Much of this is not about the con itself.
I was involved in quite a bit of external activity over the intervening
year, which is relevant enough to detail here for the perspective on how
it plowed into the con itself. So a long background is necessary,
even if it may seem like a lot of unrelated verbiage about carts and crates
and trucks and technical diversions and opinionated rants and the typically
narrow viewpoint I get on things.
[Gets narrower every year, evidently, as the con continues to grow.]
Those who only want to read about the at-con activities can jump
but I don't recommend doing so as the preliminary material builds a lot of
context and then like last year, covers some of the early logistics.
[Small images link to larger ones, as usual.]
Shopping and building
Shortly after A'14, after watching people struggle with the massively
heavy load of grid-wall on the sadly unfit flatbed cart it had been on
before, I decided to get us a proper cart for the stuff -- especially
since the stock of same had about doubled over the previous year.
It might be great for making quick freestanding sign kiosks from, but it's
a pain to transport in bulk, so I saw a need. I had Global ship the
thing in UPS-able pieces to my house, put it together with a couple of
appropriate modifications for the intended use, and added it to our
It's Chinese product and the manufacture quality isn't up to where I'd really like, but once assembled it seemed sturdy enough for the purpose. It took about two weeks for the rubber tires on the casters to stop outgassing an obnoxious solvent odor -- bad enough that I couldn't keep them indoors while putting the rest together. The cart got its first trial by taking about half the gridwall load to Boskone, and was declared adquate by those who handled it.
|Another item that desperately needed improvement was a sturdy but nasty old bare plywood box, ostensibly part of the Films equipment, which hadn't actually gone to con for a couple of years. Well, in October a big batch of new video gear landed in Storage and we held a "vidiots party" over a weekend to sort through it and test and repair stuff and build racks and get everything ready for a much more efficient video deployment at the con, and we realized that we needed more transport containment for media-processing gear in general. So I appropriated this otherwise unused and evidently unwanted box and took it home for rework. After a good sand-down and a coat of urethane it no longer sent splinters into the hands of anyone who went to touch it, and I added good solid casters and handles built into added support structure to make it capable of rolling a decent payload both inside and stacked on top.|
The result was pretty satisfying, with some hacks to make the lid stronger
and stay on better and even a lining of foam in the bottom. I proudly
took it back to Storage and declared it generally available for Arisia use.
It turned out that Skip claimed the box as personal property, although there was nothing to indicate that and it had been either gouging up the hands of logistics volunteers or rotting in Storage for the past several years. He raised a big stink about the changes I'd made, not even acknowledging that they could be easily un-done back to the original "box to stand on" functionality he had in mind [which had long since been superseded by better and more portable structures], and it took some doing to finally secure permission to instead use my reworked "coffin" for shipping purposes in just this one year. Ultimately it went to the con as such, holding parts of the smaller Program A/V systems. Believe it or not, the final disposition of this box is still up in the air.
|In the early ramp-up to the con, a bunch of other shopping happened. With somewhat mixed and indeterminate amounts of hours on the lamps in my old Martin 918 moving lights and the outstanding fact that one had died rather prematurely, I decided to simply relamp all four with a fresh and uniform set. A bit of hunting around eventually landed at Microlamp's product page for some nice bright Osram units, that seemed to have the best lumens-per-watt, rated life, *and* the lowest color temperature I could find at a non-ridiculous price. [The alternative 7500K version would *really* piss off our tungsten-tuned video guys!] Once these arrived they all went into the lights, along with all the running hour and lamp-strikes memory reset to reflect that fact. I had also done the above-linked DMX "un-flip" polarity change for the previous year.|
|In the process of shopping other bulb suppliers, some know-it-all sales weasel tried to tell me that there would be a big difference in performance/reliability between arc lamps "rated" at 95 vs 97 volts or whatever. That's completely un-true, as the running voltage is approximate. Ballasts, even the old linear "iron" ones like in these lights, fundamentally regulate lamp *current* once the lamp strikes and let the voltage across the arc fall where it naturally may. It will also drift around as the lamp warms up, ages, etc.|
|In the meantime David was off doing his lighting-design thing, improving the rig from last year, plus he'd also shouldered the task of general room diagrams because the two efforts are very tightly linked. It turned out that his approach was starting to look like the back-end of a more general purpose CAD system, generating layered .SVG files in which any set of features of interest could be displayed or hidden in a suitable browser. So all the information needed could be condensed into a relatively small set of docs, with some wrapping to enable and disable desired views. [Obviously displaying *all* layers like this, for all possible room configurations throughout the weekend, gets pretty confusing.] This all struck me as a nice effort, perhaps eventually worthy of having a more interactive front end. The only problem for the moment seemed to be that hand-generating the interim XML to define a lot of the image elements seemed a little tedious.|
The general Storage and Logistics collective of interested parties had also
long since determined that a lot of our packing crates were ailing, many
having gotten broken in cold-weather handling due to their inferior
materials, and we needed a fresh stock of same to replace and add.
I spearheaded an effort to obtain good ones that would
actually last a while. Better-than-rumor
holds that Akro-Mils is the *only* brand of "attached lid containers"
or ALCs as they're officially called, that survives the often brutal
transport process of getting to Burning Man and back every year.
Their product has thus been held in high regard for some time by people who
understand shipping rigors, so I was like, "why compromise?" I also
had supporting information from another event's recent bulk buy of the same
types of crates.
So there was valid precedent *and* I had a pointer to the supply company
that seemed to have the best prices and variety on these things.
Zoro turns out to be an arm of Grainger, which explained how they had access to such a large range of products. I opted for a uniform set of blue crates, since that seems to be one of Arisia's prevalent colors and not in conflict with colors owned by contributors, in a variety of heights but with a bias favoring the larger ones. By the time I was ready to order I was already out of state for my usual holiday travels, and had to plead/conscript/etc for folks back home to actually receive the shipment. The Arisia treasury structure actually took over the whole process and handled it locally, for which I was grateful.
The crates turned out to be a much brighter, more intense blue than this picture suggests, and this is already enhanced a little from the original on Zoro's website. That and some yellow stenciling if we ever get around to it could continue the blue and yellow marking tradition seen on much of our other containment.
|From northeast||From southwest|
With all the new gear acquired over the year and the chaos of departments
trying to get in and tag all the stuff they would need, Storage had become
a blivet. Too much stuff, crammed into inadequate legacy means of
Most of the new crates were still in stacks, and I regretted not getting that order done earlier in the year so they'd be available by the time the tagging parties began. We decided to bring all the empty ones to con and sprinkle them around to different departments, in the hope they'd repack their stuff better for the loadout and discard old broken containers. To this end I went through the remaining new stock to attach the stick-on label pouches we also ordered, preloading each one with a convenient piece of paper to facilitate describing the department and contents as they got packed up.
Here we see just how eye-poppingly *blue* they really are.
About a week and a half out, our usual
hit us with a nasty surprise.
New management or something had determined that they
wanted a $3000 or more deposit on our order, way above the order amount
itself and probably above the price of equivalent NEW scaffolding.
With everybody else horrified but completely out of time to try dealing
with this, it fell to me to try and find alternatives.
In the first year or two in the old Hyatt we had dealt with a different
one ... I racked my tiny brain, dug back into my notes ... yes, we had
back in '09. And as I looked them back up it suddenly hit me that
they also were *right down D Street* from us -- this was irrelevant when we
were in Cambridge, but now it was clear that delivery would be easy enough
that perhaps *we* could transport a rental in one or both directions.
They don't accept checks or COD; we could just put the whole mess on the
organization credit card and any damage or loss would simply be added to
the final charge.
Done! I handed off the details to our working treasury department which managed to ram through a credit application and the order in jig time, we canceled with Lynn, and I floated the idea that we might be able to deliver and return ourselves and avoid the extra charges.
I got inspired to check out more alternatives for truck-rental by simply
observing the fact that Budget and Penske aren't the only options for
the size of box-trucks we need. Over the summer I had spotted
some large ones from Enterprise running around,
and thought "hmm, they're not just cars at airports" and researched where
they might have offices. Turned out they have a commercial-trucks
plant right in Chelsea, nestled in a decidedly industrial area amongst
the forests of huge fuel tanks out that way. Have a look at the
larger picture here: Enterprise turned out to be on par or even closer
to our various activity areas than the sometimes less-than-satisfactory
companies we've used before.
[There's also a Ryder place a short distance down D Street from the hotel, but I don't think anyone's talked to them yet.]
I was somewhat surprised at the positive responses to the idea of trying
Enterprise for truck rentals this year instead of the old vendors, expecting
a certain amount of stodgy resistance from the powers
that be. Maybe I'm not the only one
disillusioned with those grouchy Budget guys up in Arlington, even if
they're a little cheaper. Janet talked to Enterprise on the phone,
and in the process of driving various routes in the area the next
day just to learn them [past the infamous Eastern Salt mountains!]
I stopped in. The folks there seemed *way* nicer and more
customer-service oriented -- the guy at the counter knew what a
convention was, referencing family members having been to
ComiCon in NY, and seemed interested in establishing a long-term
relationship with us. Said they had plenty of big trucks available
that could be brought to that site on fairly short notice. They
hand out a one-page list of the major known local low-clearance points,
so customers are less likely to pull one of
I left there thinking "this is *awesome*" and reported back, and Janet
set up the orders soon thereafter.
Okay, so between Budget and Penske and Lynn we'd now severed relationships with three of our previous vendors. Let's hope that doesn't bite us in the ass someday.
Logistics isn't just about driving a truck around, it's about handling freight safely and scheduling and interacting with all the possible environments and situations we'd run into. To that end, here's the list I had formed of stuff to bring along for support.
An idea of space heaters was floated, and while past crews have used the propane/catalytic types that sit on top of a 25-lb bottle, for most temperature conditions with everyone dressed warm and working their asses off there's really no point. Not to mention avoiding the fire hazard. Electric heaters? F'geddaboudit, you can't get enough btu/hour out of those.
And the con was just about upon us! With the roles I'd agreed to I expected that it would be another full 7-day work week like last year. Sure, we'd go pick up trucks and take them around to selected points and load as usual, but there seemed to be a new general understanding that we'd take *both* of them to the hotel that night. Another difference was that we were trying to start the bulk of all loading even earlier in the day than last year, to maybe be able to get home sometime before midnight. The part that seemed most difficult was rounding up people to help on normal weekdays *and* who would hopefully have cars and could ferry some crew around -- to the truck place, back from the hotel, etc. Most of that was just about impossible to work out in advance, it once again all had to be done on the fly. That was probably the most frustrating aspect of logistics in general -- planning movement of our *people* as well as the gear. What we really need is one or two dedicated "crew shuttle" vehicles with drivers, which transport bodies rather than stuff and are available at all the weird times we wind up needing it. I recalled the Enterprise guy mentioning that they also rent 12-passenger vans... I've since peeked inside one of those, they look pretty comfy.
And here we go ...
Someone generously volunteered a car and her time for Wednesday morning,
however, and we arrived bright and early at the Enterprise place.
Our two gleaming white beasts of burden were waiting right outside the
office door, and they had been recently run a bit so the fuel systems
weren't stone cold.
I went back out to do a little pre-trip checking while Lucky finished up the paperwork inside. One International Durastar like last year, and one Freightliner, both full-size 26-footers with dual-reservoir air brakes. One had a DEF tank, which I asked about the necessity of filling and they said it had been topped up and probably wouldn't get appreciably used for the short mileage we would be racking up.
When we expressed some doubt about being able to plug in the engine heaters
in the trucks overnight, our rental guy dumped a bottle of anti-gelling
fuel treatment into both tanks and suggested that if it got *really* cold,
try to go out every couple of hours and run the engines. We weren't
sure if this would be possible but we'd keep the weather vs. diesel issues
in mind as best we could.
We fired them both up to get warm and continued our pre-flight checking. The Freightliner was *much* quieter than the rattly International. Other than that they worked about the same; Lucky soon discovered that the Durastar had a *very* bouncy drivers seat -- probably some sort of bad damper in the seat post air-suspension.
|Having acquired both trucks at the same time instead of getting the second one later in the day, we had a little more versatility on scheduling. Lucky sent me toward NESFA with the Freightie, and he headed off to start loading Storage in the IH. A message with some pictures of the NESFA load had been sent around, and it didn't look like that much stuff and I'd seen most of that same stuff last year too, so I didn't ask anyone for loading help other than whoever would be there to open the doors. I fully intended to *not* do any lunch stop over there, because I wanted that truck to be in and out as fast as possible without stopping up the whole shared driveway for hours.|
|A few blocks away I pulled over and called Lisa at NESFA to warn her my arrival was imminent, and could she please wander out to maybe help manage traffic and the like. When I arrived I handed her my camera and asked her to get shots of some of the critical stages of the operation. The NESFA driveway is a narrow little birth-canal with several hazards to avoid, so my thought was that having descriptive pictures would be really useful so I could go into detail on this particular insertion process. Skip ahead to "rendezvous and docking" if you're not interested.|
|The first thing I did was get out and walk around and size up exactly where I was going to try to place parts of the truck during the procedure. That's always the mantra -- Get Out And Look, because you generally can't set this stuff up by just looking in the mirrors. So here's how it proceeds: after swinging fairly wide into the side street across from NESFA [technically heading the wrong way *and* blocking all traffic on Lowell St, but so be it] backing begins. The left front tire will go up over the corner of sidewalk, but the curb is fairly low there and not a problem to bump over. Fortunately, parking isn't permitted on that far side of the street so that swing room should always be available.|
|The first thing to line up with on the right is the tree at the corner of the driveway, the base of which will be the pivot point for the rear wheels. But we can't get too close to it, as the branches overhead lean out farther than the trunk at the height of the truck box. Yes, we need to look UP in the mirror.|
|As turning about the pivot point begins, the next thing to avoid is the jutting gambrel of the neighbors' house on the left side. While a gentle kiss on the tree branches might be tolerable, contacting the house at all would be categorically bad.|
Remaining clear of the tree
in the process of pivoting and straightening out, looking DOWN to the left
will help avoid crunching the front wheel into the low retaining wall of
railroad ties along next to the house. [Made that mistake in a minor
way last year, but said neighbors were like "meh, we have to rebuild that
wall anyways".] Keep the tire parallel, and everything else
basically works out for the remaining straight back in.
Here we can see that the tree has taken its share of truck-box hits over the years. Those leaning branches really should get trimmed off sometime.
A full-size 26 footer, the biggest straight truck you can drive without a CDL, has a Very Big Butt. I must be getting better at wrangling them, because I managed to do this maneuver on the first try with no external guidance except at the very end where Lisa showed me the right place to stop for the sake of keeping the liftgate on level ground.
Lisa was perplexed that I hadn't brought any helpers, as she was alone
at NESFA and thought that we would need a whole milling crew to get this
load done. But the stuff had all been staged up near the door,
and with just me and her working it actually went fairly fast.
And that was including all the new *sound gear* that wasn't in any of
the pictures sent along! It was definitely more than last year
and basically made a complete layer on the floor of the box.
While at NESFA I also picked up their bins of load-straps and work gloves, the remaining Arisia destination stickers, and we tried to find the batch of keyed-alike padlocks Rick supplied last year but they weren't around. This load didn't need to be strapped in as it was all down in a fairly self-locking way, but we'd certainly need the straps later.
I wasn't going to break for lunch, but took the
opportunity of a little slack time for another silly idea that *had*
to be done. A quick hack with gaff tape reflecting who we had
rented from, but I figured that anyone fannish who happened to
spot this ensemble backing into a dock would bust a gut laughing.
Hindsight [and a little post-con research] says I should have labeled it
NCC-1701/1 since after all, it's a shuttlecraft.
I take back what I said about "gleaming white", however, as I had to clean and dry the appropriate rectangle on the door panel before arting it up or the tape wouldn't have stuck at all. Visions of the *real* Enterprise with "wash me" scrawled into the soot from battle...
Rendezvous and docking
Departing NESFA was a couple of sharp but carefully-performed right
turns and a pleasant spin down Medford St (*OMG this thing is so freakin
wide*), and I pulled up next to the other truck, already
in the process of getting stuffed with the "Grand-side" tech gear.
[Remember how this sort of picture used to be in a nighttime setting
in previous years? We were handily ahead of the game here.]
In case it's not clear yet, we get two trucks not only because of total volume, but because the hotel has two different loading dock areas for two different sides and all our gear gets tagged with "triangles" or "circles" depending on which side it's headed for. As I came back from NESFA, I had a mix of both designations from there and I made sure to put most of the "triangle" side stuff at my tail because it would need to get cross-loaded into the other truck.
|While we've done transferance via tail-to-tail "truck sex" in the past, that's just useless movement that takes time away from the main loading process. As with last year I figured I'd just put my truck in right next to the other one at the dock, and we'd just hand stuff across between lift gates. I even marked the relevant slot early in the morning with a couple of pallets tented together and a "don't park here today" sign since various building occupants do tend to put their cars there. But I remembered having to negotiate a significant bump-up to get into that space as the curb-cut doesn't extend far enough, and thought to construct a little helper for the wheels this time around. I scrounged up a small bunch of 2x6 pieces left over from the house renovation, and arranged them in an appropriate way to aid the transition.|
|I again handed off the camera to someone else to help document the process, and the wood definitely helped ease the hop up onto the curb without having to ram it at speed and jostle the whole load around. Another step of three more boards per wheel might have made the slope even more gentle, but this worked pretty well and I barely felt any resistance. Funny how the scale of the truck makes a bunch of large heavy 2x6 boards look like toothpicks.|
|For some reason the Freightliner fuel and DEF tanks are slung really low, and hopping half the truck up on the curb left them flyin' pretty close to the sidewalk but thankfully still clear. More importantly, the thing I was fearing most about this hack had not happened: that the rear wheels would spin and send the boards flying forward instead of supporting the backing truck. But they stayed put without any sort of fastening, picking up nice tread marks as they did their intended job.|
I extended the lift-gate of my unit and continued backing in until it was
within about a half-inch of the building wall, which snugged the two trucks
nicely together at the tail and put the two liftgates fairly close
together. The pivot point for this back-in was roughly the other
truck's side mirror, to avoid that but still get the tails to almost
touch. Now, I should qualify that by affirming that I had no idea
where "half an inch from the wall" would be, so a couple of cycles of GOAL
were necessary. In each one I gauged the remaining distance and
then went slightly less than that by spotting it on the *ground*
just outside the driver's door.
For other precision backing operations, a person visible in the mirror giving a realtime interactive distance indication works well too [e.g. *not* the useless binary handwaving of keepcomin keepcomin keepcomin keepco-- STOP! which is very likely to go too far with potentially destructive results].
|Once I was locked in, it was easy to shuffle the "triangle" stuff from NESFA across into the truck that would actually head for that side. I guess the ability and willingness to come up with useful hacks like this is part of why I was listed in the program book [PDF, link may go stale] as "loadmaster". In past work for Logistics I've often wound up being the Tetris Ghod in the back of the trucks in the process of loading, compacting items into the least possible space and stacking to the ceiling, but this year I had some excellently competent help in that regard and I have confidence that the legacy of Tight Truck Packing can be continued with or without my help.|
Lucky had also performed some spatial cleverness: instead of dropping
the edge of the liftgate onto some indeterminate fraction of the ancient
dock assembly which would still leave a bit of a hop up to roll gear onto
it, he'd backed to a precise point which would allow the gate to gently
rest on the wooden lip just off the metal dock plate.
This created a minimally-bumpy
path for anything to roll onto the liftgate and be hoisted the eight or
so inches to truck-bed level. Possibly at the expense of the truck's
nose sticking a foot or two farther out into the street, but with us
already having no choice about blocking the whole travel lane on that side
of the road anyway, a foot either way wouldn't make any difference to
passing traffic. So I did the same thing when it came time to swap
the Freightliner into the real dock space to load the art-show stuff, and
it made the rolling transition for the pipe guns and peg carts that much
easier. It's a once a year thing and Windsor isn't *that*
well traveled; the local populace just deals with it.
Funny how the design of diamond-plate hasn't changed at all in fifty years, huh?
Load continued for a while into the evening, but not excessively so.
By now I had started referring to it as the "Siberian free-weights
workout", from the weather and our ever-growing mass of *stuff*.
The last things to go on were the remaining empty crates, a bunch of
volunteer T-shirts that showed up on the fly, and all the hand-trucks
and dollies that would now ride along to the con.
We were done by about 8pm, possibly a new record, but that had still been
heavily dependent on the number of people who were able to come help during
normal business hours. Massive thanks to all of those folks, who
helped shift the bulk of the operation to afternoon instead of evening.
I didn't wind up driving the run to the hotel, as the other folks who could drive truck were better situated for homeward trip optimization afterward than I was. I left the remainder of vehicle and personnel movement in the capable hands of Lucky, Dan, and Maria and headed home to sleep.
Thursday: hittin' the hotel
So here I am, halfway through my opus and only now reaching the
part that most of the other volunteers are even aware of.
If you skipped to this point, you missed a lot of leadup context.
By now our gear was already at the hotel waiting to unload, and it
didn't walk there by itself!
See, a lot more happens in the run-up and "shoulder days" than some may
think, and you're encouraged to get involved in that part if you have the
time and wherewithal to do so as clueful help is always needed at such
Arrangements for morning carpooling with Janet back in from our mutual hometown fell through as she had fallen ill, so I figured I'd just suck it up and pay for local-ish parking. A relatively new option had come into existence in the form of Standard Parking's Channelside lot, a little farther away from the hotel but substantially less expensive than the Laz lots from a couple of years ago. And attended 24x7 by an actual cash-accepting human, which subjectively has higher value than an impersonal box that can only read a credit-card stripe and probably gets a skimmer attached to it on a regular basis.
<Insert stock rant about how we need to deploy EMV in this country like *yesterday* here>
|The walk over to the hotel wasn't too onerous even in that somewhat cold and raw day, and there I ran into Paul who'd been at the hotel overnight and we went up to his room to poke at some amp racks and parts. From his window I could see some of the Channelside lot but not well enough to spot my car, even with trying to use my camera as a telescope. I figured I was behind the smokestack someplace but upon expanding the shot on a real monitor and scanning over it I realized the car *was* visible. Select the big-picture, and then select the blue rectangle within that for the original detail. The hood stripe nailed it.|
|It got closer to 1pm, and I headed down to the docks area to find our two trucks comfortably snoozing at the end of Fargo street. Time to wake 'em and warm 'em and get things moving, and hope the fuel systems were still okay! Lucky had handed me *both* truck keys and gone off to check on other things, so it was up to me to start bumping docks. First move was to swing the Galleria-side truck into the Grand side and pull off some "triangle" stuff at its tail. [*Again*, but it wasn't because of the NESFA mix this time, it was because there's just more Grand-side volume in general and it has to split across both trucks a little.] Another large truck from High Output was in the first bay, still loading out the event before us, so I had an interesting bit of wiggling to do around that to get lined up for the second one. And as if by magic, suddenly we had lots of crew around to grab stuff and whisk it off to the staging-in area [which, as expected, was D/E and handily empty when we arrived].|
|For the record, this area of Fargo St is under the authority of the City of Boston, not the hotel. The only likely reason someone would actually get towed out of here is if there was a complaint -- which would logically come from hotel security if they took a mind to it -- but other than that the hotel doesn't really have any say as to what goes on under here and frankly doesn't care a whole lot. The fact remains that we've been quietly getting away with parking trucks there for several years, so far unscathed, but at some small continuing risk of penalty.|
|Soon the Galleria truck was reduced to "all circles" and I could move it across the way. Since we're usually in a given dock for quite a while I always try to take the "inner" bay, e.g. farther from the street, to make it easier for the hotel's other deliveries to get in and out while we're sitting there loading. Dealers were already beginning to accrete around the Galleria-side cage-lift so it was a little interesting getting into here too, and just as I shut down the Pepsi truck came piling in right after me into the next bay. That guy had several pallets of soda for con-suite and a powered fork truck and needed to go up the same freight elevator, and by then we had a whirling mass of more people and flatbeds and stuff coming out of our truck so it was a little chaotic around there for a while. Note that while it's a longer push, the long ramp up the hallway to the left is an alternate means of gaining the three-foot or so rise to Galleria level and incoming traffic can easily split into both routes. I left them all to it and went back to the Grand side.|
The Grand-side truck got slotted into the far bay and
the unloaders attacked it, and soon thereafter our scaffold
delivery arrived. We had opted for them to deliver the order,
just because the timing of everything this afternoon was so tight, and
left the specifics of returning it TBD. Now, our original order
had way more work-planks listed than the six or so they actually sent, and
here's where the advantage of them being so close kicked in: the delivery
guy called in the problem, and someone at the yard simply threw more planks
into a pickup truck and zipped on over with them while the flatbed was
still being unloaded.
[For reasons beyond my ken we ordered 15 planks, but only used the expected 12 to build our usual two-level towers. Live and learn...]
During the con run-up,
a big hairball had erupted on the mailing lists as to exactly where
we were going to stage stuff in on the Grand side. Last year it was
a quick ad-hoc adaptation of ballroom E because nobody had thought about
it in advance and we had to pre-clear the setup in that room
ourselves. Now the advance discussion was whether to use
Commonwealth because it's a little closer to the docks, except that
weren't they going to start dropping the dance floor into there?
Or would the hotel have cleared D/E and opened the airwall from their
last event to accomodate staging there? etc, back and forth with
no solid answers for some time.
I'm not sure what was done in historical years before that, but I suspect
that many items were taken all the way to their final destinations which
would certainly waste a lot of extra time with the truck still in
the dock. We needed nearby
buffer space, to just quickly shift the truck contents into and do a fast
pre-sort, so the trucks could get *out* of there for additional runs that
afternoon. Fortunately we found that D/E was open and clear and
someone had again brought all the big "departmental" signs to stick up
around the walls and assign drop areas, so it worked out well.
But knowing that this was all set in advance would have been nice.
This year we also had introduced the new classification of tech gear that needed to stay thermally stable, e.g. not sit in a cold truck overnight, so that batch still needed to be fetched from Storage. I wound up doing that run, taking just two more people with me in the truck cab to make it simple from a personnel-movement standpoint as the "warm load" wasn't particularly large. Rush-hour traffic on the way back in from that was a total mess as one might imagine; that's what we get for having to do all this on normal weekdays.
We were nonetheless back in reasonably good time, with Storage pared down to nothing but the crap with the red "do not take" stickers on it. D/E was already almost empty, with the buffered content having been moved farther along to its final resting places all over the hotel. All as if by magic, but now you see more of the complex reality behind it!! I only hoped that all the volunteers doing that movement had managed to read my "gear handling advice document" that I'd tried to send around, but many of our staff and departmental mailing lists were having *serious* delivery problems precisely the week when they needed to be reliable so a lot of folks may not have seen that email in time. It's basically the same stuff I was saying after last year anyway.
Logistics done well really is a flow art, even if it's something that most people never see. It's about timing, spatial relations, and anticipating movement and weight transitions. It's knowing when to be smooth, when to be abrupt, when to be rough or gentle or fast or slow and for just the right amount of time or distance. I'm finding that I enjoy the mechanics of it quite a bit.
SupahTruckah tackles a different rig
|It wasn't until about now that I could wearily pull off my "truckin'" hat and replace it with my "tech" hat. The other Logistics folks were still running errands, such as to some place nearby in Southie to grab a bunch of vintage video-game consoles to set up in the prefunction area. But for the moment they didn't need me; I finally joined the tech crew in the main ballroom where inventory and some amount of build were in progress, noting that someone had dumped all the pipe-n-drape pipe in a completely nonoptimal place without considering the overall room plan and wire paths. The ALPS gear had arrived [in one of their newly-rebranded trucks], the scaffolds were already up, video-land was coming together, and the truss was bolted up tight and ready to fly the next morning.|
|I helped with the operation to stage the lights around where they'd need to go on the truss, and bodge together enough power and control wiring to address all the fixtures and test everything. David had the stroke of brilliance to put additional tape labels on each fixture as to its assigned spot *and* the same labels on specific chords of the truss, allowing easy match-up when it came time to hang everything. Probably made the hang take half as long. With everything on the floor positionally correspondent to where it would attach to the truss, we were thus also prestaging a good deal of the wiring and adapters. The power wiring was a little strange but that way for the sake of phase-balancing all the !twelve! circuits we had. After we'd gone around and juggled all the numbers, David could confirm that he had control of everything from the Ion -- wiggle the 918 mirrors, glow conventionals, make pretty colors out of the Lustrs which had made a grand reappearance this year, and fix any addressing/patching errors with stuff still on the ground.|
Here's a useful configuration of
the wiggle-lights for testing purpose, using my anti-roll wooden case
inserts: while the mirror *should* clear a surface over all of its
movement range if the light is sitting flat face-down, blocking up the
head end gives a little more safety margin and
convenient from-above access to the connections and control panel.
We didn't strike the lamps for this, we just needed to make sure the
DMX blocks were right. On the truss they'd hang mirrors-down again,
as that's the most favorable heat-dissipation position and places their
output below the bodies of other nearby fixtures.
We also discovered the hard way later on that the Ion's personality for the Martin 918 is sadly lacking -- it doesn't get the magic "lamp off" combination right, so the only way to lamp them down was to kill their power breakers momentarily, and there seemed to be no access at all to some of the fun features of these lights like the 3-way rotating prism and some of the gobo-wheel modes. This seems typical in the industry -- one manufacturer will fully support their own branded instruments but only make a token nod toward those from competing companies, often getting the DMX profiles flat-out WRONG and forcing the end user who wants full support to rework them. I know there's some way to modify fixture profiles in the Ion but the interface for doing so seems fairly cumbersome.
Text is worth a thousand ...
While I spent the bulk of the con time itself doing tech of one sort or
another I got hardly any pictures of what was going on.
I'm sure other folks did -- please post them!
So you'll just have to put up with more big blocks
of descriptive prose here.
We were pretty busy, but it was a tight ship -- everyone knew what they needed to do when, and part of that came from an improvement in the tech meetings. This year part C of the main ballroom complex was allocated specifically as a "tech depot" for most of the weekend, where routinely-accessed gear and supplies were organized and stored *without* being buried under 100 pounds of other roadcases, and there was enough room to hold our meetings. This space didn't have the distractions and poor sightlines of the tech suite and it was right down by most of the workspaces, handier than trying to cram everyone into slow elevators just to have a meeting on an upper floor. This is how the "tech hole" at Worldcons is typically set up, where the punchlists and runtime assignments and such can live on big pieces of paper that stay posted on the walls for the whole time. There was a meeting each day sometime before the major blocks of activity, where roles were chosen and problems brought to light and caveats issued to one and all. It worked well. Kudos to Persis and Abby for running this [and getting many of us keys to that space] and to others in the larger collective that likely floated the concept for us.
I say "organized" above somewhat guardedly, because for a while the space looked more like a tech *dump* with things scattered about in inconvenient ways. I don't think there was a specific person designated to be sort of a quartermaster for that space. I did a little tidying up once in a while and a fairly major compaction later on. One of the key things was that the truly dead cases weren't here, but instead again tucked behind the big curtain in Grand A because for the most part nobody needed to get into those anymore and all the "live" gear stock was in the depot. Again, good system -- let's see if we can even improve it for next year. Several ideas have already been floated.
Call for light hang was oh-bloody-early AM the next morning, but I was good for it and showed up wrench in hand and shoes on feet. We again worked well with the guys from PSAV, and I think we made them sit around watching us hang and wire for less time than last year. But then came a somewhat killer surprise: they wouldn't let us use the scissorlifts this year. We were just fine in them and they were fine with us using them last year, what the hell happened??
Apparently their administrative structure now required everyone using their lifts to have gotten "certified" by their preferred training agency and carry a card to prove that, and they weren't willing to bend despite the facts that a> we'd clearly used them safely last year, and b> their guys all knew perfectly well that many of us are already well versed in driving them. They *could* have told us this up front, though, instead of springing it on us at the exact moment we expected to head up and start focus. And it's not like this "certification" comes from anything official like the City of Boston or the state or anything. Like the company's logo implies, it's a checkbox -- a course completion from one of thousands of worksite training outfits and has far less bearing on someone's real competence than they'd like to think. And PSAV's riggers certainly weren't up there with hardhats and fall-arrest. In desperation we cleared paths for the scaffold towers and rolled them to either side of the rig and eventually accomplished a slower and more cumbersome focus with those, but that ALONE set everything back some amount of time because a lot of other tasks were waiting on lights to finish.
We managed to get it done regardless, and then moved things the heck out of the way so sound and screens could go up and the rest of the drapeline get built. With the overall move to flying truss we've lost a certain type of build concurrency, and I'm not sure how we're going to fix that. It's in the grand tradition that lighting is usually first in, last out at almost any production, so maybe we're just hosed and just have to make what we do as efficient as possible.
I was then sent over to dance tent to help debug a DMX problem, which was a little wacky because our test mechanism turned out to be watching a blue "DMX OK" blinky-light on a particular piece of gear across the room for either a sporadic pattern or steady heartbeat, and in fact subjectively noting *how* sporadic also helped. Turned out to be a bad chunk of cable, but with about seven people swarming all over the room and shouting conflicting directives it wasn't exactly an efficient search process. I started by swapping in test jumps of my known-good brown UTP stuff and carving each entire truss-tower or large group out of the loop at a time until the problem was localized. Then seph who happened to be up the now known-ailing tower was able to plug-n-chug to find the bad bit. I'm relatively convinced that when ALPS sends out a 3-pin "DMX" cable, it's just a piece of beat-up microphone hose which generally is *not* 100-ohm impedance or rated for data transmission.
*Always* do such searches in a binary or large-chunk-to-small-chunk way, or you'll be there all night. There was also a question of whether the Colorblaze units have a buffered or direct-fed output from their XLR5 to RJ45 connectors, as the DMX run effectively split there to feed the little wall-wash units. A quick "impedance test" by watching the happy-light in the terminator while someone plugged and unplugged that piece didn't really reveal anything, but that can't show subtleties like data reflections.
As Angela sat down at the board in Dance Tent she found that she was
having the typical static-shock problem that we often find in hotels
and other buildings in wintertime -- a nice big ZAP! to the console
chassis after sliding against the chair and tablecloth. There's
plenty of background on dealing with this -- I suggest a read through
this and its subsidiary
links for mitigation strategies.
Problem was, there were no readily-accessible grounded surfaces right at
her table! So I pulled out one of my shorter cords with a grounded
metal box on the end and re-plugged the UPS through that and placed it on
the table next to the board, and she labeled the setup with an appropriate
"touch me first" directive. I think this board might have been a little
more immune to static problems than the old Leprecons, but why push it.
And that's about the extent of what I did in Dance Tent this year. Funny how things change, huh...
We were pretty much ready for when events in the build spaces started,
but it always feels to me like we just barely made it in time.
Maybe it's because the work is never really done, as changes continue
getting made to turn over between events, and minor stuff that didn't get
completed at build can often get finished up at those times too.
We'd had our meeting just after lunch that day and assigned runtime
and assistant positions for roughly the next 24 hours, and response
was fairly lively -- that's always good, because if the question "so,
who wants to do X?" gets asked at the meeting and there are crickets,
that's not good. It's happened, but not for a few years now.
I wound up doing lights for Matthew Ebel in main tent that night -- it seems like any time an act is described as "energetic rock band" my hands goes up, but this would be a chance to try and work up a little busking on the Ion. Fortunately, David had a bunch of the basics already banged into the board and linked to faders. I managed to define a focus-palette entry and a fader referencing it to drift the front wiggle-lights across each other on the cyc from their default 50/50 positions, but couldn't find how to make a self-running effect out of that let alone a random ballyhoo. I also set up three color-only subs for three relatively pure red, green, and blue positions on the color wheel for the Lustrs -- but these aren't pure RGB units with three channels, and as far as I could tell I wouldn't be able to do the equivalent in HSV mode, so most of the interim colors went to the default pinkish-white. The other squirrely thing about Ion faders is that each one is essentially a little mini-cuelist, more often referred to as a "playback", which asserts itself when the fader comes off the bottom and crossfades between any relevant others and itself over the travel. So I could start a color fade and then back out of it or go to completion or whatever, but couldn't manually crossfade to another one without dropping one of the other sliders to *zero* first to let it take control. Eventually I found that for the livelier pieces of music, it was easiest to grab manual selections of the Lustr groups and then poke points on the color wheel on the touchscreen, which gave some nice bump color changes on the band in rhythm with the music. So mostly I was there with one hand on the cyc sliders and the other one tapping the screen ... klunky, but it got me through the show. I didn't think at the time to try setting those color subs to HTP mode, maybe that would have worked better and let them all effectively stay asserted together.
I was also desperately trying to find the continuous-spin mode on the rotating gobos, and failed in this endeavor as I couldn't sit there reading manuals and messing with one little thing while the show was running. David may have actually found how to do that later. But for the moment I'm not too thrilled with what an operator might have to either go through or put up with for rock-n-roll "fistful of subs" style busking on this board -- it just doesn't really seem suited for that, which seems to be the general feeling echoed around the industry forums. But I'd freely acknowledge that I'm probably missing some essentials.
Matthew was opposite the Drum Circle in A, which actually wasn't a problem. I probably had the best ear to A sitting on the scaffold right back by the A/B airwall gland [which had gotten sealed correctly and the bleed wasn't particularly loud]. The B/E connection, however, hadn't been and the crosstalk through the narrow slit was *killing* the play in D/E. I went to look at it; the gland piece wouldn't close right, it was retracted too far or something and I didn't have the magic tool. I tried to hang some stage-skirt I found back there over a drape pole and gently stuff it into the gap, which didn't help much, and eventually the right people from the hotel were summoned to put things right.
After that show I handed off to the Teseracte guy, for whom the basics were entirely adequate for what he needed. He had his stage wash and cyc RGB, he was happy. We left them to it and went to relax with a couple of quality libations before bed.
First thing to do was set up for Masquerade rehearsal. Moving an Ion console with two screens, fader wing, keyboard, mouse, *and* a UPS is a fairly involved operation. Too many wires! I could wish they'd made it with more built-in displays like the Hog or MA. [I think my own tendency would be to just run from the scaffold nest, especially since there was a video confidence monitor up there.] I didn't have a real Masq runtime again so as rehearsal got going, I quietly did a little more tidying around the room, deployed more of my dim blue backstage safety lights, tried to look up a couple of board questions David came up with, and actually wandered out to see some of the rest of the con. Whoo, that never happens!
My second Lively Rock Band was a group I'd never heard of, Brighter than a Thousand Suns, who showed up in D/E thinking they were going to load two vehicles' worth of gear from the circle driveway up top down the escalators and through a fairly busy prefunction area. Heh, no. I told them how to drive down to the loading dock, fetched them some wheels, and helped them load in. They certainly did have a lot of stuff, including a heavy rack of effects and sequencers, a whole acoustic drum kit, and even a little "ego box" for the lead guitarist to hop up onto. I would be doing their sound, and was anticipating something fairly complex and hopefully relying on Dan's help with that, but they said they only needed to send me three outputs and had their own locally sourced in-ear monitors. Well, that made things easier. But then the problem became that they not only had the drum kit, they also brought four of their own PA speakers to line up across the front of the stage facing the room. Listed as "high energy contemporary rock" or the like, that was no lie, and they were LOUD. And I couldn't do a damn thing about it. And they were opposite the bellydance in A/B. Good thing that airwall gland had gotten fixed ...
As they soundchecked and played, I couldn't even *tell* if any of their main mix or bass was even going into our house PA -- all I seemed to be controlling was her vocals into the house. And then the objections started rolling in. Various convention heavies wandered in and out, telling me it was too loud, and sometimes went up to talk to the band when I just shrugged. Persis brought me an SPL meter and reviewed the Sound Policy. By seriously reining in the normal energy of their performance to a bare minimum after several entreaties to do so, they actually managed to do most of their set just nudging 92dB on the meter -- right at the limit but not too ridiculous. But they weren't too happy about that, as their normal venues allow far more stylistic cutting-loose.
I felt bad for them, really, because I found myself liking their stuff. It's rowdy but in a sophisticated and almost orchestral-metal way, with lots of nice open-chord harmonizations and tight phrasing. Even if I couldn't hear it very well in that silly barn of a room, especially with earplugs in -- they've got lots of media availble at their website and Youtube channel, so I was able to go fetch the studio versions of their songs and get all the detail. I also helped them load back out afterward and we had a nice chat out by the docks, and they said while the sound thing was a downer they *very* rarely got anybody to help them load into venues so they were profoundly grateful for that. So they were reasonably happy as they tooled off back toward Connecticut. Oh, and one of their haul vehicles was a Prius.
Subtle tech note from that event -- the keyboardist/guitarist of the band had a large stomp-board in front of him with a bunch of effects wired together and a power strip holding their wall-warts. This rig had a ground fault in it somewhere, probably due to all the two-wire power running around, and because all of the outlet boxes from the hotel's small PDU behind the stage were GFCI, we could *not* run that part of his rig from PDU power at all. Without that piece he would be dead in the water, so in desperation I took its power from the wall. You can guess the rest -- this split the audio ground reference in some odd way, with the expected result. It put a noticeable but somewhat tolerable hum into both PA paths [which they'd easily mask out when they were playing and thus went ahead], but then I found that I could *not* bring up our stage lights at all or the hum got ridiculous and overrode everything. Even with the dimmers at full, when such problems tend to level out again since the middle range of triac phase chopping is the worst case. Not so here, they had to just stay completely off. So they played in nonoptimal room light, and didn't seem too concerned about it. Clearly, their usual venues don't provide GFCI power because he'd never run into this before and didn't really get what was going on. I told the guy if he has one of those "outlets with the two buttons" in his bathroom or basement he should plug the stomp box into that and see if it trips out, and then try to fix the problem.
That all ate a chunk of my Saturday evening, and the tech party was about to start a little later where I'd be able to rant about it to various people. In the interim I took a much-needed shower and a short snooze, just for a break from my own otherwise nonstop activity. Many of us could sleep in a little bit the next day, as not a lot of tech would be needed until midday.
We had our meeting in the morning and dispersed, some of us getting masq rehearsal going again, and then I had some downtime in which I decided to make it easier for the blue crates to get used. The stack of empties was still sitting in Ops, so I went around to various key departments like food functions and artshow, asking their lead people roughly how many of what size they thought they might need on the out. With some notion of numbers I then played "crate fairy" for a while -- loaded batches of them onto a flatbed and took them around to the different areas, so they'd be right there for them in the thick of teardown when nobody would be thinking to go look in Ops. I'm convinced that this was useful because as things came back into Storage, I saw that all the crates had gotten used fairly well and nicely distributed across areas and even labeled intelligently. Next question, of course, is do we need another batch of them...
Then it fell to me [sort of by design, I just couldn't seem to stop *working*] to vastly compact our "tech spew" in the Depot because it was about to be incorporated into the Masquerade greenroom across C/D/E and we needed to make as much room as possible for that. By the assigned time that other people were supposed to come help with wrangling that project, it was done, poof! So at that point we still had lots of our supplies in there [and still reasonably accessible, I made sure of that] but our cozy little private hole was about to vanish.
The intervening airwall was opened and the entire space got set up as
the Masquerade greenroom, complete with photo area and Sandy Middlebrooks
doing his usual thing with the usual bad backdrop. [I've given up
for the bigger-pictures link nest; it's just not worth it.
Change *t.jpg --> *f.jpg in the thumbnail paths if you care.]
At this point our stuff was at somewhat greater security risk but there
were people monitoring things in the greenroom, who in theory could help
keep an eye on our scary-looking wall of tech lining one corner.
Hmm. These two shots might have been easy to stitch together into a fake panorama... And my reconstructed "tech wall" is behind where I'm shooting from; I didn't even think to swing around and get a picture of that. [Anyone else??]
|Pre-Masquerade cleanup in Main Tent came next, yet more box-stacking to neaten up the bit of a tumble behind the curtain in A and finish prepping that room. We've learned through experience to have a split crew on Masq -- the runtime people who were trapped in rehearsals all afternoon are sent to GO EAT, and alternate [and possibly already fed] shift attacks the room to get it ready. Once the Masq starts that second crew is free to either stay and watch or get dinner or start striking other spaces or run-crew any parallel events that need it.|
|Later on, Masquerade run seemed to be going pretty smoothly. I didn't have an assigned runtime position other than to shadow Bill on video shading and try to figure out what he was doing. I squeezed myself in behind him at the already crowded video-land area and found two spare comm headsets within reach, and arrayed them across my head listening to both channels of chatter for a while.|
A nasty hum had appeared on the intercom channels during the build
process, but was finally gone by now --
apparently at the expense of significant people-time debugging
it. I'm told that the eventual problem turned out to be the power
supply itself, putting too much ripple out on the rail possibly due to
tired old filter caps. I don't *think* we ever put enough stations
on those to overload the spec of any of our power supplies -- that number
is supposed to be around 20 or 30 or something ... and swapping the base
evidently fixed the issue.
Fortunate that we had spare supplies available.
Another point that needs to be made, again, is to LABEL every piece of deployed intercom cable at its ends with a nice readable *flag* of white gaff around the wire [not a band or a scrap on the connector], showing which channel it's on!! At the very least, on key connection points. Sometime during Masq pre-prep I was trying to figure out which side a given wireless station was on and someone picked up an unmarked connection from the rats nest in video-land with a green XLR hooked to some other color and said "here's how Syd joined the channels!" ... How the hell would anyone else walking in cold know that, or for that matter know which of the two green cables coming over to the switching and shading racks was A or B, etc? We're fortunate to often have Dale's bright green readily-identifiable cables for intercom in the first place, but it has to be more detailed than that in the field. Maybe intercom is still that orphan child that nobody really wants to deal with, but think about how pissed off you are when it's not working right and you don't have the first clue where to start eliminating segments to track it down.
|We intended that I would swap in for Bill to shade for the halftime, so he showed me the basics and then let me go at it. Shading is remarkably like what I do when processing still pictures -- muck with the black point up and down to either "crisp it up" a little or let some range of black become not-so-black to pull out more dark detail, and ride herd on overall brightness to not let things bloom out. Pretty simple in theory and highly subjective as far as aesthetic decisions, and of course with changing light levels continual adaptation is needed and there's a bit of response delay since the shader is controlling a physical camera iris out yonder. Part of the halftime was a Firefly shadowcast lit mostly by followspots alone, leaving much of the stage dark and a rather stark, contrasty look on the actors. [Is that why they call it a shadowcast?? nyuk nyuk] For the sake of the video I pushed the blacks up just a little, matching the level of revealed detail across all four cameras as best I could, to sort of "de-harsh" the overall appearance and let a little more of the actors be seen. Bill behind me someplace didn't dive in to correct me, so I figured I was doing an acceptable job.|
|[I wasn't at all familiar with the whole "Serenity" thing but since the con have watched a few episodes just to catch up. It's a space western, full of gratuitous posing and violence, and little in the way of scientific believability. Yawn. Why couldn't the crew just sign up at a load board and haul legitimate freight, instead of a few dusty pickle barrels and little black crates of moldy Federation cheese?]|
Right after Masq was over we did about an hour of quick rip-n-tear to
get stuff out of the way and prepare for the truss rig coming down in the
morning, and then declared ourselves done for the night and locked up
and headed off to party-hop or relax in the tech suite or whatever.
The astute observer may note that there don't appear to be any big cables running up to the truss rig. Don't worry, it's all magic! While you can't see it in this pic, the PSAV guys actually jumped a short distance from the end of the truss above backstage right, and ran the multis and DMX around tucked into the ceiling soffit over to where they dropped to the PDU. I should have gotten a better specific shot of all that; perhaps someone else did.
Fun on the out and then some
Said rig got lowered Monday morning, and the stripping operation was
pretty quick. Maybe two hours of PSAV's four-hour-minimum call,
and a healthy part of that was un-doing the socapex "soffit tuck".
Strike in general went pretty smoothly; people have become more familiar with which inventory piles get formed from which gear and many things were packed and ready to go by early afternoon.
Toward the right here we see a stack of the borrowed "intellistage" platforms
that were brought in as extra camera risers. They came from a facility
fairly far out of town and the logistics and timing surrounding the problem
of bringing them here turned into what felt like a complete cluster,
generating far too much top-posted, full-multilevel-requoted, HTML-formatted,
and uselessly cross-list *duplicated* email concerning their journey -- in
both directions. It all came off as really lame to me as an observer,
and the few people involved would have done far better taking it
It wasn't just that nobody seemed able to figure out who could get where
when and with what vehicles -- the presentation, if you will, really got
in the way of the message.
Email etiquette and paying attention to recipient fields really is not only
a lost art for some people, they get *defensive* about it nowadays.
That's no excuse for ignoring the trivial changes that one can make during
message composition, and it's NEVER going to stop me from giving them shit
about the voluminous nonessential spew landing in my inbox. You-all
know who you are -- think about it, *edit* that junk because it's not MY job
to strain your garbage. You'll pry my "eighties mailreader" out of
my cold dead fingers, because I'm painfully familiar with all the retarded
mistakes that the mail-client industry has made since the beginning.
At least they didn't try to saddle Logistics with the entire transport problem on those, but the set of that stuff did end up passing through Storage and our hands anyway. I suggest we find some alternate, local solution for camera risers next year that doesn't chew up such a quantity of people points.
After PSAV was finished with us they brought out a section of their own
truss rig from some previous event, that had sprouted a seized bolt they
couldn't disassemble. It happens sometimes.
This had nothing to do with us but they
needed a little space at the back of the room to deal with it.
Fortunately the nut had been backed off enough before hopelessly
spalling up that they were able to slip a sawzall blade between the
truss sections and zap it out of there. Made a bunch of noise,
thus our curiosity...
And for the record, we were back in our normal modes of dress for work at this point and they didn't appear to notice or care one whit.
|EMC had been the event, or one of the events, in the hotel before us, and they'd left a ton of crap behind. Besides all kinds of banners, charts, and sales rah-rah promotional stuff they had a couple of large set pieces like this -- blown-up-huge photographs of buildings in London adhered to some massively structural half-inch foam-core board. This one was left in our tech-depot space, and was thus a continuing presence in our meetings. It had a roulette-wheel kind of thing stuck over the clock face which eventually fell off because it was just glued on, but while it still worked it got a few funny mods and turned it into the "wheel of unwanted tech jobs" that eventually got filled in by various contributors. Select the big-pic here for a 'shopped reconstruction that puts the wheel back where it was originally mounted and shows the hacked labeling detail. You can easily guess which sector I scrawled on.|
Another section of these props about 12 feet long *and* the box it had
come in ended up cluttering the loading dock over most of the weekend,
because it was way too big to fit in the cardboard crusher and nobody
felt sufficiently authorized to simply fling it off the dock pending
the next time trash removal arrived.
Most of these displays were really quite well done, and it was clear that
someone had gotten paid a ton of money for this stuff. And all just
for a single event, after which they simply left most of it at the hotel
for its staff to eventually dispose of. That doesn't seem very
fair, but that's corporate waste for you and one of the primary reasons
I got *out* of doing those gigs. Also kicking around in C was
an almost full box of regular foam-core board, about half of which had
been arted up on one side with obviously professionally-drawn charts
and process flows and whatever else in sort of a comic style. The
remainder of the box was brand-new unmarked, uncut stock.
Hating to see all that go to waste, I brought the stuff out of C where
nobody would have found it otherwise and tried to offer it to the the
general con populace to take away for free, and then someone mentioned
that the art show might want it for signs or backing so we hauled it
over there, and when that failed to usefully pass it on someone else
suggested that Boskone might want to make signs out of it.
In the end I wound up putting whatever was left back in the original packing
box it had come in and marking it to go to NESFA; hopefully it could find
a good home and beneficial re-use there.
Turns out that all of this material was provided by a business-development outfit called Peak Teams. Their website is the usual "leadership" muck you'd expect out of any such, but they've got an interesting treatise on multitasking and its downsides that is worth a read. Trying to go in too many directions at once really does impede learning, but that's apparently rather non-obvious to a lot of people.
|As move-out got under way, Lucky wanted to get the vintage video-game consoles back to their rightful owners before starting the main truck load. Since things were in pretty good shape ballroom-wise at that point I saw an opportunity to continue being helpful, and grabbed a hand truck to start moving the games out toward the dock. Now, these were genuine period machines, tall and heavy particle-board cabinets with big glass CRTs inside and dusty ol' power supplies tucked into the bottom. On inspecting the first one to move I zoomed right in on the fact that a quarter was lying *on the heatsink* of a critical regulator, precious close to shorting something out. They had all been set for free play at the con so no more quarters were going in, so this must have been in there for years.|
|I collected the two or three quarters laying around in the bottom of the unit as my "handling fee", but probably removed a lot of technical risk to the electronics as a side benefit. While "ponderous" or "foxtrot hotel" are good descriptors for the mass of these units, they were entirely manageable once tipped up and balanced on a two-wheeler. I selected one and bound up its power cord [skipping past the one that some kid was still playing; I'm not *that* mean], went in from the side and tipped 'er back and off I went toward the dock. A couple of other folks found more handtrucks and all the machines were quickly loaded, and soon the drop was done and the truck's gaping maw was back at the dock ready to start swallowing the main Storage load.|
Well, perhaps not so gaping in that case. Due to a bit of confusion
one of the 26' trucks had been returned to Enterprise prematurely as it
turned out, as Janet had set up two identical full-week rentals but
nobody else seemed to actually know that.
So the Enterprise guys were a little perplexed
that someone came back with one so early but accepted it, and then when
we wanted to "re-rent" for another day all they had was a sixteen-foot
Isuzu cab-over instead. Functional, but felt like an ice-cream truck
by comparison! It was nonetheless capacious enough for the
tech load from Grand, although we had to pull a few things back
off the end when I happened to notice the rear tires looking pretty squashy
and realized the rear axle was sitting firmly *on* the bump stops.
We unloaded heavier bits until there was maybe a half-inch of clearance;
not optimal but it would be okay for the short run. A truck's rear
suspension gives you a convenient spring-scale to gauge the weight and
distribution of your load, but one must remember to actually go check it
before tooling into the distance with a serious overweight condition.
Among our crew that day I probably had the most recent mental snapshot of how Storage had been arranged, so I needed to be over there to handle the initial routing of stuff coming in. Our official on-paper Storage governance person was still busy at the con, so with no other guidance it seemed to fall to me. We shanghaied some crew and I drove that leg over there, and found that the building management *had* actually gone in and cleaned the room over the weekend! That must have been a pretty big job and I have no idea how they went at it. Most of the dust was off the floor and they'd squirted a fat bead of caulk at the floor-to-wall junction all the way around where they could reach. The suspicion was that the plentiful dust we were getting from the Diak cabinetmaking shop next door was mostly coming in through there; we'll see if that's true long-term. But lots of our items had been randomly moved around and the building crew's ladder and tool bucket were in the way, so it took me a while to basically reset the room and set up the spaces to return our gear into. Which then went pretty quickly, as I encouraged the part of the crew working the truck and elevator to just push crap into the hall and go down for another batch, not try to bring stuff all the way in themselves. Handoff and the natural flow control it creates makes things much more efficient.
Lucky called and wanted that truck back to the hotel fairly soon to grab the stuff for NESFA, so when it was empty we sent Angela back with it solo and kept a small crew at Storage to receive the other truck whenever it would arrive. Then it was a lot of hurry up and wait, as loading the other truck at the hotel was taking longer than expected. Part of our remaining crew popped out for dinner since they had the bit of downtime. I stuck around to continue neatening up a bit and re-think some deployment and stack the things we'd already gotten back tighter and higher, but still leave various personal gear exposed for later recovery. The Galleria truck *finally* showed up over an hour later, by which point I'd almost fallen asleep lying on a wagon. But now we were getting all the artshow stuff back, and I had a slightly different arrangement for storing it that I wanted to try.
Eventually, and I'm still fuzzy on exactly how, we all got back to the hotel to pop in on the dead-dog and relax for a few. The NESFA dropoff had happened in parallel somehow, fortunately still early enough in the evening to be reasonable for their neighbors, so the small truck was also back. Now we still had one more task to do before the morrow -- to load the scaffold into said small truck, since we'd decided that returning it ourselves Tuesday morning was totally doable and I wouldn't mind getting up early to do that. Our last burst of collective energy got all the scaff parts strapped and wedged in, and in theory we were finally done for the night. I then went to move the truck out of the dock, and got the next surprise.
Click, ka-chunk-a, ka-chunka, ka-chunka, ka-chunka, ... with the entire dash frantically blinking on and off, but no engine cranking.
Ut-oh. Pulling the battery-box cover revealed that this was a 24V system, which we weren't about to try jumping from a regular car. I now realized that it had already been weak when I had started it earlier, as it was doing a little of the odd clicking then, but I hadn't driven that truck yet so didn't think of it as a warning. And there had undoubtedly been a lot of engine-off liftgate usage over at NESFA. I let it rest a bit but the more I tried it the worse it got, just plain dead. The folks at Enterprise's main "roadside service" seemed quite uncertain that they could get a local resource out to us in some reasonable time and all of us were crispy critters by now, and we decided that the best thing would be to call the local office in the morning to see what they could do. I broke the bad news to hotel security, e.g. one of their dock bays would be blocked up overnight through no willing choice of ours and I'd be on the phone to Enterprise at 0700 the next morning to address the problem.
Which I was, and even got a reasonable amount of much-needed sleep in between. The guys there continued their trend of customer-service awesomeness, as we discussed options and then the guy on the phone said "ya know what? I'll just zip over there myself right now." Soon he showed up with another small truck and after we figured out where the actual metal parts of his side-mounted battery terminals were, the stuck Isuzu finally roared to life. I was out of the bay and on my way to Marr shortly after 8AM, and a good thing too as several other trucks were already piled up on Fargo St waiting to get into bays on that side.
In retrospect it was likely that only one of the two units in the battery box was the weak one, and we *might* have been able to jump that one from a car or just get more charge into half the setup at a time ... but none of us had enough brain left that night and I didn't have a voltmeter handy. We didn't even have jumper cables, with which we might have been able to bring the other truck over for a boost. Clearly, this thing was just plain toast and Enterprise tagged it right out for repair once we got it back to them.
My next discovery came because I'd failed to heed some emailed warnings about D Street braindeath that had gone across the lists. It has this completely gratuitous, nonsensical part in the middle with two mutually-opposed one-way sections, and the surrounding should-be-obvious bypass route streets are marked "no trucks". So it's not a straight shot down D after all. I guess the city wants to keep trucks generally out of that more residental section and send them the long way round. I didn't have a GPS or map with me and thrashed around a bit trying to find a way through, bumbling my way through odd byways around A street but I finally got down to Marr and backed up to their warehouse to hand the stuff out. Which is where I learned, far too late, that by being a little more insistent in the ordering process we actually *could* have gotten all clean workplanks instead of the beaches of concrete dust we found on some of them. There seems to be a deep chasm of disconnect between their office and warehouse sometimes...
Following that and an equivalent confused routing battle getting back to the hotel, noting in the meantime that no, a box-truck is not the optimal vehicle for exploring quaint local neighborhoods, I figured the Isuzu had run long enough for a good recharge in the battery. Fully realizing the potential[!] fallacy of this thinking, I swung into an out-of-the-way spot and did an experimental shutdown. On restart it was still doing some of the ka-chunk-a stuff and *barely* able to restart on a warm engine, so I was like "we need to just return this thing *now*" to Lucky on the phone and kept the truck running until we could. Leon was kind enough to accompany me over to Enterprise and then drop me back near my car. Out of Channelside for $90 instead of the $140-plus it would have been over at Laz, so that was pretty reasonable. At that point it was noonish, time to check out of the hotel and head for the last bits of load back into Storage.
|At which time Rick, our official "inventory control" person was finally there and immediately started in with the expected "no, no, no" over how I'd *tentatively* templated up the restored layout and then started pushing things around the way he wanted. Some guys from LaborReady had also been hired in for the morning so there were plenty of spare hands, just needing clear direction. So I was like, you know what? Fuck it. Rick's sandbox for the rest of the day, and a small subset of us simply walked away and went to have lunch. I returned back into Storage just long enough to load out some of my personal gear into the car before heading home, and the remaining folks seemed enthusiastic enough while finishing up the day, doing their own lunch trip, and dropping off the last truck. [With my snow shovels still strapped up in the back of it, but I managed to retrieve them later..]|
There is no particular mandated arrangement for Storage, and it's still
essentially bursting at the seams.
It is managed by vague committee, or who shouts the loudest, or something
I'm sure that if I had accepted the offered tap to head the inventory
department a year or so ago
that the situation would be no different, and I'm done butting heads with
people over any of it. If a consensus ever forms to design an
official structure and reworked facility and then stick to it, I'm game
to participate, but not in the present ad-hoc mess things are in now.
There's likely no evading the reality that some quantity of money will
have to be thrown at the problem.
Oh, and I should mention that "super trucker" is one of the more pejorative terms around the professional trucking industry, used to actually indicate someone who has no clue what he's doing but tries to make a show of being competent. Describes some of us perfectly, doesn't it. In reality, at the risk of putting her on the spot a little -- Angela routinely drives similar trucks as part of her day-job, and the rest of us could all probably take some good tips from her ... when she's not busy driving a lighting board! [On-road workshop one of these days in more reasonable weather, perhaps??]
Most of us get to do this once a year and are anything but experts, but each time we learn a few things and that's why I take the time to detail everything I had a hand in. Trucks and tech alike, art and science, all the good and all the bad as it passes before me. If you've actually made it this far, I really really hope it's been useful.