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Monday, September 24, 2012

The meeting room hardware virus

Say hello to the early stages of the great Google Mac hardware virus.

MacBook Pro DVI connector

That's a picture of my old work laptop's DVI connector early in 2010. It was regularly used for things like projecting meeting agenda notes, bug lists, or other similar "software meeting" things on a screen somewhere. It occasionally was used to drive projectors in faraway lands by way of videoconferencing systems.

At any rate, note how it's not quite uniform. Two of those holes are getting just a bit too cozy with each other. The plastic divider between them has clearly been compromised, and this is where it gets interesting.

I imagine it started with all of the adapters which were thrown around in every meeting room. Everyone with a Macbook of some flavor needed a DVI to VGA adaptor in order to use the projectors, so they were plentiful. Somehow, someone probably damaged one of them and smooshed a couple of pins into places where they should not have gone.

Then, someone else forced this into their Mac. Perhaps two pins tried to go into just the one socket. At any rate, it would now break the socket and get it all out of whack. That socket, used with another adapter in another room, would then break that adapter. This new broken adapter would then go on to break even more Macbook DVI connectors.

Thus, we had a hardware virus. It never got too bad on my machine, but I understand some people had things get to where they couldn't project any more. I'm sure a fair number of laptops and DVI-VGA adaptors alike were tossed aside due to this thing.

I always wondered when someone would make something which worked via a rather short-range wireless technology and did a dirt-simple "pairing" like Bluetooth, but for video output instead. The amount of time I saw wasted by supposedly competent engineers fighting with their own laptops to get something up on the screen was nontrivial. This had second order effects, like how much time was taken up with someone repeating the line "how many engineers does it take to project slides" or some such. Yes, given enough engineers and enough brokenness, even the snark will reach "meta" levels.

I suppose someone might try it now with Airplay and hoping the wireless network has enough bandwidth to handle a bunch of these things running in parallel. Personally, I'm not that confident in these networks. By definition, you're almost certainly in a room with a bunch of people who are relying on that same network for their own purposes. You're also trying to slam a relatively large amount of traffic through. Then you multiply that by adjacent meeting rooms also vying for "air time" on the same network and it could get ugly pretty quickly.

The way I see it, the worst case scenario is where everyone who wants to project has to engage in signal level warfare to get through. If that happens, then who will be the first to pull a Captain Midnight type prank during a meeting?