Aimless wandering with the Nomads

  There's a mailing list called "stagecraft", which a tech acquaintance suggested that I join a couple of years ago, and it's been useful as a place to see [and sometimes send] candidly honest observations about the theatre industry and its technical aspects.  Recently someone on the list and new to the ETC "Eos" line of consoles, expressed [so to speak!] some frustration over the process of learning to use them.  Below is the essence of the thread, with a longish cynical-but-sympathetic rant from me included [which is why I made this a public webpage].  Coincidentally, at the time I was also going into programming a local community-theatre show on an Ion, and was having to refresh my own chops on the board and try to absorb more of its oddities.  So this is yet another mostly-bitchy chapter in my slow, wandering path toward any usable degree of skill with this console family, this time with some community contribution.

  ### MSG 1

Date: Fri, 17 Sep 2021 12:49:10 +0000 (UTC)
Subject: Software for theatrical lighting
From: Joe

Upon a friend's recommendation, I recently purchased the ETC Nomad software,
and their USB-to-DMX interface.  My understanding of lighting control came
from the late 1980's.  And has pretty much stayed at that level.  So I am
quite out of date.  But, getting started with this Nomad system has been an
unnecessarily frustrating experience.  It took help from the manufacturer
on their forum to find the user manual.  Mostly because the word "Nomad" is
not part of the help file name.  I took another two weeks to find out that
the reason I can't find video tutorials to get started, is because the
software (when you choose the EOS mode of operation) is truly behaving like
and has the same virtual buttons as a physical console.  And that the console
is getting the same user screens as I was seeing on the software.  So, I should
have been watching videos about the EOS consoles, not hunting for "Nomad".

After the difficulty of finding documentation or tutorials, the first time
you start the software, the inexperienced user is faced with a problem...
how do you exit the program, without using Cntl-Alt-Delete?  And that is
just the start of the difficulties.

I come from an AutoCAD background starting with version 10 on DOS.  Having
learned all the keyboard commands, I was always must faster at the program
that those that used the pre-Windows features of printed out menu choices
on the digitizing tablets.  And when a Windows version came out, it became
easier.  In fact, you could get started with most programs without being lost.

For any complex program,the user interface is, necessarily complex.  But, there
has to be an on-ramp somewhere.  My friends opinion is that ETCs EOS system is
easier than others, without sacrificing capability.  But, as he continued to
tutor me, we kept running into things that required special user instruction
or steps that you had to be told about by your trainer.  But the biggest issue
is that the tutorials seem to be written for people who are already familiar
with lighting consoles designed for robotic lights.

I have to ask if things are really that bad for a novice?  Perhaps the time
is ripe for another party to really come up with a better solution, or better
on-ramp to get started.  But, also allow for all the complex features that
these programs need.  Is there yet a software solution out there that has
risen to the top, and greatly improved the on-ramp experience for the novice?


  ### MSG 2

Date: Fri, 17 Sep 2021 07:27:55 -0700
Subject: Re: Software for theatrical lighting
From: Jon

I feel your pain... I've spent the last 1+ year moving to the EOS system, but
without any real shows yet...  I have an Ion XE20 and an Element 2, and still
don't know what a lot of the buttons (and sliders*) are for, because ETC's
(excellent) video tutorials are board-agnostic, and there's no videos walking
you through the specific boards and their different buttons.  Trying to figure
out Nomad (like you) would be maddening, I'd think.  (There is a manual
addendum that shows me the layout of the buttons on the XE, but the picture
isn't linked to what/how you use them.)

I think ETC's videos are great, the contributors on the forums are great, but
you're right: an onramp for "new" users is lacking.  It indeed feels like
there's an expectation that you've used EOS before.

  (* On both the Element and the Ion, there's what I'd think is a pair of
  "crossfaders" above two large buttons...  and nowhere have I found ANY
  instruction on how to use them, or what they're for.  I have students ask
  me what certain buttons do, and I have to say, "I have no idea.  Haven't
  needed it.  Yet.")

 - Jon

  ### MSG 3

Date: Fri, 17 Sep 2021 09:41:28 -0500
Subject: Re: Software for theatrical lighting
From: *Hobbit*

Hooboy, you're gonna get about as many opinions back as there are list
members, to hint at the popular other way of phrasing it.  I've done my
share of rants about Eos/Nomad over its course of development, and would
up front agree that it is NOT for the novice in any respect.

Basically, and this is my own opinion mind you, it feels to me like ETC took
the fairly established workflow of the existing intelligent consoles like
Hog and MA and Avo, turned it sideways and renamed everything, and committed
to that as their product line.  It's very easy to get angry at, and sit there
thinking "wait, what??  Why don't they just do it this simpler way that
we're all already used to?"  To be fair, some steps in programming workflow
have been shortened or optimized a bit, but you still have to study and
internalize the differences between "workspace", "frame", "display", page and
scroll, "tab" versus "escape", and that's just the basic navigation.  Then
comes the challenge of figuring out how to patch some stuff before you get
to output a single command to the rig, and after that the additional, ah,
"sneaky" puzzle of how turn stuff off again.  Then scratch your head when
your LED units keep coming up in full white when you hadn't done anything
with color controls yet, or why your *wash* movers are in tiny pin-beams
until you grab the zoom wheel and fix it ...

So you dig back into the 600+ page manual and realize that you're finding
either typos or where clear distinctions are NOT made between [hardkey] and
{softkey}, as you desperately scan the facepanel for what turns out to not
be there at all but will perhaps show up in the "skeys" if you hammer on
"displays" the right number of times or start a particular class of command
line.  Oh wait, you just wanted to record a sub to a fader?  Whoops, it
turned into a playback that just asserted control away from your main cuelist
and it takes another ten minutes to figure out why.

Frankly, as some of y'all would say across the pond, it's pants.

Possibly fortunately, ETC seems to own High End now, so perhaps the Hog folks
have been throwing enough hints over the wall that we will eventually see
these universes collide in not-completely-bastardized way.  But my not so
private view is that they're catching up from about a decade behind and are
shredding a thesaurus into the mix the whole way.  It never felt like
innovation and industry progress to me, it felt like a setback and being
forced to convert to a different religion.

To be fair, a few of the shortcut models do make sense -- such as implicit
fanning in selections and values , such as "1 thru 16 at 20 thru full", or
"65 color @ enter" to remove data completely.  I'm still stumbling across
various useful key sequences that perform some bit of magic in the background,
and appreciate those few bright sparks of reasonable design thought.  The guys
doing those Youtubes for ETC often just gloss right over this, but you can
catch some neat workflow features if you're paying attention.

Basically, Eos is a complex scripting language, and it's almost essential to
have a few "helper scripts" in your toolkit to bring to bear before trying
to program a show in the first place.  The pros working in this world every
day are said to bring a ton of baseline stuff with them and about the first
action when sitting down at a fresh console is to load [or is that merge?] all
that from their magic thumbdrive.  I do not have such a toolkit yet, just a
couple of macros I can remember to pound in first -- such as "goto-cue out
time 0 <> clear sneak 0 <>" for the instant reset-to-dark I so often need.

I'm actually heading into a show on an "Ion classic" this month, and am
living in this world once again after a long hiatus.  I have a wheezy old
instance of "Eos Family" on my Mac that's lost its ability to save files
for some reason, but it's enough to fire up and try a few things to then
bring to the real board later.  At least I'll be able to actually use the
handful of movers in the space this time, where 3 years ago I wasn't about
to try that on their old Express board.  Their TD himself doesn't use the
Ion, he uses some other laptop package for his own shows, so I'm kinda on
my own with this.  I'm sure I'll get through it and come out a better Eos
jockey in the end, but jeez, I keep just doubting the true merit of that as
a life skill.

To take a stab at the OP's first question... exiting may be able to get done
through the "browser", mouse down to "exit" or "shut down", and let it do
its internal cleanup??  The Mac has the usual Mac controls at the top, so
I can bail out that way as well.


  ### MSG 4

Date: Fri, 17 Sep 2021 20:03:10 +0000 (UTC)
Subject: Re: Software for theatrical lighting
From: Kristi

I've been pleasantly surprised at how happy I've been with the Chauvet MagicQ
software and dongle.  Costs about $25 and does one universe.  I got it for
troubleshooting in the field and have used it many, many times - great for
set-it-and-forget-it installs, too.

The Nomad/Gadget combo is great for backup, programming offline or student
use, but yes - unless you know it's the EOS language you wouldne 't find it
easily on the ETC web site, and unless you have a touch-screen, I find
mousing and click to be SLOW with a laptop.  That said, I've had excellent
results from using the ETC training videos and booklet with students ranging
from MS through adult.  If you can bring in Ellen White or another ETC trainer
to do their two day-long gig on site (if they are??) that's a great way to
train a bunch of folks at one time.


  So there you have it; the thread didn't last all that long because they started talking about other stuff.  One of my own acquaintances used Nomad at the rehearsal table to cue up a show without having to move the main board down from the booth, presumably by networking his laptop in as another user over wifi.  Once someone is proficient on it things go fairly smoothly, but he too said it took quite a ramp-up to get to that point.

_H*   210919