Confessions Of A Recovering Hack

Considering those folks who seem to excel at developing miserably ineffective solutions, that often involve duct tape...

By M. Erik Matlock August 2, 2017

You know what a hack is, right?

Folks who constantly mark their territory with agonizingly horrible creations, like hanging those old SP-3s from the rafters with bungee cords. They seem to excel at developing miserably ineffective solutions that are often nothing short of wicked.

We see hacks everywhere.

The guy who mounts a padlock on his van rather than just replacing the lock. The expert looking for one wall stud by drilling 97 holes in the drywall, with a 3/4 paddle bit. Maybe the goof who can’t get his newly installed system to cooperate because he unloaded 10 pounds of staples into the signal lines.

After making my own transition many years ago from “hackish dufus with speakers and power tools” to “slightly less ignorant,” I clearly understand that many of us started out as hacks. In fact, there are probably more than we’d like to admit. But we all need to start somewhere. It’s really nothing to be ashamed of.

Yet who would venture the inevitable ostracism that would be inflicted upon anyone making such a confession? Who would dare confess to spending even a moment of their time staring at a roll of duct tape to consider the possibilities?

Yes, I see that raised hand in the back…

It wasn’t because we were trying to be crooks, we just didn’t begin to understand what we were getting into. Heck, I created Frankenstein’s laboratory out of salvaged stereo equipment when I was a kid. How much harder could pro audio be? It’s all the same principles, right? (For the record, the answer is yes, but…)

Let me interject a related concept: cocky.

It’s not until the hack gets cocky that life practically owes him a hard lesson. Again, if you’ve been working with audio on any level for more than nine minutes, you already have some great stories and perhaps even a nice video of the incident.

After a thorough (and admittedly comical) examination of cockiness in my own life, I’ve figured out what causes it: the possession of a solid grasp of a single aspect of something and then passionately charging into the fray like you’ve got it all figured out.

The more entertaining of the species just repeat the same process until they’ve screwed something up beyond hope, in every imaginable way. The others end up with Darwin Awards, I guess.

Many years ago, during one of the regularly scheduled transitions in my own life, I met the anti-hack. His name was James, and his trademark was that he made no assumptions.

James worked for me only briefly, for reasons which will now become obvious.

Any task assigned to him was completed like he was going to show it off to his mother. Any project that became his responsibility was managed, tracked, and executed in the most efficient and effective way humanly possible. (I’m not exaggerating.)

One of his duties was maintaining a swimming pool, and within a week, he’d put together binders to track supplies and water conditions, assembled a personalized user manual for anyone who might one day replace him, and compiled a book of diagrams for every imaginable repair or adjustment for the entire system. Oh, and the water was perfect, by the way.

He was so professional that others couldn’t help but notice.

About two months after he accepted the pocket change we could cover, he moved to became a free-lance hotel maintenance guy. Nobody could pay him what he was worth, but they could afford one day a week or month just to have him re-fix all the stuff the staff hacks had “fixed” between his visits.

James is a beautiful example of someone who mixes skill with passion and a desire for excellence. Those people tend to do pretty well. I’ve run across several examples of folks like him, but we all know there’s more examples of aspiring hacks providing Looney Tunes-grade foolishness.

Graybeards like me didn’t build our skills with anything as awesome as a mobile device that can deliver the answer to virtually any question in the universe, virtually instantaneously and at the touch of a button. We had to learn things in a more time-consuming, complicated way. Some of us were even coached by other hacks and thought that was how it’s done.

One of the best things about the present is that we no longer have to guess or assume. We have instant access to almost every manual ever produced. We have thousands of free resources to guide us through difficult processes that would otherwise involve breaking something expensive and possibly making a trip to the hospital.

There are almost no excuses left. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel on every project. We don’t have to guess about very many aspects of our work.

Nobody has to be a hack anymore.

So after this discussion, if you’ve suddenly found yourself in a repentant position, take the opportunity to change. Learn the trade. Do good work. In fact, choose to be excellent. It’s not too late to abandon the hack life.

And if not, at least try and catch it on video for the rest of us.


About M. Erik

M. Erik Matlock
M. Erik Matlock

Senior Editor, ProSoundWeb
     
Erik worked in a wide range of roles in pro audio for more than 20 years in a dynamic career that encompasses system design and engineering in the live, install and recording markets. He also spent several years as a production staff member and team leader for the largest non-denominational church in central Georgia, and served as an author for several leading industry publications before joining the PSW team.
http://erikmatlock.com

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