

The lesson for AV pros should be crystal clear: Keep it simple. Whether it’s in initial system design, installation or troubleshooting technical issues, simple, direct solutions are the best choice.

Yet, the temptation to over-complicate things will be there sometimes. Whether it’s subsystems that are precariously added on to the scope of work, or awkward band-aid workarounds that don’t actually fix the problem, stay focused on keeping it simple. As much as I like to joke, “if it looks stupid but it works, it’s not stupid,” that thinking has no place in your installation.

In the design and installation phases, one central tenet to keeping your projects from getting messy is to resist the temptation to use hardware in a way it wasn’t designed for.

That sounds simple enough, but the urge to go off the map — whether it’s to take a shortcut or to try something that’s never been tried before — can be tempting.

It might even seem harmless. One new dealer of mine, an AV pro who was adding a cell signal booster to an existing installation in their client’s country home asked me, “Do I have to run LR400 cable? Can’t I just use the RG-6 that’s already in the house?”

My answer was that you can, but you should not. The booster operates at 50 ohms, and LR400 is rated 50 ohms, while RG-6 is rated for 75 ohms. And while yes, signal will travel down both wires, using cable that’s not specified for the hardware means you’re creating the unnecessary possibility that the system won’t work the way the manufacturer intended. Using the wrong wire just because it’s already there is an unnecessary shortcut that will just cost you time and money later.

Years ago, a friend who runs a distribution company called me to ask me about a mutual acquaintance, a sole-proprietor AV install guy. I don’t want to call him a trunkslammer, because he was better than that, except that the first thing my friend at the distributor asked was “Is this guy for real?”

Long story short, the install guy had specified a large IR-repeater hub (remember those?) and in his design (using the word loosely here) had pushed it well beyond the uses the manufacturer had intended. It was as if he was trying to use an IR-repeater hub in place of a control processor.

Unsurprisingly, the install guy had tied up the distributor’s tech support guy for days at this point, trying to debug a product that just wasn’t the right tool for the job. My friend at the distribution company was trying to find a polite way to tell the install guy he was dumb, and to start over from scratch.

That’s perhaps the most dramatic example I’ve ever heard of, but it’s a good object lesson.

After completion, when troubleshooting bugs, again, look to simple, direct and — most importantly — effective solutions. On one project at my old job, the control processor was acting weird. After much troubleshooting, it was determined that the client’s 2.4Ghz cordless phone system was generating RF noise that was jamming the control system.

The solution? The techs drove to Costco, bought a different brand of cordless phone system for the client and swapped it out for their old one at no charge.

Excluding labor hours, the total retail cost to solve a tech issue that was plaguing a near-six-figure automation system: $170.