Saturday, March 31, 2007

Final Four Saturday

Home away from home.....again

Look familiar?

TV production truck alley

Game show truck

Edit truck and International truck

Brian's workstation for transmission

Pre-Game set

Calm before the storm

As we are in early, I thought I would post pictures of the compound and of the court. Today we will be working from 8:00a until about 11:30p tonight. A very long day indeed.


Friday, March 30, 2007

Final Four Friday

Brian and I have been here since Monday afternoon and I am now finally able to sit down to write the blog. It has been an interesting challenge to get all of our duties done and get out of here at a reasonable hour. Long days are nothing new to both Brian and myself but we are usually exhausted by the time we drag our butts back to our hotel rooms. Last night Brian was running a fever and I was coughing due to the pollen and dry air that we work within.

Final Four is being held in Atlanta in the Georgia Dome. The Dome is also used for the football teams here and also hosts other large events. The problem is that the Dome cannot contain all of the trucks that come in to broadcast the Final Four. Our compound is located in one of the convention buildings across the street. Normally we use about 400-500 feet of cable to connect cameras and microphones to the tv production trucks. Here, due to being next door, we use over 1,500 feet of cable for each. Makes for a real challenge.

Brian is once again the transmission person that handles all of the feeds to NY. His job is downsized from Super Bowl because he has less feeds to deal with. My job is graphics maintenance that deals with the pre and post game show for the game. I don't have as many computers to work with but I am still kept busy with the crew that comes out from NY and that need to have equipment working. For the Super Bowl we would have 5 days to set up but this time we only had two days and with the same type of equipment, just a smaller amount. Both Brian and I would start work at 8:00a and would get back to the hotel by 10:00p each night. Just very long days. Also, Atlanta has changed since the last time I was here. There are more homeless people that are standing out on the streets asking for money. Some would even follow you in to the hotel. Scary place. We have also seen more thefts here. Usually we will have one or two incidents of missing or stolen bags. This time we are seeing more then the usual. I have warned people in my area to keep an eye on their bags and to make sure who does come in to the room that is known.

Otherwise, this is old home week....again....and it is nice to see the people once again.


Friday, March 23, 2007

March Madness

Now that Brian is finished with his expedition, it is my turn to write about our next adventure; March Madness. Every March in to April, there is the ritual of bringing of the clans (colleges) together to kick the stuffing out of each other to claim the right of the best in college hoops. And every year, CBS calls together all of their road warriors to go to these exotic lands to bring these games in to your homes. And every year, we all go kicking and screaming in to these exotic lands to accomplish this feat. My first exotic land for round 1 and 2 was Winston-Salem. Now there is an exotic locale! And round 1 is always fun because we get to have a very long day doing 4 games in a row. Starting at 8:30a and going to over midnight is a very long, boring day. Then there is the "dark day" where we re-set all of our graphics and video inserts before the round 2 games begin. The day isn't as long but we did finish around 11:30p, get back to the hotel, get 4 hours of sleep to jump on a plane to go home the next morning. I know Brian and I have explained this before but if anyone ever says to me, "God, you have such a glamorous life", I will choke them within an inch of their life! Where is the glamor when you fly in to a city, drive to the game venue, get in to a tv truck that is parked next to either a porta-john or a dumpster, or both, do the game, go to the hotel, get 4 hours of sleep to run to the airport to go home. I really don't see the glamor there but some do. And the "you are so lucky going to all of these sports events" again, Brian and I do not like sports....never did. Even my son-in-law, Phil, says when I told his daughter that I read a book while Super Bowl was going on, "that just isn't right!"

This week for round 3 and 4 (Sweet 16 and Elite 8 (where do they get these names???)) I am in another garden spot, The Meadowlands. We are parked down in the bowels of Continental Arena with some ooze coming out of the walls running in a stream next to my truck. The air is foul down there, it is dark, the ooze glows in the dark (not really) and I am scared for my life....not really either....just sounds better. Our first games are tonight so that we can re-set on Saturday to do Sunday's Elite 8 game. I will not post anything else until Brian does join me in Atlanta for The Final Four.


Friday, March 09, 2007

Day 12, End of the shows

Well, we're in the midst of the last show. Thank goodness for small favors.

I'll give my final thoughts tomorrow night, if I have high speed internet at the hotel. If not, you might have to wait until Monday, when I get home.

I hope you enjoyed this expedition. I know I did.

Day 12, Mid-Day

We're into our fourth show. More people are ready to strike, as the time comes. We get off the show at 3:30pm, pull Argus up, connect the NR-1 into tow-mode, pick up some scientists, and head back to port.

An interesting story that happened today, is that I now have the only NR-1 hat on board ship (unless you're a Navy officer). One of the collectables scientists/engineers wish to collect are the hats and shirts you can get on board specific ships. It's more a show of the different places you've been. The first thing we were all told was that there were NO NR-1 hats for sale. Well, that didn't stop me. Before we left port, I noticed one of the Navy officers smoked cigars. So, I went to a cigar store and bought some very nice cigars. After we left port, I walked up to him and said, "I noticed you smoked cigars, how about one of these?" And I gave him one. Later, he mentioned he liked the cigar, and I said I might have more. Needless to say, I have an NR-1 hat, and everyone else is very envious.

Life is good.

Day 12, Morning

Yay! It's the last day! 6 more shows! 5, really, damn Sun-outages.

Anyway, at 3:31pm CST, we're pullin' cable, BABY! We have to get as much done tonight as possible. Tomorrow we get into port around 4pm, and we're off the ship. Then we'll go back to the hotel, get a meal and a beer (or a few beers), come back to the ship on Sunday, help as much as possible, and go home.

Life, is good.

Day 11

The last days and hours are here. We have two days of shows and then we're done. Nothing to fix. Everything is working fine. I guess it's time to start thinking about strike.

When the vans aren't on a ship somewhere they are located in the Narragansett Bay URI campus. The Control Van and Image Van are separated by a large fork truck, lovingly named "Big Bird".

When we go to sea, we bring as much extra cable, connectors, and parts as we can. They are all stored in locking crates that we pack into the Control and Image Van, as they are pretty much empty voids while in transit.

Argus is slid into the Tool van, which is basically a shop for the engineers and pilots to be able to rebuild ANY part that might fail on the vehicle. All the vans (Control, Image, Tool, and Satellite) are set onto 53' flat-bed trucks and shipped to whatever port we're shipping out of. They also bring a Winch, to deploy Argus, the Air Conditioners for the Tool, Control and Image Van and a transformer to convert the ship's 480 Volt power service to a 220 2-phase.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Day 10

Don't forget to watch our shows at 11am, 12pm, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm at and click on "Channel" at the top. The last set of shows are on Friday.

We have to pull Argus out of the water this morning, as the NR-1 is doing another scientist transfer. One of the scientists that's going out, is a grad student who is claustrophobic. Hopefully she has a good time!

When I do the US Open in August we have a saying, "The only that stops setup is tear down". Which means that everyday we get ready for a big show: US Open, Super Bowl, etc. there's always the chance to change plans, redo things, and continually add pieces and parts. The only thing that can truly stop that is when we're done. Well, we've found our groove out here in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. I had to fix a monitor and that was it. No more running wire, or setting up computers to talk to the network, etc.

I was actually able to watch a movie, finish reading my book and start reading my tutorial on getting my General License for Amateur radio and finally: sleep.

Day 9

Things seem to be quieting down, finally.

What we're doing now is completing Dr. Ballard's dream to be able to bring students and scientists on board ship, without them leaving the comfort of their schools. The ultimate idea that Dr. Ballard had started in 1981. His dream was to bring expeditions from around the world to a centralized point, so that you could tune in (on television originally, now on the Internet) and see Dr. Ballard present a show that would allow him to, at the flick of a switch, be in complete communications with a research party in one part of the globe, converse with them and then flick another switch and be transported to another research vessel.

Dr. Ballard mentioned in one of these shows that he had been on over 120 expeditions (by the way, this is number four for me). Although his connections in the Navy, the US Government, and the oceangraphic exploratory world is still vast he's hoping to take a step back from being on the expeditions, and still have communications with each expedition and have more than one expedition occuring at the same time. This allows Dr. Ballard to still be the head of some cutting edge technology in archeology and ocean exploration AND bring all of this into the homes of children that may never have been interested in any of this, but can have an avenue to learn how exciting this can be.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Day 8, Way Point 10A, East Flower Garden

We've started out well, Argus has been underwater for more than 12 hours, and things seem to be clicking away.

We have an interesting schedule for our morning. We're doing a scientist transfer from the NR-1. They drop a small motor boat off the Chouest, and drive two fresh and clean scientists out to the NR-1 and transfer them with two not so great smelling scientists.

We have another set of shows today. Interesting enough, the satellite we're using is directly above us, and unfortunately when the sun passes over us at noon time, we have a sun-out. That means we lose our satellite connection for about 10 minutes or so. The reason for this is that the sun passes behind our satellite, and our dish is bombarded by the radiation coming from the Sun and wipes out the signal coming from our satellite. That's why, if you watch and click on "Channel" and watch the 1pm EST show, you'll notice you won't see any "live" footage from the ship. It's either a taped show or it will be all Dr. Ballard all the time.

Day 8, Recapping Day 7

Day 7: I couldn't tell you where we are, other than the 6th circle of Hell

Let's see, it's Day 1 of production. We have 7 days of shows, 6 shows a day, half hour shows and did I mention that Argus is on deck, the satellite isn't working apropriately and there are people turning green left and right. What a way to start a day!

I started my morning by climbing on top of the satellite van, where the satellite dish is setup, and drilling holes into the dish to tie-wrap heavy weights onto the satellite to stabilize it. Let me tell you, I didn't really wish to start my day like this. I prefer my newspaper and a cup of coffee, but OH NO! I can't have that! I need to be climbing onto a steel container with 50 lbs of lead, a screw gun tied to my belt (so I don't drop it or it might turn into an anchor) and the satellite guy trying not to chum the waters around us.

What was happening was the gyros inside the mount of the dish was overracting to movement being caused by the heavy winds. Typically satellite dishes are set on a stabile ground that doesn't require any movement. But, we're on a ship that keeps rolling and turning. This dish is smart enough to keep tracking the satellite above us. When it moves off the satellite it readjusts to where it thinks the satellite in the sky is. Well the wind is so strong out here it blows the satellite dish off course and the dish reacts and moves toward where it thinks the satellite is, but the wind pushes it past that, and it just sits racking back and forth ramming into the stops of the gyros causing a horrible noise and ruining the motors. Oops. That's bad. The theory is, make the dish heavier, and hopefully it'll stop being controlled by the wind.

And the answer is: We made it worse! The only way we were able to stop it, was by turning the ship into the wind, so the bridge was blocking the wind hitting the dish. Now we'll just say the holes are for increasing the aerodynamic properties of the dish. Yeah, that's it. Uh.....

We got through our first day of shows with no major issues. Let's hope tomorrow is a good day, too.

One day down, 6 to go.

Day 8, Recapping <(Cont'd) Cont'd> Cont'd

Day 6, West Flower Gardens, Way point 1

Today is the day we find out how well we've prepared and setup everything for show. Today is a rehearsal with Dr. Ballard at Mystic Aquarium.

If you remember, when my father and I went to Lost City in 2005 we had 5 days to setup, and there were 4 people setting up. In 2006, I had two weeks to get ready for the Black Sea. This time, we had 3 people (including myself) setting up for 5 days. I haven't been sleeping much (or well).

The good news is: We're ready. Everything worked well, we had a few bugs to work out, but everyone was very happy. The bad news is: A water main broke in URI's main router room, where all the internet is pushed around the campus, AND connects the Mystic Aquarium (where Dr. Ballard is) to URI's hub, where the production is put together. Oops.

Day 8, Recapping <(Cont'd) Cont'd>

Day 5, Leaving Galveston

OK, well, whatever we haven't done and need to do, it is too late! We're off! And it seems the engineers and pilots had a VERY late night. It seems during their final check on the vehicle, they found they had a ground fault. That's bad. This is what they needed to do to fix it:

They had to cut 1 kilometer of Argus' control cable. This cable contains fiber to transmit data from the sensors and the video from the cameras, and has power cable to power up Argus. All 3,000 meters (well now 2,000 meters, oops!) winds around a huge winch that controls how deep Argus goes. It seems there was a break/dent in the cable about a thousand meters from the vehicle, and every time they powered up the vehicle they would create resistance in the cable and it was burning a whole through the cable. Oops! They spent most of the day reconnecting the end that connects to Argus to the shorter winch cable.

We've left the dock, but don't worry we're still connected with four phone lines (as if we were making a phone call from URI's campus), and an internet connection (which is how I can keep posting to this blog).

The NR-1 has a top speed of about 3 knots. It would take a very long time to go the 100 nautical miles to the Flower Gardens, so the SSV Carolyn Chouest tows the NR-1 with these huge cables and ropes.

Day 8, Recapping (Cont'd)

Day 4, Galveston, TX - Pier 40

Tomorrow we leave port, and it is a very hectic day. We need to make sure that we have all the spare parts to be ready for anything, as well as making sure we have everything we need to finish before the first shows.

The exciting thing for me, was setting up a camera on the NR-1. I've never been on a submarine before, and I know this one is getting decomissioned in a few years so this is a special event for me. I need to get pictures from Doc Mary, so keep checking the blog, and I'll have pictures from the inside of the sub. The NR-1 is a Navy Research vessel that has been around since 1969. It was built with three viewports under the bow for scientists and observers to watch what was in front of the sub. We have an HDV camera and tape machine pointing out of the viewport. We'll see how well this concept works, BUT it gave me a chance to get a tour of the NR-1.

The sub has a console to steer the ship that looks like the controls for the space shuttle. Lots of knobs and buttons, a steering wheel and two joysticks that control the two manipulators on board the sub. You can crawl underneath the drivers' chairs and there are the three viewports and a sleeping area.

There's a long hallway that runs the length of the sub. There's a galley, which consists of a 1 gallon water heater, a small airplane-type looking oven that cooks all of their food (which is mostly frozen diners). There's a small two seat bench that is where they can eat. There are two computers in that position, one is for watching movies and playing computer games, the other is for e-mail and other paperwork.

There are four bunks stacked on top of each other. There is only enough room for you to slide into the bunk. You need to decide before getting in, whether you're going to sleep on your front or back. There is another bunk, that folds out over the hallway, and that guy gets to sleep about 5 feet above the floor. Speaking of sleeping, the captain sleeps in a small area between the back of the drivers' chairs and wall behind the bridge of the sub.

There are 11 crew on board and two scientists. The scientists are swapped out every other day, IF there is good weather. If there isn't good weather.....well..... If you've been keeping count, there are 7 places to sleep and 13 people on board. They hot-bunk, which means when one crew is off duty they sleep, while the other shift is working. When they are done working, they swap positions. There is a camp still shower, that they get to use about every third day. And the toilet is just a hole into a container, with a little flap and some blue water. Eeeew! They say by the third day, nothing and no body smells good.

There is one room I couldn't see, that was the engine room. It's top secret. They're very nervous about their nucular reactor aboard. That's fine, I'm not interested in having guns pointed out at me or ending up in a brig.

Day 8, Still Recapping

Day 3, Galveston, Pier 40

We can always tell when it is 8am, as we're working with the Navy, they raise a flag on the NR-1's aft, and bring it down at 5pm.

The ship we're on is the Carolyn Chouest. It's a flat-bottom boat and it feels EVERY wave, even when we're in port.

While in port, the NR-1 is pulled along side of the Chouest. This gives the Navy crew the ability to run tests and do any maintenance required.

We're still cabling up the ship. This is a little different for me than usual, as there are two bridges: One for when they drive the ship forward, and the other one is facing the fantail, aft of everything, during the ROVs operation. There are two robotic cameras, which we had last year, but as Bob is completing his dream of telepresence, he's going to have control from Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, CT.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Day 7, with a recap

We've started our broadcasts, they are on, click on "Channel" and you should be able to watch our shows at 11am, 12pm, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm, and 4pm. It's been a long time getting to where we are. I haven't been getting a lot of sleep, but I've still got a smile on my face, and many stories to tell. We'll go back in time to Day One.

February 26th: Galveston, TX
I flew into George Bush Intercontinental. The idea was to pick up Doc Mary, wait around for another of the Scientists, drive to Galveston, get some dinner and start the next day bright eyed and bushy-tailed. Why is it that the best laid plans never work?

Things were going well. My bags showed up quickly in the carousel, I got my rental car, and then called Doc Mary. She told me she wasn't at George Bush Intercontinental, she was at Hobby Airport, which is a good 40 miles away. Oops. That's fine, I'll wait for the other scientist, then get Doc Mary. When I checked my voicemail, it seems the other scientist was delayed from Chicago by two hours. Oops. OK, regroup. I'll go get Doc Mary, have dinner, come back to Intercontinental to get the scientist. Right? Right.

Now if you've ever driven around Houston, you'll know it's not a fun ride. There are two beltways that surround Houston, because there are such a heavy flow of traffic through the city, it's better to go around. Well, unfortunately I zigged, when I should've zagged and drove around Houston a couple of times. Oops. Needless to say Doc Mary was waiting at Hobby Airport for about 4 or 5 hours. Don't worry, I bought her dinner one night.

Day Two: Galveston, Pier 40

Doc Mary and I are the only two of the three video techs in Galveston, so starting to setup is slow. But, something that's different, is all the military presence. We're riding around on the Carolyn Chouest, which is a ship privately owned by a corporation. The reason for the military presence is the NR-1. This is a Navy submarine, which is the smallest, nucular powered submarine in the world. It also has the claim as the deepest diving vessel, that is manned. We'll talk about that later. With the nucular material and the Navy present, they require armed guards on the pier, on the ship and armed patrol boats around the harbour. This is VERY different, than what I'm used to. I'd show you pictures of the marines, but I might get shot at. I think I'll pass.

The reason for our expedition is two fold, it's really to bring the interest of children towards ocean exploration and oceanography, and to look at the ridge line that runs about 100 miles off the coast of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, where some scientists believe the coast line used to be about 19,000 years ago. They've actually found signs of life around this ridge line which predates most of our knowledge of the history of man on North America. It's only about 200 meters deep, so instead of the Hercules and Argus team, we're just using Argus. To replace Hercules we've actually mounted a camera inside the NR-1 looking through one of the viewports at the bow of the sub.

With only two of, setup goes slow, but we'll be OK.