Working for Chicago Spotlight

First off, I apologize for the quality of the photos here. I put this together from photos I snapped with my Motorola RAZR. Second off, I wish I had some more photos of the people at Chicago Spotlight. Finally, if you need rental lighting equipment, a dimmer system installed, or rigging done, Chicago Spotlight is a great place to do business with.

Holding part of a Colortran Encore 48/96 lighting console I have often been heard telling people that I would not want a mechanical engineer working for a car company if they are unable to change their own oil. Likewise, I would not expect anyone to hire me for engineering work if I can't fix other people's stuff, and relate with the people who actually use the stuff that I design. I also wanted to get a feel for how stuff really broke in the "real world". In order to pursue these goals, I took a job at Chicago Spotlight, in Chicago, Illinois. Turns out that I knew one of the people who works here when I was in high school, and they were looking for someone to come fix and install lighting and lighting control gear. The photo at right is me holding part of the repaired guts of a Colortran/Leviton Encore 48/96 lighting console. It needed a pushbutton re-soldered due to cold solder joints.

Hot on the trail of the frozen Technobeam problem Some of the cooler things to fix were these Technobeams, among the more venerable of the moving mirror lighting instruments. They are still quite popular, but are starting to succumb to Electrical Old Age Disease. This is an afflication that affects electromechanical systems that run really hot and get kicked around a lot. These particular units were suffering from clocking issues caused by a sealant reacting with the solder in the circuit. Thanks to the guys at Lightparts for helping me with this one. Another valid lesson from this experience: A lot of people know things. If you are pounding your head against the table trying to figure something out, and know someone who might know the answer, ask them! Even if they can't tell you exactly what to do, the might ask you things that you were not thinking about due to being too pent-up in the problem.

Dimmer rack shows signs of age Of additional very high education value for me was visiting customers to look at why their equipment failed. All in all, most dimming and control stuff I took apart or had to go into was pretty well built stuff. All equipment ages, though, particularly due to environmental effects. This rack was giving a customer a headache due to flickering. We replaced a bunch of parts and gave the thing a good washing, to get corrosion like this off of the bus bars inside. Most of the service calls I had to deal with were due to dirtyness, physical abuse, water, or AC electrical faults (think short circuits and lighting bolts). It's amazing to see just how much abuse this equipment takes while still working reliably. If someone tries to sell you periodic cleaning/maintenance on a very expensive piece of building-installed equipment, it will most likely save you money in the long run. Most people never really notice their furnace, dimmer rack, or AC equipment until it breaks down.

Blown up PCB from dimmer control panel This is a piece of dimming equipment that had troubles from the factory. Apparently a spade connector wiggled loose, which left the neutral disconnected from a three-phase sense circuit. It blew up the MOV's on the board soon after it was powered up. I got there and had to do a lot of fooling around to get this going again. But it worked, and everyone was happy.

Well used fog machine On the subject of stuff just working, this is a fog machine. Water and electronics are very tough to mix, but in certain applications there is no way around it. This went on tour, merrily fogging away with what was descibed as a minor leak. It came into the shop and we took it apart. The photo doesn't quite do it justice, but the entire inside was totally rusted. We were even amazed that the thing still worked.

Emily repairing a fixture. One of the best things about this job, which is missing from a lot of dedicated engineering positions, is the value of the co-worker. Chicago Spotlight is a very pleasent place to work. This is Emily, one of the shop techs, doing work on a fresnel. I would be sitting in the back fixing like crazy, and all the while there was occasions of pleasent conversation, dirty jokes, or just plain getting-along. Quite a different work environment than my previous engineering-centric jobs. Perhaps part of the reason is that everyone working at Chicago Spotlight is somehow connected to the theater or performance industry, which makes them more fun and sociable than most people who hang out only with other engineers.