I get to work with some large and complex systems as part of my role at Harman Professional Systems. Sometimes the systems don’t work as intended. As I joke, “the best way to make a system crash, demonstrate it to customers.” The problem quickly turns into a stressful time for everyone involved. There are lots of variables involved and many things to consider. If one looks at an integrated system that is using multiple control, audio, video, lighting transports and protocols it can be downright confusing, where does one start? Luckily troubleshooting is the same process whether analog or digital.
There are a few basic steps that I always use when troubleshooting, whether analog or digital systems. However, people often look at everything and either get overwhelmed or change too many things at once. The first place I start what was the last thing that changed? Is it possible to change it back? After that I go to the tried and true method, “have you tried turning it off and on again?”
There is a certain amount of humor to these statements, but it is important to have a practical approach to troubleshooting. Yes, it can be stressful. However, by using some basic tactics, it is possible to move through the process quickly and calmly. The most valuable troubleshooting tool I use is a piece of paper and a pen. Yes, something that simple is my essential tool. It allows me to know what changes I have done and what the results were. Writing things down is of particular importance when doing troubleshooting while tired or across multiple days. It also allows you to quickly reference what you did if you need to “phone a friend” for help.
The first thing I always check in a network situation is there communication. I will go into my software tool kit in the future. The use of the ping command can help determine that. That is the equivalent of is the cable plugged in. However with addressing and subnetworks involved it is always worth checking. Also making sure that there is only one network connection active on the computer. (Yes, there are exceptions but simple is best.)
Then I start dividing the system in half and determining is the problem before or after the point I am studying. I then continue to split the system in half again and again until I find the troublesome point or piece of equipment. With experience, the process can get much faster, such as the first thing I always do with a Dante system is verify that the signal is routed via Dante Controller. Not an exact halfway point but experience has shown me that is a common problem.
Remember how I said to use pen and paper? These tools will help you build a knowledge base. By documenting both the problem and solution, you will start to find trends and things to check first. I happen to use my Neo smartpen for taking notes, which I upload into Evernote. I can then tag the content and quickly develop a searchable knowledge base. (Yes, one can use OneNote or Google or … it is just what happens to be my workflow.) All of this can be done in the analog domain as well, but if you lose your notebook, a backup could be very valuable.
Thanks for taking the time to read my column.