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Community Support

Like most mornings, I started today by reading through the Crestron Groups.io daily digest. It’s the spiritual successor to the old Yahoo message group. Reading through those posts really helped me out when I first started programming Crestron in SIMPL. I was already familiar with control systems (I’d been immersed in AMX for a couple years by that point), but coming to SIMPL from any other imperative programming language requires some different thinking. Lucky for me, there was a thriving community of professionals who were willing to share their knowledge and experience.

And then it was taken away.

Yahoo decided that Groups had to go. With some great forethought, all the content from the old message group was preserved and moved to a new one on Groups.io. All of this knowledge and experience is saved for future “first-timers” to read through and learn from:

If you aren’t subscribed to this group, you should be!

There is a certain flair to the content in this group: it tends to lean more toward SIMPL / SIMPL+ and Residential. I program in Commercial environments, but I still like to read about the challenges using some Crestron equipment I’ve never laid hands on. And there are brilliant people who answer questions there. So, I continue to get a daily digest of new messages that I glance over each morning and pick out the ones that interest me. Like this morning: I saw one that linked to Crestron Tutorials, a blog I’d never come across before but sadly hasn’t been touched since 2007. This would have been a good place to visit while I was struggling to make sense of SIMPL.

I’ve programmed in SIMPL / SIMPL+ for years. It’s a great way to write control logic, especially once you get comfortable thinking in terms of logic waves. But it is difficult to reuse old programs. I found that even if I started with an existing system, there is still a lot of time spent adding or removing logic to make it work for the next one. It wasn’t until I took the third programming class at Crestron that I learned about the Labs forums. I signed up and started poring through the years of posts collected there, too.

Labs was a great resource. It had tons of posts from smart people exploring the limits of what these controllers could do. And it was the best place to get help learning SIMPL#. Admittedly, I never took the SIMPL# course Crestron offered because the $1,000 entrance fee was an instant NO with my former employer. So, I bought a cheap copy of VS2008 Pro on ebay and started trying things out that I’d read on Labs. I was happy Crestron had created a space where this knowledge could be shared since it was probably more valuable than what was taught in the SIMPL# class anyway.

And then it was taken away.

This is all I ever see on Labs now.

Crestron didn’t shut down Labs, but they locked it down enough that the old posts couldn’t be searched and read anymore (at least not with whatever permissions I ended up with). And unlike the Yahoo group, nobody could dump the content because it’s all protected by an NDA (understandably so: there were unreleased products being discussed there). But this industry needs a community! So we flooded the Crestron Professionals Discord server.

Discord isn’t a great medium for searching for content, but man, there is some good content there! You might have to dig through old conversations, and sometimes that can lead you down a rabbit hole of following a whole different topic. Follow the smart people: they drop gems everywhere. And the Discord server is where a lot of smart people hang out.

And then… Microsoft didn’t buy Discord. Phew! But I still worry that something could dislodge everyone from Discord some day, and those conversations will be lost.

I went into 2020 with the goal to write more. I can’t seem to remember most things unless I write them down. So this blog became a place for me to write regularly when I felt like there were bits of information I didn’t want to lose. I regularly search these posts when there’s something I vaguely remember coming across. Sometimes, I find it and can get back to work. Other times, a search with no results becomes an idea for a future topic.

I’ve had some form of blog through many generations: LiveJournal, then my own thing written in PHP, then WordPress, then something made with Django, then WordPress, then hosting my own WordPress, and finally back to WordPress. I’ve stuck with WordPress for a while this time because:

  • It gives me pretty good analytics on which posts are being read and where in the world my readers come from
  • It’s maintained by them, so I don’t have to remember to patch or upgrade my server
  • I’m paying a nominal annual fee, so I feel compelled to get some value out of it

Thank you for sticking around and reading my notes-to-self! I hope to spend 2021 getting better at writing longer technical posts. I’ve also started keeping an org journal as a way to organize my daily thoughts and actions, so I’m sure that will feed post ideas for sure.

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