Having learned to perform some complicated procedure, an Arab technician knows that he is invaluable so long as he is the only one in a unit to have that knowledge; once he dispenses it to others he no longer is the only font of knowledge and his power dissipates. This explains the commonplace hoarding of manuals, books, training pamphlets, and other training or logistics literature.

Why Arabs Lose Wars

This quote is from J. Kb’s post and made me laugh because I saw exactly the same thing in Venezuela although not with the military but with professional audio.

Before I ended up with my business partner and fellow engineer, I worked in a couple of studios in Caracas. Being a young man, trained in a good school in the U.S of A made it easy to get a job. I worked in two places and both had the same approach to information: Don’t share. Back in the age of analog tape, you needed to know certain setting of you tape machine and what was its  maintenance record as it would help you detect possible problems before they happened. The same applied to the console and some of the rack-mounted effects. The more you know, the less crap you have to deal during a session.

I could not get a straight answer ever.

In fact, I could not get the manuals for the equipment! I requested them over and over and I was always told a good engineer did not need them to operate an specific model of gear. Imagine my shock coming from a culture where the frigging operating manuals for every piece of gear in the school were right there in the Control Room ready to be used at a moment’s notice.

One of my “specialties” as engineer was doing maintenance to the tape machines and it was a bit of a challenge to do so without the manuals. Also other necessary gear to perform maintenance was considered by the owners as unnecessary or too expensive and was ordered to do without. Finally I told my last employer that this was a stupid way to run a studio and why they did things like that. The answer is one some of you probably heard before: “We have been doing it for 20 years and never had a problem.” I may have responded to my last boss that indeed they had a problem: their recordings sounded like shit. I believe he did was not sorry to see me go.

I was told that another Venezuelan “gringo” like me was building a studio and I went see him. We hit it off fast and the conversation eventually landed on the gear he had for the studio. The tape machine was a Tascam 85-16B and my next question was if the manual was available. He said nothing but went into a file cabinet and produced this thick 3 ring binder.

I was home.

Tascam 85-16B like we had originally in our studio. Great machine!

Once the studio was up and running, we prided ourselves of being sharers of information. I don’t think a month went by that another studio called us with a problem and we were happy about sharing possible fixes. People thought we were some sort of Audio genius that knew anything and everything, but the reality was we were collectors of information. Our repair room also held the audio library with a competent collection of audio recording books and about a decade of Pro Audio magazines we were subscribed to and read religiously. At least 2 young audio entrepreneurs decide to get into the recording studio business and they came to us asking for the How-To.  It was a proud moment when they called us to say they had their first paid session and thanked us for the help.

Were we hated because we shared info? Oh shit yes. How dare we rock the boat?! They gossiped crap about us, dropped a dime about we dealing drugs from the Studio (We had long hair and wore flipflops, then again we had NRA and gun stuff all over my side of the office and a poster of an electric chair in the break room indicating our mood if you were to violate the studio rules which included ZERO DRUGS) and even a couple of daring souls came in trying to sabotage our equipment. Keyword: Tried. Let’s say we developed a “Do not fuck with” reputation after that.

To summarize a long post: The other studios were fearful that by sharing knowledge, other people would benefit and they would lose market share. They never understood that the clients want quality and delivery speed and are willing to pay for it. Once our reputation was established, we never stopped having clients, even when we shared info that lead to the creation of two other studios.

And it was never about the information but what you could do with it to give the client the best recording possible. It is not that I had the manual for the console or the tape machine or the reverb, it is that the manual provided me with not only the operations instructions but how to keep the machine properly maintained for a recording with exquisite sound.

It goes to a saying we have heard in the gun culture: “It is not the arrow but the Injun.”

Our studio’s control room circa 1995.  We had already transitioned to 32 track Digital Tape
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By Miguel.GFZ

Semi-retired like Vito Corleone before the heart attack. Consiglieri to J.Kb and AWA. I lived in a Gun Control Paradise: It sucked and got people killed. I do believe that Freedom scares the political elites.

7 thoughts on “A tale about the hoarding of information”
  1. Parts of the tech community are really big on information sharing (open source software, open hardware, user groups, tech fora, and so on). But then…
    Some chip companies are highly secretive; the information needed to design their chips into a product, or to write device drivers, is only available under NDA, and good luck executing the NDA if you’re a garage-level startup. I some cases, this is the result of chips incorporating third-party IP, and the third party being secretive, but sometimes it’s just the chip company limiting its own range of potential customers (perhaps hoping to avoid cloning of their product by withholding documentation from would-be competitors).
    Then there are the industry standards that are published by companies, or organizations, that charge an arm and a leg for copies of the standards… and various laws that incorporate such standards by reference, so you need to pay to find out what the law is. Such fun!
    Oh, and a heck of a lot of consumer-product vendors don’t make user manuals, nor even meaningful specs, available to potential customers; I don’t know how much of this is secretiveness and how much is idiot-driven marketing. C’mon, guys, at least answer basic questions like “how big is it” and “what kind of battery does it take”.

    1. Open source, bitsavers, and the classic computers community are all about preserving knowledge in various ways, driven by the awareness that a great deal of earlier knowledge has been lost. Of course that has always been true, but now it need not remain true; we have the ability to preserve everything, it’s only the willingness that may be lacking.
      On chips: it’s interesting that some do this even when it’s clearly stupid. Consider the chip at the core of the popular Raspberri Pi tiny-computer, and the rather similar one inside the Beaglebone Black. Both are ARM computers with a lot of extra support stuff built in. Both run Linux, and both are found on computers the size of a tin of mints that sell for $50 or so. But one is, or at least was, a deep secret (the former, made by Broadcom) while the other (made by TI) comes with a 5000 page manual, free for the download to anyone who is interested.

  2. In my career in the the nuclear industry I’ve run across a few (thankfully) individuals who had the “I know more than you; therefore, I am better than you” attitude. Fortunately in an open culture there are ways around them, and there are always other individuals willing to share knowledge. My response to “that’s how we’ve always done this” is “I bet that someone in the Three Mile Island control room said something similar just before the s@*t hit the fan.” The look on their faces was priceless.

    1. Kef indeed. The big monitors were 2 years of research trying to find woofers that did not need 1K per cone watts to give a flat frequency response. The technology for quality Near Field monitoring was not available for another 7 years or so. If you notice, we still had to cut portholes to get even lower.

      When we were done, we were getting a 50 Hz to 19KHz flat frequency response measured with Spectrum Analyzers….. at 65dB. Anything louder and you could not work inside the control room for long.

      PS: The Auratones are right in front of me as I type. 🙂

  3. Sadly every industry experiences this. I’ve seen it most often from old timers but not exclusively and I’ve seen it in oil, metals processing, and aerospace.

    Some of it came from protect the IP. Most of it came from make myself valuable to protect myself from layoff from people experienced mass layoffs and other similar turmoil at large companies as shopfloor/process workers.

    I understand that to an extent since history generally supports the office vs shop divide and the mistreatment of unskilled labor in the shop…. To an extent. However this tribal knowledge and information hoarding quickly becomes a detriment to accomplishing anything. Often the “value” of these people is not known until they are gone because management doesn’t care or is ignorant or try fail to communicate that value and tq guess what, life gets on without them sometimes quickly and sometimes eventually but it always gets on.

Only one rule: Don't be a dick.

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