Arisia '14

Lift-gates and lugging and LEDs, oh my!

Perennially limited perspective or no, I wore several different hats over the course of this Arisia -- logistics driver and Tetris Ghod [aka box bitch] again, truss wrangler, lighting-programmer-emeritus, sound guy, and cameraman. And hack arborist, if you count a lame attempt to trim a couple of tree branches overhanging the driveway entrance behind the NESFA clubhouse. Not exactly broad cross-culturalism, evidently this year's nominal con theme, but a little broader than I usually get. So this piece is on the long side, having to cover aspects and observations on several different areas and include the usual set of deep technical details. But there are many important messages scattered throughout, and I encourage careful reading.

My Arisia began at 9am the Wednesday before, when Janet and I picked up Lucky and went to rent the first truck. I drove its first leg and felt pretty confident doing the tricky backup into the NESFA driveway [we shoulda got pix of that, huh??]. Said tree has clearly had its share of encounters with trucks in the past, but I managed to safely avoid it and the bump-out roof of the closely-neighboring house [yes, you have to look upward when backing too] and that little bit of loadup didn't take long at all. We also picked up the bin of ratchet straps and Rick's two keyed-alike padlocks and distributed keys to the relevant people. Then I was champing to get out of there to avoid further inconveniencing the neighbors [who are old friends of mine and were expecting their own visitors that day], but everybody else wanted to eat lunch while we were there. Okay, whatever ... I cooled my heels and ate the sub I was handed [thanks, by the way!] and I had another little task to finish up anyway.

The first try on crawling under the back of the truck to disable the reverse beeper failed because I wound up removing the ground wire to a device that was self-grounding to the chassis anyway and we failed to test before rolling again, so the birth-canal slide into NESFA was accompanied by that annoying feeping that I'd promised the neighbors I'd try and avoid. While stopped there I dove back underneath and unbolted the *other* wire and the thing finally went silent. Backup warnings on rental trucks simply serve to tell the entire world how bad you are at handling them, as it usually takes three times as long and a bunch more retries to bump a dock than it would a professional.

[Small images are linked to larger-detail versions.]

Warning triangles around truck Next stop was Arisia storage, where the dock is a battered relic from the thirties or something and not very far off the street. Rather than leave the uselessly-aimed hazard flashers going for hours on end, I dug out the warning "flare" triangles and set them out as a far more visible indication to passing traffic that we were planted there. Every truck comes with the standard three of those in a box under the seat, and they take all of thirty seconds to unfold and plop down. With a 26-foot truck and one of the *nice* long aluminum lift-gates, we can't push in any farther than this but at least it leaves one lane fully open. If anything it calms some of the frequent aggressive drivers that routinely blast down this short stretch of street.

Starting the load Some of the NESFA gear would have to be moved to a different truck bound for the other side of the hotel, and was staged aside as the first heavy stuff started coming downstairs. As possibly pointed out in the past, the hotel is sort of split and has two dock areas, which is why we get two trucks for the main haul over there. And we fill 'em.

One essential piece of kit was the blue tub from NESFA full of load straps and gloves and other logistics accoutrements, which always seems to appear during these adventures. I also supplied some lights and power cords, a snow shovel, and a couple of brooms.

Firming up the basics

Here's where I want to introduce the idea of discussing some basic bits of methodology, across both logistics and tech, that many of our teams seem to habitually miss or not clue in on. These will be sprinkled throughout here. Don't get me wrong, we have an awesome volunteer workforce that draws on numerous backgrounds and talents and can accomplish almost anything once set in a direction. What we keep having trouble with is not about flawless maneuvering of a truck's big butt into a narrow dock or writing wow-the-crowd wiggle light cues, it's about the little stuff that everyone on the ground should stay on top of as they each do their part so that others don't have to stop and waste time fixing what wasn't done right at first. We're really good at getting in our own way sometimes, and some quick training/reminders can go a long way toward getting past that.

A good example is those ratchet straps. Sure, we use them to secure parts of the load against shifting around in the truck, particularly for things on wheels. [Locking casters aren't enough, sorry.] There's a right way and a wrong way to use load straps. First is to avoid over-using them -- I've seen trucks packed by others arrive sporting a giant orange spiderweb in the back with straps wound and threaded *through* numerous handles and parts of the objects, all of which just takes that much longer to undo and clear when it isn't needed. Hit the heavy stuff that rolls with one or two mid-height runs and let the rest self-lock just from the way it gets packed in. Second, the attachment points at both ends of any strap running across the truck should be *ahead* of the rear surface of the object(s) in question as much as possible, hooked so as to resist a backward pull and thus retain the load toward the nose of the box. Sometimes that means planning ahead and attaching one end of a strap and leaving the rest accessible before pushing the object into place. An exception is something lashed up against the side, but that should still be touching the main load and it's expected that additional stuff will eventually fill in the space around it. What I often point out to people is that the truck box walls are flexible, and the elasticity of bowing out the walls a little while pushing stuff into place across the width gets utilized to help retain loads side-to-side. The largest forces the content will undergo is side rocking, and forward from any sudden stops, which should be minimal with careful driving. We're far less concerned about backward on hard acceleration, since these vehicles are not exactly drag racers, but think ahead about any hills on the route. For us, the Zakim climb-out on 93 is probably the most radical pull and correctly rigged load-straps will easily handle that.

It is less likely that good "truck tetris" ability can be taught, as peoples' innate grasp of spatial relations is quite variable. That's okay, we can specialize where it works best. As I had promised to take on the previous year, I was pretty much the guy in the truck doing the Efficient Packing Thing most of the time. It was gratifying that for the most part, with help from the other folks running stuff in to me standing on top of the growing bolus, we could get most of a given elevator-load all placed and locked in before the next one arrived; that's as it should be. Unlike certain identifiable bottlenecks experienced last year.

Two trucks Later in the afternoon the second truck was obtained, piloted from the Penske place in Medford by Janet, who arrived going "I *hate* this thing!" as it had one of those independently-air-sprung driver's seats that bounces up and down like a mechanical bull over our infamous Boston winter potholes. Yeee-haw! I was like "but does it have that cool transmission setup like from last year??" It turned out to be an older model that didn't, whose converter drag possibly made it a bit easier to line up and bump in over the bit of curb to spoon up cozily against the first truck so we could quickly cross-load the gear that was light enough to be hand-passed across.

Funny thing -- here we had, under our own direct control, two instances of the very recognizable late-model International Harvester "big teeth" front ends which I normally see larger-than-life in my rearview as I try to keep the aggressive cowboy drivers off my butt along the interstates. After driving one of these I cannot *imagine* why anyone would want to tailgate traffic in one, let alone in an articulated full-size rig. Some of those supposed "professionals" must be total retards.

Nice sunset over 561 Load proceeded, eventually swapping truck 2 into place at the dock. We took a moment to shoot the little slice we could see of a nice sunset over Somerville.

I actually didn't take that many pictures this con, even though I tried to keep the camera with me most of the time. It felt like other people were whipping out their iphones every five minutes so there must be a ton more pictures of the con and its shoulders than I have. Publish your links, please! While the smartphone cameras have made huge strides in image quality, I like having the luxury of the "real camera" higher-res image that I can do all kinds of cheats and fixes on in the reduction process to web-size. This one, for example, got a bit of "fake HDR" in post to bring a little more level to the building facade and Lucky's shirt. Other parts were simply lost in full black, which is okay as it was dusk on the north side of the building. But brightening the original shot would have completely blown out the sunset colors, so the level I chose here was calculated knowing what I'd do later.

The total load was biased very unevenly toward the "high side" of the hotel, and after we swapped to the second truck I went back upstairs to look around and realized that the great profusion of stuff tagged for the corresponding side was never going to fit in it. We selected a few large items to leave aside for the Galleria-side truck which by then was only about half full, but I nonetheless clearly had my work cut out for me dense-packing this one. Good thing we did *not* send the first truck over to the hotel early, because it had to come back to the dock for the final items. We worked into the night but not inordinately long, and were all loaded up by about 10pm. In high contrast to last year, when the last folks were at Storage well after midnight and rumored to be dropping white goods on each other. No, this year we insisted that all fridges/freezers would travel *empty*.

We also came up with a ridiculously simple solution to moving Rick's big printers -- pick a flat side with a good structural piece at the bottom edge, and just tip the whole thing up on a hand truck. This worked way better than fighting their own useless little office-floor casters over a half mile of carpeting and dock-plate bumps, and put the printers' delicate innards through far *fewer* bumps and jars.

That, of course, required hand trucks with good wheels and one of my pre-load tasks was to pump up all the tires on the ones that have pneumatics. They do pretty much go flat over the intervening year and in the past, I've seen people flailing around trying to use them with squashy tires and never thinking about why they might be hard to roll. Duh, profoundly basic. That's why we have a hand pump in Storage, although its Schrader head has gotten a little squirrely.

Another pre-con task I took on was to add pieces of black tie-line to any appliance cords I could find, to facilitate making sure they were all neatly tied up before moving. This is another logistics basic: trailing plugs have been a perennial annoyance, so my efforts were toward making it easy for people packing out to confine them as neatly as they came in. This was ignored in some cases as on the out I found quite a few just sort of half-ass taped to the sides of various devices, but maybe the right approach will seep into group memory if I keep pointing it out.

Some appliances were in their own containment making power cords less of an issue, and I seem to remember loading about twenty crock-pots still in their original boxes. Do we really use that many of them??

Out of storage

Empty storage, southwest Empty storage, southeast Empty storage, north-ish
Southwest Southeast North
I went back upstairs after loadup was done to grab the shots of "empty" Storage that one of the Corp members had requested. [Again, click for bigger versions of the pics.] It wasn't really that empty, as a lot of stuff was marked to stay home from the con and some significant percentage of that is basically junk that *never* goes to Arisia or anywhere else anymore. We really need another "launch phase" like happened a few years ago, as we really can't afford to be continually stumbling over this useless baggage forever.

Another problem in fundamentals was destination labels falling off. People need to stick them down hard when applying, not just give them a quick slap and expect them to cling forever to a porous surface. In the process of idiot-checking we saw quite a few labels on the floor and had no idea what they might have dropped from. Evidently this caused the need for a return trip for those two additional fridges in the back, because they were not visibly tagged to go. Food folks, take careful note, as that seemed to be the area with the most adhesive malfunctions.

With the loads finally ready to roll we wrapped up the final bits and hit the road for the hotel. This year, possibly due to my pushing for it, we had contractually arranged to tuck *both* trucks in under the hotel for Wednesday night. With the minor caveat of having to ferry both drivers back out for the overnight, this is *so* much better than trying to figure out where to park a box truck somewhere around Somerville and environs and it's no particular headache for the hotel as there's quite a bit of room in that little dead-ended piece of Fargo St under the breezeway. Most of the random cars that show up there and park against the fake plastic Jersey barriers during the day/evening belong to BCEC employees, and have nothing to do with the Westin so there's no reason for them to take precedence over a couple of trucks *we* use as essential infrastructure for our event that largely takes over the whole hotel. It was also nice that the night ahead would be just slightly subfreezing, e.g. good for the food in the coolers to maintain temp but not wikkid-cold which might be detrimental to certain types of electronics. [There's been some ongoing debate about that...]

Janet and I then carpooled back to the northern burbs, and as I'd sent my own modicum of tech gear through Storage this left me down to one backpack as my luggage for the next day. I wanted my car to be available on the out so I brought it down Thursday morning and left it in the Storage lot and continued to the hotel with Janet who needed to keep her car more handy. I describe these seemingly peripheral details to point out the additional logistical headaches of getting the *drivers* where they need to go once they're done with the trucks, and thinking ahead to how the out is going to work. This has to be an integral part of the plan, along with the weather considerations implied above.

That morning we first bumped both docks under the "high side", pulling all the Tech and Ops stuff for that side out of the Galleria truck and then sent it over to the other dock. The hotel security folks had come up with a MIMO [move-in, move-out] credential scheme for us but ran out of lanyards and tags as the collective crew that showed up was sizeable. Thank you to all who are reading this and were on hand that morning! Unload went pretty fast, even with our equipment vendor deliveries mixed up in all the activity too, and a steady stream of Stuff flowed down the hall toward the ballrooms.

And here we hit another Basic Issue: where to stage all this crap before it could fan out to the various destination areas?? Tech is a no-brainer as it pretty much stays in the ballroom, but there were plenty of other places that stuff needed to go and we didn't even necessarily have some of those rooms available quite yet. Fortunately, Phi [so I hear] had apparently thought of this in advance and had printed up a batch of large department signs to tape up to the walls around one of the ballroom sections, labeling specific staging areas for the different functions. Thus, the people bringing stuff in from the truck had a clearly identifiable place to drop it for the moment, which totally r0x0r3d. I headed off some early misconceptions about which ballroom section to bring things to -- some people were still operating under the old Hyatt assumption that everything should go through the "main tent" section as over there it was on the way to the docks, but that's not the case at the Westin. Commonwealth and Grand D/E are the better choices which are much closer to the docks and the staff elevators that bring everything else upstairs. In other words, don't push stuff farther than you need to, certainly not all the way out to A/B and back again. Work smarter, not harder.

So, to summarize some of those basics here --

  • Stick labels on firmly when tagging
  • Bring only what you actually need
  • Make sure cart/handtruck wheels etc are in suitable condition
  • Tie up all power cords
  • Use load-straps intelligently
  • Consider big-picture logistics including where people need to go when
  • Have a clear load-in plan and convenient/nearby staging area(s)
  • Take stuff directly to its destination area if possible
all of which will hopefully help make things even more smooth next year.
Segue to tech

Noel, who was last year's logistics head but not really involved with it this year, graciously volunteered to accompany me to return the secondary truck that afternoon, so off we went to the Penske place and then got hopelessly snarled up in weekday rush-hour traffic on the lower deck on the way back. With the Callahan closed for repairs the traffic into the Big Dig has been pretty horrendous, so it took us over an hour to get back across from somewhere near Assembly Square. I wanted to return promptly and start helping with tech build in main tent, but as I phrased it later, I spent the first half of that sitting in traffic. Oh well, that's how it goes and we need to account for such likelihoods.

[Important note: The Penske place we used is up 28 a little, on Riverside Ave in Medford. As advised to me prior to the run [as opposed to learning the hard way!], a section of 28 near it becomes the Fellsway, beginning right by the big Kappy's liquor store, and is marked NO TRUCKS albeit only by a little tiny truck-circle-slash icon sign. And the state police sit right there in the Kappy's lot and wait for some poor schmoe who doesn't know any better and misses the sign to go barreling gaily through the light onto that section without instead turning onto one of the alternate truck-legal routes on 16 [left] or Middlesex Ave [straight]. Middlesex goes into a tight residential neighborhood and the left onto Riverside with a truck is, uh, interesting, so 16 is far and away the better option. A little farther along is a right onto Commercial Ave which brings you up to Riverside right across from the Penske place. Reverse the route to return.]

I finally returned to the ballroom and put on my tech hat, joining the efforts that were already fairly well under way. One change this year was that we were going to fly truss using the hotel-resident PSAV riggers, with the downside that their hours of availability would affect our schedule. So the main lighting build would actually have to wait until 7am the next day, which we know fewer people are willing to get up for. In the meantime we loaded in a couple of other suppliers, put up scaffold, ran a bunch of wiring, prepped gear, and generally unpacked and pushed things toward where they were needed. We left the room that night with the truss bolted together and ready to rig and the gear laid out near where it would get attached.

Scissorlift for our use The PSAV contract even gave us use of a scissorlift for the day, which would make dealing with the rig at height easier. They had no problem with us driving it around, which is way better than the rules in some venues.

Running the motor controller Their guys showed up right on time and made short work of getting the spansets on and the truss to working height. The motors they have are the *cutest* little things -- from CM, but they almost looked like they were from walmart or Harbor Freight. They're double-purchase with pulleys up at the rig points so they can be much more compact with a smaller chain and still be rated for the half-ton WLL.

Across the truss rig Then the PSAV guys had to basically sit there and watch the rest of us work while we put lights and wire on the rig. They pitched in here and there to neaten up cables, bringing some of their corporate-gig chops into play, but overdid it here and there by allowing very little slack for later adjustment.

We had it together, up at trim, and the motor power disconnected and taken away well within their four-hour-minimum call.

Another big change for this year was that my wiggle-lights would be part of this rig but *not* controlled by my wheezy old Hog laptop. David had rented an ETC Ion, which a few of us are getting more experience with, and it has integral moving-light capabilities and fixture profiles for the several different modes of the Martin 918. What the console couldn't do, though, was magically reverse the DMX polarity of my lights which for years had been set "backwards" for various historical reasons. One of my pre-con tasks was to go to Storage and open up all the units and flip them to the standard polarity, which I've got a separate page about. So in theory I don't need my handful of DMX crossover jumpers anymore, just straight adapters between 5 and 3 pin XLR.

So the Hog laptop stayed in the back of my car over at Storage all weekend, not even coming in to run the dance tent, which just felt weird in a way. But the decade-plus long tradition of all this being Hobbit's Special Brainchild was finally crumbling, clearing the way for new ideas coming into the mix. I have absolutely no problem with this, and see us generally being in a period of fairly smooth transition where others might feel more inclined to take the design-level positions. It's still a bunch of work and planning, of course.

Thus it was nice to see another new element David brought into play -- some of the spiffy new LED-based fixtures from ETC. Apparently ALPS had just gotten in a stock of the Lustr+ units with the high-definition lens barrels -- so recently that they weren't even listed in the rental catalog yet. [Warning, that link goes to an absolutely awful "viewer" wrapper that requires all kinds of junk turned on in the browser. ALPS says they're in the process of fixing that, especially after I bitched them out about having endless trouble with it and asking, "Can we just have the straight PDF back?"] These claim to be as bright as a 575W halogen unit and that LED technology is finally getting to be on par with traditional theatre fixtures, albeit still at an order of magnitude more cost. I think that's a bit optimistic when one compares the actual photometric data, but these do seem quite punchy and have all the same Source Four controls we're used to for focus and beam shaping.

Lustr+ without its barrel Lustr emitter pattern
The "light engine" substitutes for the lamp reflector housing on the back of the unit, and appears to consist of a flat plate of 60 emitters, a hexagonal "kaleidoscope" sort of reflective box around it, and a lens hard-mounted so that the emitters are right at its focal length. So without the normal lens barrel in place at all, we can see an image of the entire array projected on the wall. The center position isn't an LED but where a screw holds the array down inside. The edge is where the cool-white and amber rows appear mirrored, because it in fact is where the hex reflector sits. This puts a generally directed blast of output light through the shutter gate of the rest of the body just like a lamp in an ellipsoidal housing would, leaving the traditional optics out front to do the same focus as usual. Shutters and gobos work the same, although at some blurred focus there's just a tiny hint of color fringing at projected edges. The shot on the right shows half-and-some of the array in more detail and it's clear that mounting positions are chosen to give each color radial symmetry in the output.

It's LED, but not your usual RGB. It's a design they call "x7", splitting the spectrum into many more bands and allowing a designer to pretty much obtain all the subtle theatrical pastels that look good on flesh that we'd normally get from gels. It actually works. And it doesn't mean that one has to control seven or eight different channels from a desk although that is one of the configuration options; rather, it can boil down to an easy triple of hue, saturation, and intensity which can be chosen from a "color picker" graphic on the monitor of a console suitably aware of the fixture personality. The light itself handles all the balancing and regulation and can even account for long-term LED aging when the output brightness starts to droop around 50,000 hours. Those who are really interested in the design background and subtleties [as I am] can watch the 38 minute video of one of ETC's marketing guys getting into it all in great depth and detailing the history from the prototype Selador units on up. A cruise around ETC's "Layers of Light" subsidiary website noted above will turn up all the documentation on these.

Daniel focusing a Lustr Another nice feature is that the units can be controlled locally, such as for focusing. A quickie button on the back brings us right to the menu item to simply turn the unit on and off at full white, removing the need for an RFU or someone at the board. So for the most part we could just drive the lift along the rig and work independently, only needing a little designer guidance once in a while. And of course with the versatile color output far fewer fixtures are needed to get the different desired moods on stage, shortening focus time even further. Mostly it boiled down to a question of direction and coverage, simplifying the design specifics considerably.

At $2500 a pop and lens barrels extra, I don't see any of us laying in a large stock of these toys anytime soon but we're clearly seeing a nice inflection point in the industry here.

[At least I'm not ranting at this kind of length about truck transmissions this time...]

Rig in the air By incorporating a few traditional fixtures for washes as well, David created what the ETC folks call a "hybrid theatre". The few incandescents could run from small truss-hung dimmer packs and didn't take long to get focused up either. With the rig in the air and done the rest of the room build could be finished underneath, and we had a fairly generous amount of neaten-up time to prep for events and rehearsals.

Looks pretty sparse, doesn't it? A lot of functionality possible from relatively few devices.

Camo pattern from overlaid gobos As mentioned the Lustr+ units handle gobos just fine, and then when you overlay a couple and play with color behind them you get some really entertaining effects -- this "camo cyc" shot is from two units and some creative color mixing.

Tech meeting Tech meetings were scheduled well in advance and their times widely broadcast, and so were well-attended and resulted in nice comprehensive punch-lists of what we still needed to do. We had a lot of people on board this year, and runtime-slot allocation was a lot more smooth as people volunteered for positions fairly promptly. Unlike last year, when a lot of "Who wants to do ...?" was met with crickets and people had to almost be forced to take roles. The crew had a lot of spirit and enthusiasm this year, and there's a bunch of "new blood" folks coming into the techno-fandom fold who will hopefully carry forward the "old phart" wisdom and add their own spark of new ideas as time goes on. This is great to see.

While my main comfort zone is still lighting, I signed on for a couple of video and sound slots just to reinforce that jackass-of-all-trades feeling.

Dance light towers Then I went to help finish up the dance tent build. I went into this con having absolutely *no* idea about how dance tent was going to look -- how's that for a break from tradition? I decided to be totally hands-off, wait-and-see prior to the con to see what the result would be. It turned out to be pretty much the same three truss-towers design [there's not much else you can do in that room and keep it compact, really] with a few extra bits of "DJ cheez" fixtures thrown in and some of Carl's LED colorblast stuff scattered around the walls.

Dance color picking I did apply a little dance-tent design experience in picking a set of colors and where to overlay them on the floor -- pretty simple, really, the idea being to not put like colors together or proximal anywhere and keep them as deep and punchy as we could get away with. The parts of the rig that needed control would run from a plain ole 48-channel board, almost hearkening back to those earliest days when I made Boots' old Colortran board get up and boogie. Due to the under-spec power the hotel supplied us in the room we were limited to two towers and six total lights from each including a stage wash, but that was okay as I didn't want to spend all day digging through David's gel stash. It worked out fine, and in fact the club-dance coordinator thought even that was too much light at times.
Angela and I poked through the manual on how to write chases into the Elation board we were given, and quickly found an annoying bug in their timing characteristics. The board has a master chase clock with a "tap sync" beat-matching button, but while chases can run with their sequence steps offset from each other depending on when they're started, their *trigger points* cannot. If a second chase starts at a time in between the clock ticks, it will resync to the master trigger time on its next step. This defeats the whole idea of running up chase sliders at times designed to overlay, say, two one-second chases on top of each other so that something changes every half-second. So for a good dose of ironic, the old Colortran had independent chase clocks and would handle running that way beautifully, and the more "modern" and supposedly DJ-oriented board would not.

Notwithstanding, Angela sat down and industriously pounded in a bunch of chases and fades for the lights and LED wall-shots that were plenty to carry the evenings, after which I had no idea what she'd produced and it took a while for her to explain it to me later. So I guess we were now the dance-tent run team, although I was hoping to bring a couple of other people up to speed on it too and take shifts running dance lights. We eventually showed Erika [coordinating the DJ dances] how to bang the tap-sync button and trim the brightness levels on various things to create the moods she was looking for and essentially left the whole thing in her hands. Perhaps not producing quite as "integrated" an experience as when I would run along in lockstep with Zed and precisely hit the "drops" in what he was playing, but plenty happy-bouncy-colorful for our attendees. It still represents evolution/change in the dance tent which was my traditional favorite fiefdom, and it's all good.

We had two club-dance nights, and for one the rear third of the room was partially airwalled off like last year to form a "lounge" space but left open the next night. This way I got to compare the look and feel of both setups, and my take on it is this: don't bother closing the airwall, it's just a pain in the ass for the housemen. The room is small enough that it felt just fine fully opened up, and allowed the full set of wall-washes around the periphery to look much more integrated. So from a design and a hotel-resume standpoint, let's quit doing gratuitous room turns like this. And put the cash-bar guy out in the hall, so he can have better light to work by and doesn't have to spend his whole night shouting over the music.

No strain relief, bad idea While dance tent was coming together another crew was finishing up small tent across the hall, cobbled together using whatever lighting gear was left over from Arisia's stock and some extra rented/donated bits. No real design here, just two trees aimed at the stage. I took a break from dance-tent to help the guys on this debug a bum stagepin plug with the usual loosened crimp-lug problem, and noted that they could have used a little more supervision on this in -- guess what, the basics. Here we see a bunch of lights and dimmer feeds plugged up with absolutely no strain-relief on the wiring, relying on socket friction to hold everything together and in the air and making a messy spiderweb on its way to the ground. *One* well-placed tie onto the upright would fix all of this in one shot, making it both neater and more robust. It stayed this way most of the weekend, as I took this shot fairly far along in the convention.

An interlude of bovine scatology

At some point in here, enjoyment of my con was marred by an absolutely moronic shit-storm over bare feet -- especially disappointing because it was sourced internally and only concerning a private convention staff resource. I thought we were done with this for good three years ago, and I wandered around for the next couple of hours in a mild state of shock and amazement that this had ever come up as an issue again [not to mention wondering where I was going to grab dinner that evening]. Many of our crew had decided to kick back and go shoeless by this time, so it came as a total surprise to quite a few people besides myself.

Think about this carefully, and think about the people you work with. What if I were in charge, and abruptly decided *mid-con* that everybody with piercings was "offensive" and/or a food safety risk and that said people had to either cover them up or go hide in the back room to eat? How many people would that immediately piss off? How about someone with purple hair, chainmail, or poorly-sized spandex? Exact same kind of groundless in-your-face discrimination which there is no place for in Arisia. When you start attacking personal preferences or attributes that don't violate any laws or convention rules, you run a serious risk of chasing our hardworking volunteers right out of the fold forever. Especially when you do it while standing between them and the food.

To achieve any credibility with this nonsense you would have to also apply it uniformly to the greenroom and con suite at the same time, not just in a private function space created for OUR OWN STAFF that makes the con happen in the first place. It needs to go into permanent collective memory and convention policy that we do not push the blacks, hippies, gays or anyone else to the back of the bus, and that this kind of bullshit is completely forbidden. If there's not yet an official manual for running our food functions, it's time to create it and make that rule #1, or at least rule #2 below "try to avoid poisoning our patrons".

People come to these events to relax and have fun, and to feel that they're more free to express their preferred lifestyle choices and quirks among their peers. Any non-acceptance of that is discrimination, unless said expression genuinely and objectively infringes on others. Furthermore, neither the event or the venue it is held in are responsible for my safety, *I* am. Is someone going to tell me to pick and choose my own hazards? They're everywhere. Whether I put a roadcase down on my foot or pinch my hand in a room door with an overly aggressive closer, it's stupid stuff that I try to prevent as I go about the ordinary process of living at the con. Give people just a *little* credit for being able to handle their own situations.

Crystal set a bad precedent when she caved to this sort of kerfluffle three years ago. Rather, she should have put an immediate stop to the bigotry and set the staff-den people straight on Arisia's general anti-discriminatory practices. Not that this year's crew were even aware of that -- in fact, I was told point-blank "we have no group memory about it" and that's a direct quote. Now is the time to fix that for real. Lisa's take when she finally found out was much more sensible, basically boiling down to "WTF??" as she stomped off to kick some boo-tay in the interest of a little constructive personnel turnover.

If there's any question about it, the [utter lack of] legal status on any of this is trivial to look up. Start with the FDA food safety manual under "personal hygiene", the articles at, or even wikipedia. The various health and safety agencies are far more concerned about bare *hands* than bare feet, and frankly I didn't see a whole lot of protective gloves in use around the staff den.

To Staff Den's credit they did keep us well-fed, when they'd allow us in. As of this writing I still have a batch of the yummy Moroccan Stew frozen up that I rescued from being thrown out during con-suite teardown later. I won't comment on the "flavored coffee" tempest because I'll drink damn near anything resembling coffee as long as it's not instant and I can load it with enough sugar.

Aimless wandering

Busted refrigerator on dock All this coincided with a bit of available dead-time for me anyway -- nothing more to logisticate or clean up in the ballrooms for a while, so I actually managed to get around and see some of this convention rumored to exist somewhere in the hotel. But first I took a quick cruise through the dock areas to see if we'd missed anything, and found one of our fridges sitting there. Broken, apparently, i.e. it came back down from a food function rather than having been forgotten about during loadin. Later I found out that the door had come off a hinge or something and they'd shipped in a replacement from Rent-a-Center to get them through the con.

Lots of food garbage There were quite a few of these green and yellow bins next to this, all of which were full of various food garbage from the hotel and had all been sitting here the entire time since we rolled in. Did they have a service that eventually takes this away, I wondered? The security guy on duty didn't seem to know, or couldn't imagine why I was even asking. It just surprised me that the stuff was still here *three days later*.   Eww.

But note a couple of things here: big bins of rotting garbage sitting on a crufty loading dock, right next to the bottled water that the hotel uses to stock the water service stations in the function spaces. So the water guys come down here and shove these dirty bins aside, put their hands all over the cap area of the bottles to pull them out of the crates, and bring that out for guest consumption. The water bottles also get used as doorstops, picked up by the neck and moved by any number of different staff and vendors.

So don't try to tell *me* anything about "food safety". You're looking at it.

Unused box fans Unused massage-den screens
Discovering the fridge gave me the idea to tour around a bit more and spot some of the stuff we'd shipped to the con but not used. These massage-den screens that didn't make it into the Den sat in an upstairs hallway all weekend. And I had been dubious about packing the box fans for registration when they were a distant legacy from bygone hotels, but here they were sitting in Ops untouched the whole time.

In other words, think carefully about what your department really requires and trim your loads! If you insist on a blanket "just bring everything" policy, then do your part and come help with logistics and expect to get grilled about it. Better, though, to keep track of what you really need and pass that knowledge on to next year's point person.

In general, though, it looked like things were largely under control. I cruised through the dealers' room and met a couple of friends to geek about gigs with, and then checked in on how Masq rehearsals were going. I didn't have a Masq runtime that required me to be in there all day, but earlier I had hung around a bit to help look up a couple of things in the Ion manual. I'll leave it to David to describe his workflow and how he set up cues and subs for Masq as it was under his fingers all day. Syd said he wanted me on a camera for Masq so I went and played around with them to re-acquaint myself with the controls, and helped set up a quick lockdown shot for David's confidence monitor so he could check how the lighting would look on video.

The tech party Saturday night was pretty hoppin', and much merriment was had with occasional pops down to dance-tent and the other spaces to make sure nothing was on fire. The mood was jubilant, like this time we weren't scrambling to just barely hold stuff together around the con and that most of the bases were covered. If there were exceptions, other peoples' reports will cover that.

Awright you, stop drinking and get back to work

Psyche Corporation, playing to about 5 people Not having worn enough hats yet, I took an easy sound shift mixing for Psyche Corporation. Three inputs and some hasty guidelines given on relative levels which I didn't quite comprehend at first, but it went okay and kept the five or so people in the room entertained. They never seem to do that well at Arisia, and it's not like their theme and backstory isn't sci-fi geeky or anything so I don't know why they don't get a bigger draw. She was also hampered from her usual stage movement by a broken foot or something, but used the crutch [carefully!] as an amusing prop a few times.

Frozen costume There were plenty of hall costumes in evidence too, this one from "Frozen" quite well put together and of course with Barb's usual over-the-top flair in braiding fashion. That must have taken *hours*. She had toyed with the idea of entering the masqerade but decided not to; I think it would have been well-received even though there was at least one duplicate Elsa floating around.

The Masq itself went pretty well, only one or two minor timing hiccups, and I saw most of it on a tiny little black-n-white screen. It was nice to get back into some camera work, as it had been years since I thought much about it. I realized that I operate a camera like I drive -- being as smooth and predictive as I can, always going for what seems like the right sweet-spot all the time. Fluid heads certainly help with that, at least when the baseplates don't start coming loose from the cameras, ahem. The halftime show was a collection of formal dances through lots of different time periods, which wasn't a difficult shoot but Syd and I and everyone else on the comm got to geek about aesthetics and movement and other fun stuff.

Thus chained to a camera until the entire event ended I couldn't go help with dance-tent teardown that happened concurrently, but that evidently went fine too. The original plan was to start main-tent rip-n-tear that night after the masquerade, but we realized there was only so much progress to be made and the hotel wasn't going to strike chairs till 6AM or whenever anyway, so we decided to all go party instead and leave the bulk of worktime till morning.

At least I knew when the Masquerade was over this time!

When the seats ... are all empty

Most of our tech crew is fairly adept at efficient teardown, but we always get a few new or less-experienced people who don't know all the funny nuances of how we work and want others to work. Why, then, aren't we having some sort of orientations available to bring them to speed on ... dare I say it, some of the basics?? This requires that everyone arrive promptly for call so they can be gone over en masse for thems what needs it, or that we have someone they go to for a procedural rundown before starting to work on anything. The present reality is that it's far less formal than that, where folks wander in going "can I help?" to the nearest person who looks like they know what's going on and if they don't get the oft-storied sniffy techno-fandom blowoff, are set to some task and easily wind up doing it wrong. This just wastes more time on recovery and has significant potential for equipment damage/mishandling.

It's not just about mandatory flip-coiling and which cables go where to get sorted, it's also about work ethic. Nobody should be standing around just telling war stories when there's work still to be done -- the default state of anybody without their hands on a particular directed task should be picking up cables and coiling them. They don't have to necessarily know exactly what the cables are or where they get returned to, the point is to just get them all rolled and tied properly and then someone who knows can come along later and dispatch them to the different sort-piles. We should have a point-someone that people present in the room can always find, who knows *who to ask* what should get taken apart when and what caveats there are to working on it. That can at least keep everyone moving. Folks can work and chat at the same time, they don't have to stand around in the frequent 100% idle gab sessions I see before things are genuinely reaching completion.

Another basic should be better avoidance of how we get in our own way and cause waste. Cases will get rolled into where work space is needed, random stuff gets piled on lids of *empty* crates, and people move objects into obstructive clumps near loadout doorways without knowing where they should really go. Why keep walking around empty tables, for example, when they can simply be struck and put off to the side? One must be continually mindful of future steps, and paths that things will eventually need to take, and who might have to deal with the same gear next including the rental shop or private owner it goes back to. I found way too many cables tied with loose granny knots instead of the workmanlike around-twice and square-knot bow, and had to redo a bunch of that. Later I discovered that someone had been *throwing away* pieces of tie-line, and rescued some out of the trash and told as many that were within earshot to save the stuff.

Other things that could be quickly taught if people are paying attention are more subtle work-saving methodologies such as proper scaffold-end carrying technique, how to lower drape uprights and collapse fastfolds without pinching your fingers, remembering to use rolling cases as wheels for stuff that doesn't have them, and to *always* stop and lift/float each end of a heavy wagon over obstacles on the floor -- especially any unprotected cable that has to remain in place longer like the TV feed. And when I showed some folks how easily flip-coiling can extend into a fast tangle-busting and de-knot/de-twist technique, they were astonished. That's a simple matter of pushing your entire working roll as a unit through where it needs to pass in the mess, as though it were the end of the cable itself, and any rats nest will fall apart very quickly.

In all of this we must also understand that some simply cannot be taught these skills, and it's not necessarily a fault. Some kid came along during some downtime asking about how he could help later, perhaps at strike, and I grabbed a cable and earnestly tried to teach him to flip-coil it. After many tries and guiding his hands and such he still just plain wasn't getting it. What we generally consider our basics just doesn't click with everyone. Still, folks shouldn't be afraid to ask how to optimize what they do, as they'll learn and be more helpful at the same time.

Two trucks, some waiting

My tech hat got replaced by my logistics hat somewhere in the middle of this, when Dan [who graciously pitched in and kicked ass on the out] wanted some company going over to Penske for our "second second truck". A local fella neither of us knew gave us a ride over there and then headed for his own home. Picking up the rental was straightforward but then we got stuck in lower-deck traffic *again* on the way back, making all that take longer than expected.

I checked back in with Jweiss and Angela who already had Grand-side truck-stuffing well in hand and grabbed some extra load straps, and then headed back to the low-side to see what could be loaded over there. Con suite was kicking into dead-dog mode and didn't have much to go yet. Upstairs the art show stuff was ready to roll out but the poor gal who was up there appeared to have no staff left, so she and I wound up pushing a bunch of it until we got a couple more volunteers. The docks on the Galleria side are a touch higher than at Grand, so with a nice low dock-plate angle thus established I was able to load the heavy pegboard carts and pipe "guns" myself, ensconcing then safely toward the nose which is actually about amidships relative to the wheels and the correct place for that sort of stuff. I was pointed to one or two fridges that were empty, but the rest were still full of needed food stock. Failing to find much more for the Galleria-side run at that point, I threw in an assortment of carts and hand-trucks for use at the other end and called it a load.

The exact details of what else happened when are actually rather a blur in my mind, a confusing whirlwind of trucks moving, heavy crap rolling, and burritos. I was in super-efficient, get-it-done mode, very directed to the tasks at hand. We needed to be 100% out of the Grand side by midnight, and there was a minor subtlety with needing to stage all the NESFA gear aside in space we'd be retaining until the next day, as I had put my foot down against trying to bring that stuff back in the middle of the night like we did last year and wound up waking those same long-suffering neighbors. The weather had gotten much colder over the weekend, and insistence from various shadowy powers-that-be that gear not sit in a truck overnight meant bringing it all indoors. So at some point we used a truck to cross-load and condense all the NESFA stuff to the Galleria side and put it in a neat little staging pile near the elevator for morning, when it would go in the nose of a truck the next day and be the last thing dropped off.

The other truck lumbered off toward Storage with bunch of crew in tow either in its cab or in cars that people dug out of hock, so the team on my side grabbed a couple more volunteers and headed over there ourselves. Putting things away was a little chaotic but fairly straightforward, and before the space got too stuffed I moved some long-unused gear more out of the way than it had been. Then the freight elevator started acting up, no longer able to be fixed by the standard cold-weather hack of climbing up to help the door switch safety bar swing to the proper angle. Fortunately that only kicked in for real after most of the heavy wheeled stuff was already upstairs and we finished up a few things off the liftgate and through the passenger elevator. The landlord suggested the next day that an outer door switch on some *other* floor might have flaked out and could be thumped into something resembling proper conductivity, but FFS why can't they just fix *all* of those beat-to-shit switches and latches and make the whole system a little more reliable??

We got out of there unscathed, however, and triumphantly returned to the hotel, the dead-dog, and a couple of quiet libations before bed. Well, with a minor interrupt concerning personal stuff that had been moved out of the ballroom by others while we were gone but that got quickly resolved. I was more worn out than I knew, and slept like a rock and realized the next morning that yesterday had been quite the workout.

Logistics vignette Tuesday morning I was up pretty early and decided I could do a bunch of preliminary organizational truck-shuffling. The temporary Penske had come back from the Storage run with a bunch of gear still inside and needed to be cleared out for return; it and the carts inside made for a nice little "logistics vignette" after I backed it into the dock. Then I emptied it and put it back out at the Jersey-barriers pointed out for an easy getaway later, and brought the other truck in ready to load with whatever con stuff remained.

And re-enabled the stupid beeper, since we'd be returning the truck later that day...

Nobody else was really awake and moving yet so Janet and I got on the phone and agreed to simply meet at the Penske place on her way back into town, and said Penske-truck getaway happened thereafter. It does climb out of the Big Dig with a bit more alacrity when empty! Met up with Janet for a bit of adventure finding a place to refuel the truck, and finally we were all square with the Penske office and on our way back to the hotel.

One thing I should have gotten but completely spaced on was some pictures from a driver's-eye viewpoint, showing what we would see during various maneuvers. Having the trucks and docks to myself that morning would have been a perfect time. On the other hand, a single camera lens can't give the binocular-vision perspective on the various distances we'd be parsing in the process. And as someone we met in the docks during loadout who turned out to be a CDL instructor, a lot of truck handling deals with "spatial memory" -- positional relationships with objects that you could see a few moments ago but can't see now, either as the truck turns or you get out and look [e.g. the truckin' moniker "GOAL"] behind the box and then hop back in the cab. GOAL was a key part of hitting docks, especially the one at Storage, as the truck had to be positioned at just the right place to only let about three inches of the tapered liftgate drop onto it or there would be too big a bump-up at the edge. Gauging that distance and then spotting the same span on the ground out the side window usually allowed for accurate backing without even needing someone to do the tracking distance-guide thing from behind.

I guess the best summation, pictures or no, is "they're big, go slow and be careful".

Despite how "box-pushing" is often classed as menial labor, there are a few basics that one needs to keep in mind for that too. The bit about lifting rolling stuff over cables on the floor was already noted, but that's more a tech-side thing. But it also applies anywhere there's a small bump, like at elevators or a carpet edge or a door-sill and especially dock plates and the back lip of the truck box. You again want to get in front of the item, and use lifting and pulling force at the same time to unweight those wheels, even if just a little, and help them across the obstruction. Just ramming a heavy cart into a bump pushing from behind, however small it may seem, puts far more force on front casters and that's how in the past we've broken our share of them or spilled loads off the front from a sudden stop. It's like hitting a pothole with your car while in full braking -- tire or suspension damage is much more likely. It may seem like extra time to stop and walk around in front of a wagon to do this, but it's well worth it for the continued longevity of cases and their contents.

It also doesn't take five people to move a refrigerator. Two max, and an upright hand-truck. The second assists with the tip-up and then stabilizes side-to-side while the person on the hand truck is rolling -- pulling rather than pushing, as steering is much more stable and forward visibility is better. Some of the clumsiest too-many-people interactions I've seen us battle were around the larger white goods. For most of the fridges I took out of con suite I didn't strap them to the hand-truck and didn't bother taping the doors shut -- waste of time to screw around with that for a short flat run since they were going to be lashed into the truck anyways.

Fannish buttons We were almost completely out of the hotel a little later, but there's always a little detritus left behind. I spotted this leftover on some random table near the dealers' room, apparently a display-board from Nancy the button lady or equivalent vendor. The slogans here represent a long span of time, all the way from the genesis of fannish buttons to present-day cracks about social media. I've provided a large full-res picture [2 Mb] of this set with the perspective fixed up a bit for better readability, for those who would like to peruse them in more detail. I think various full button catalogs are online here and there as well.

Hanging ice structure During the various machinations of Tuesday I was riding shotgun with Janet and we spotted this along some railroad underpass or something, a little vignette to say "it's Foxtrot Charlie out today!"

We popped back to the hotel just long enough for me to check out and grab the rest of my stuff, because the last truck was loaded and gone already! The crew even remembered to grab my lights, brooms, shovels etc off the dock area, saving me from having to go back there at all once I chipped my own car out of the deep-freeze. A little slushy snow had dropped over the weekend and now it was all hard-crusted on the windshield and wipers. We were also operating under the imminent threat of more snow on the way, and hoping we'd get all done before the storm hit.

The last bits got pushed into Storage including some items that were slated to go away again soon, such as some of the art to be shipped back. Then it was on to NESFA to drop that gear and we took the opportunity to hit Magoun's for lunch. The day wrapped up with the rest of the crew scattering and Lucky and I taking the Budget truck back to its rental place, and then I dropped him off at home. It was around 4pm and getting awfully gloomy, but we'd managed to do everything without getting snowed on. That certainly doesn't happen every Arisia.

It brings to mind another logistics basic that helps our general comfort level and care of the stuff -- that if we *are* working against weather there should be a distinct inside/outside boundary where handoff to people with dry feet happens. Unaware crews that just walk in and out wind up tracking all kinds of wet, gritty/salty crap around the truck bed and on our gear, and that's so easy to avoid.

Snow just starting And just as I turned out of Lucky's neighborhood onto the main road, the snow started in earnest. Maybe a little hard to see here, but it almost instantly turned yet another Beantown-area rush hour into an agonizing crawl all the way out of Somerville *and* up 93. It didn't help that I was So. Tired. by then, almost to a point where maybe I shouldn't have been driving -- near to falling asleep because the 5 mph creep was so boring. I didn't have much choice on where to go, I had to just get home. I toyed with the idea of pulling off somewhere and trying to snooze in the seat for a bit, but managed to work my way through it until things opened up a bit north of 128 and then I was fine. Still, yet another reason to always leave plenty of distance ahead. At least I wasn't in a big ol' box truck.

And that was my Arisia. 9AM Wednesday to 6:30PM Tuesday, a full seven-day work week.

_H*   140129