Arisia '16

Another wild week of tech and truckin' under our belts!
  As we swung into the leading shoulder of another Arisia, the governing theme of this convention had been set forth as "whimsy".  Which might help explain the background graphic for this page, but it had also been an interesting year in between with some amusing notes along the way.  Some of it was toward advancing our individual and collective abilities and solving past-year problems, and some of was just weird fun.  So to first jump back through the year's high points a bit...

  Lift cert
One issue we had run into last year was that the in-house hotel rigging guys from PSAV would no longer let us use their scissorlift without being "certified" somehow, forcing us to push scaffolds around to accomplish that focus [arguably, far *less* safe for our own people].  It was really just a BS paper-trail thing, as we had handily demonstrated real-life competence with driving their lifts the year before that, but someone evidently wanted various asses covered.  After a little research we found a local opportunity for a simple, to-the-point training program issued by National Safety Compliance, presumably a competitor to iVES that we found out about last year, and presented right down at our primary theatre gear rental house, ALPS.  And by none other than Ethan, one of their main show riggers and who we'd first met way back at Noreascon 4 and who had also taught the classroom-level rigging course that David and I had taken a while back.  The NSC program basically consists of watching the same two videos that they point to on Youtube, a little subsequent discussion, and then a short tablet-based test.  No hands-on, which none of us actually needed for scissorlifts but I wouldn't have minded getting a little time in a boomlift [aka "worker catapult"] as I've never driven one.  But no biggie, the point was that now some of our crew carried wallet cards that PSAV acknowledged were wholly adequate credentials for lift-driving on their properties.

  DMX everywhere
An event had come along in May of the intervening year that I wound up doing lighting for, where I had really wanted a DMX splitter rather than trying to daisy-chain everything over a fairly large space.  My impression that David owned a splitter was incorrect, and in the course of getting things going a clumsier way I used a lot more cable on that gig and turned up an unrelated RS-485 receiver problem in one of my dimmer packs.  But at that point I decided to go shopping for small splitters, bought two of the four-port Enttecs, and wound up using them in an updated research project as well as detailing a much-needed modification to add a thru-connector.  One of the units went out on a different gig the day after I modded it, and then both of them could come to Arisia and obviate our need to rent any.  Dance tent would certainly need one, as they were planning for complex batches of DMX-aware toys scattered all over the room.

  Analog again
I helped out with bits of another "Vidicon" prep session, held over a Fall weekend in Arisia Storage to test/calibrate a bunch of video gear and reconfigure racks for the next convention.  Unfortunately we weren't able to build enough of the digital system we wanted to have, so it would be another year on analog but a lot of that system got cleaned up and reorganized.  I learned how to do a small modification on a camera control unit for remote shading, and then learned the reason I *wouldn't* be called upon to finish doing the rest of them before the next con!  It turned out that we had a line on a batch of even better gear, primarily cameras and big pile of triax cable, which was being slowly moved from one facility to another and in the process would be available to us for just *one* year's con.  That would nonetheless be a great step up in quality for our event coverage, and further work on the older gear was essentially shelved for the time being.

My immediate logistics-hat question at this juncture was, "how is all that getting to the hotel??" knowing that Storage was well on the way to being even more loaded-down than last year, and it turned out that the loaner gear would be separately *delivered* and picked back up.  As gear-tagging progressed, that meant Video's load going out of Storage would be slightly *less* this time around.  Yay!

  Sea of green
Perhaps most importantly, I became the Master of Intercom.  Dale's famously green gear had passed on to me, and after an extensive refurb process it was ready to go to another Arisia.

  [Small images throughout are generally linked to larger copies -- use them for greater detail!]
Intercom design But this time I wanted intercom to follow an actual *design*, because Arisia's layout is more complex than most other cons.  This has rarely been done over the years, i.e. for someone to sit down and actually plan things like number of stations and cable lengths.  We do that for everything else, why not this?  For some odd reason, intercom traditionally seems to get remembered at the last minute and sloppily laid out in a tearing hurry, but really, the stuff is simple enough that there's no real need for that to be the case.  A broad overview of a venue easily allows determination of optimal cable paths and which channels serve which areas.  After a bit of design-list chat about station requirements, I hacked up a room drawing overlay for a reasonable attempt at having a diagram on-site to work from.  The really key deployment-time thing to do is add appropriate temporary labeling, with obvious flags of white gaff, so that in a tangle of cable it's easy to figure out which channel's line goes where.
  This drawing also reflects some fairly radical changes in our overall room layout, and the topic of several intensive conference calls.  With video's big move to the other side and behind the airwall in ballroom E, sound also decided to move the mix position to house left and dispense with the idea of delay stacks, so all that remained on house right was a spot tower and the show-caller throne.  Thus, the only wiring that had to fly over the big door woodwork this time was two intercom lines and an MC go/stop signal.  Everything else could stay at ground level and run around house left, and generous amounts of "yellow jacket" cable ramp were planned for to protect it.  Having a second room with intercom extended into it was also a bit novel, as it usually only serves only main tent, but video wanted the ability to shoot some small-tent events with full switching.  With a possible total of 17 or 18 stations in play, I had to coordinate additional gear supply from some other owners to fill it in and even then it seemed like we were a little short.

  Silly skills
And on a personal note, I had taken up the one "useless flow art" that's ever really had any appeal for me -- staff spinning, in a somewhat rudimentary way, which nonetheless quickly evolved into wanting to put together some glow props.  These were fun at the community drum circles on the beach while I was down south for the holidays, and there would also be a drum circle at Arisia.  With sporadic practice over the year I got reasonably good with some traditional tricks, although despite single-framing through numerous youtube videos trying to reverse-engineer moves, a lot of the fancier "contact" stuff still eludes me.  But I figured on bringing my toys to the con and having some fun anyway.

    Down to work

  The usual "omg here we go" Wednesday morning arrived, which did not begin on a particularly auspicious note. One of the trucks had been delayed getting to the Enterprise yard and wasn't available quite yet, but they were hoping for it sometime before noon.  That was actually okay, since in general I'd rather wait until after 9am to fight my way down 93 among all the commuters.  I figured I'd just leave my car at Enterprise for the day [which they're totally okay with] and get a ride back to it somehow that evening after we were done.  But the truck showed up sooner than expected anyway, and by 10:30 or so I was there independently picking it up while Lucky was already off at NESFA loading the first truck.  Once he'd taken care of the paperwork earlier, he didn't have to be present for me to just show up and take the second one.  Commercial rentals are nicely versatile that way.  And what Enterprise handed me the key to was an almost brand-new Freightliner M2, with only 9000 miles on the clock.  Very smooth-running, and the liftgate parts were actually *shiny*.  My first challenge was to get the beast turned around in their yard without trashing half their remaining inventory with its big butt, and then figure out which way I was heading next.

Chelsea map segment with certain features There are basically two straightforward ways to get from the Enterprise place in Chelsea back into Somerville/Medford.  The somewhat more car-friendly way is up Eastern and Broadway to hop on 16 west to 99 down past the Schraffts building, but there's one tiny problem with that way.  It's funny how one generally doesn't notice "no trucks" signage until it actually becomes directly relevant ... but there *is* one little no-trucks section along that route: the on-ramp onto 16 itself, highlighted here in pink.  16 and the roads leading up to it are all truck-legal, but that one short segment isn't for some reason.
The more common truck route goes down along Marginal and the other names that road turns into as it heads westward, because most of the industry and waterfront is along there.  That road gets pretty beat up and bumpy as a result, and of course is full of trucks, and the wait at the light at the end of Beacham onto 99 can be long.  One of the notable industries is Eastern Minerals, which supplies the road salt for hundreds of municipalities around the area.  Boats arrive with holds full of it and cranes with big dredging buckets stockpile the stuff in giant mounds right there at dockside, "visible from space".

Streetview shot of no-trucks on-ramp This is a Streetview of the on-ramp in question, although it looks a bit different in winter.  Coming out of the rental place last year I barreled the truck through it anyway before I really realized the condition, thinking "wtf??" because it was so unexpected.  I asked the Enterprise guys this year why this one little bit is marked as such; their best guess is some sort of infrastructure under the road that doesn't like repeated heavy weight rolling over.  Or maybe the abutters just got together and convinced the town to put up the signs -- who knows.  Seems rather arbitrary, really.

Tooling down Marginal toward the salt mountains But this time I decided to take Marginal anyway, as it's actually a little more direct not to mention totally truck-legal, and I figured it wouldn't make much time difference anyway.  Surprisingly, I had the road mostly to myself, on an ordinary workday -- so here I am tooling along toward the salt piles!  They really are quite impressive up close, and of course are in the peak of their stocked-up state in early winter.  December had been stupidly warm and we hadn't had any substantial snow in the area yet, so demand and outflow from the stock was probably very low.

It was a lovely day, the sun was lighting the dash nicely, and there weren't cars trying to race around me and thread the needle in stupid ways -- it all seemed to call out for a convenient "at the helm" picture for the launch of our yearly adventure.  Almost looks like one of my roadtrip shots, except that I'm in a big-ass truck getting maybe 7 miles per gallon!  Yeehaw, back in the saddle again.

  It's somewhat ... whimsical, perhaps, to think about how we go into these nominally "adult" activities with all the associated responsibility and can still retain a certain childlike sense of wonder about it.  Not just wheeling big trucks around through daytime traffic, but heck, all the other stuff we collectively do ... coordinating with vendors, writing hotel contracts, juggling all the financials, and even our own relatively orderly governance.  And it's all for a science-fiction convention, where the weird turn pro!  The fact that we can take on and even welcome this giant bubble of work under a heck of a schedule is kind of amazing, and certain elements of perpetual youthful enthusiasm may very well be one of the forces that make it all go.  Even the fact that I can write about basically the same crap year to year but fill it with new discoveries and philosophies is lots of fun, and let's face it, ultimately all this is for people to have fun. 

Toward similar ends, I am sometimes tempted to sink some coin into one of those "CDL mill" training schools, that for 3 or 4 grand will turn candidates into class A truck drivers.  Just to do it, and learn about handling the full-size rigs.  I've read up quite a bit on the subject and understand a lot of the mechanics, it would just be a question of the hands-on practice.  Such a ticket would be of dubious real-life usefulness, however, as I'm not sure I could ever actually work *with truckers* many of whom aren't exactly the brightest lights on the tree.  Regardless, a yearly opportunity to pilot the biggest type of truck one is allowed to drive without a CDL is a little exciting and terrifying all at once, but we're getting a little better and more confident about it.

Reining in my brief self-congratulatory interlude at being entrusted with such things, my next destination was Arisia storage.  Lucky was still at NESFA dealing with the substantial load there, which seemed like quite a bit more than last year and has raised certain future thoughts about common storage space shared by both entities.  Hopefully our volunteers were reading the Twitter updates to know when to head over to Storage and help.  My truck would start loading artshow and the other Galleria-side stuff, and as usual, some of the load coming from NESFA would also have to go into it once Lucky returned.  It's kind of funny how Logistics has developed this two-sides/two-trucks model; if we're ever back in a venue with one loading area we're going to have to re-think a lot of this process.

Trucks butt-to-butt I had brought along my set of curb-ramp boards again to help bump a second truck up into the spot next to the dock, but we couldn't do the same slot-in trick as in prior years because the building manager's car was parked in the way [red arrow] and we couldn't find him.  However, the handicap space and the one next to it on the other side were empty at one point and Lucky figured we might be able to wedge the rear of his half-full truck in next to the dock and still get the liftgates close enough together.  The handicap-parking sign and some shrubbery were in the way of putting his truck in straight, but a 45-degree angle seemed more likely to work.

Liftgates as close as possible Neither of us were sure exactly where the second gate needed to sit, so it took a couple of tries for Lucky to angle it into a good place.  Pushed into the bushes on one side, and *almost* kissing the other truck but not actually in contact with it.  Then we were able to lower the first truck's gate a little and throw a wide plank across the two of them, making a perfectly reasonable crossload path.  He'd separated the NESFA load roughly by destination down right and left sides of the box, so it was relatively easy to pick out the stuff to shuffle.

Another precision backing job! The Galleria-bound truck was full soon thereafter and it was time to swap them [and get us *out* of the handicap spot, because sometimes it does get officially utilized].  Everyone had gone upstairs for a brief break and to chat about what would go next, so with both keys in hand it fell to me to do the moves.  I parked the loaded truck in as much of an out-of-the-way fashion as I could down the street a little, and went to bring the next one in.  With nobody else around, I managed another precision backing job and landed the liftgate *exactly* where I wanted it!  The trick is to get out and walk back and bring the gate to just above the right level, eyeball the distance remaining, and then back exactly that far by looking *down* at the road from the cab with the window open and using something like the fuel tank bracket as a reference pointer against the pavement.  Stop at *that* little pebble in the asphalt, and get out again to check.  And take into account that the gate also moves backward as it comes down.  Works great.

  Loading continued until just after dusk, and Lucky pointed out that we couldn't actually head for the hotel *too* early because random BCEC employee cars would be in the way where we wanted to snug the trucks in for the night. There's apparently a bit of contention for the space at the end of Fargo Street these days, and the Westin security folks have started calling for towing a little more often because the convention-center workers really aren't supposed to park down there anyway.  Again, it's a City of Boston jurisdiction but basically nothing's going to get towed out of there unless the Westin folks need it done.  Naturally, once we clear our own presence with them they're not about to have our trucks pulled out of there, but it's all still a bit of a hack.

Lucky and I traded trucks for the hotel run so he could try the nice new one, and I took the older International he'd been given.  That one had a much growlier diesel and a slightly wonky transmission, and seemed very sluggish on engine starting.  He had just come back from a lot of lift-gate usage with it at NESFA ... nobody can blame us for being rightfully paranoid about batteries after last year's fun.  But that truck was going to get returned after unloading the next day anyway, and perhaps Enterprise could then check it over.

Coming up out of Big Dig tunnel Here I'm coming up out of the tunnel to the sharp swing left onto Summer Street, which can take several light cycles to get through and can be a tricky turn sometimes.  Traffic was still fairly light this evening, though, so things went smoothly right into dropping the trucks off at Fargo.  Alison had volunteered to be one of our "crew shuttle" folks again and accompanied us over there, and then when she and I tried to figure out how to get back to Chelsea via the Ted Williams we got a little turned around for a bit but eventually found our way back to Enterprise.  Then I headed home, where I still needed to do my own loadup of gear.

    In we go

Work light set up at dock We had been granted relatively early access to some of the spaces for Thursday morning, because we weren't right on the heels of another event.  I rolled in a little after 10 and set up work-lights on the back walls of both docks.  Modern trucks have efficient LED dome-lights in the boxes, but when they would be sitting there for several hours there's no point in draining the batteries when an external light shining right into the box is sufficient.  Leaving my lights there all weekend apparently made some of the routine vendors' lives easier too, because they seemed to get moved around from bay to bay as their presence was noticed and taken advantage of.

Prius in the way Noon finally arrived and we could begin loading into the other half of the hotel, so I went to retrieve the other truck and get that started.

Okay, who parked his damned Prius right in the way of where I needed some swing room to line up on the dock?!  Snooty self-absorbed hybrid drivers ...

Loadin was just a blur Bumping into the usual spot on the inner dock was actually easy, and thus commenced a literal blur of load-in.  In reality there was plenty of gear arriving in my car as well, because I didn't want to try and push everything through Storage this time, and later on I pulled it up to the ramp on the other side of the docks to roll in my intercom crates, UPS, and ancillary bits.  Then Paul slotted in with his trailer full of sound gear, and eventually the borrowed video gear showed up, and Carl with a zip-van full of Colorblazes, and so on.  The scaffolding delivery showed up in the midst of it too, and the brute-squad ran it in.

[The driver from Marr, our scaff vendor, seemed rather astounded by my choice of footwear, asking "dude, what's with the feet?"   to which I simply responded "this is how I work" ...]

    More design

  Other than the intercom I didn't expect to be responsible for any significant design work or drawing production, but things got a little weirder in the week before the con.  It turned out that David was still counting on me to captain the build of the floor-level power infrastructure -- he'd tentatively asked me about that back in April, but at the time seemed to think I'd be up to my ass in logistical alligators when that was needed and thus he'd have to ask someone else to pick it up.  I later determined that I could move back to Tech as soon as the trucks had gotten meaningfully unloaded on Thursday, so his assignment wasn't that surprising.  Daniel would handle the master-electrician aspects of the truss in the air, so it was a reasonable split of delegation.  We had a text list of all the circuit allocations, but I again wanted something immediately visual for myself and others to work from.
Floor-level power layout So I banged together another drawing, a somewhat quick-and-dirty representation of where various power feeds would run, just to make labeling and layout easier and make sure we took care of it all.  Yay, GIMP as a CAD tool once again.  The hotel provided their large PDU, a 200 amp feed split into 30 single-phase circuits, and we ate just about all of it.  What's interesting to note is that only two cables really needed to run down the halfway line along the stage, where there used to be a ponderous bundle of stuff going through there in the past.  Perhaps with this new room configuration we don't need to do the "add the front half later" trick anymore, thus eliminating one bit of BEO coordination with the housemen.  I did my share of under-stage crawling anyway for some of the front-to-back runs including intercom, so two more Edisons wouldn't have been a big deal.

Placing chainmotor hang points The PSAV guys arrived in the midst of our build frenzy to start placing their motor picks.  Some of us had prepared for this time by finding our footgear and looking all official and safe and everything ... I took it an extra step by donning a hard-hat and safety glasses, just to make sort of a subtle point.

Then I was reminded that my car was still sitting in the loading dock area, and seized the opportunity of a slight bit of downtime to go put it in hock for the weekend.

Public LED art under A street bridge On the walk back from the Channelside lot I discovered a very cool bit of public art stretched under the A Street bridge, the deep blue of which isn't done proper justice by this picture.  There's a better shot at the project's webpage, which also details some interesting history.  The entire array gently twinkles, i.e. random LED nodes briefly fade up to full white and back down.

Reworked light plot showing truss power routing Parking kept me offsite for about half an hour, and good progress had been made on getting the truss rig put together when I returned.  Translating a design into real-life wiring always seems to get a little confusing in the thick of things, and in an effort to study up on the basic layout I had hacked up *another* drawing just so I could better understand the routing.  Taken from David's original SVG diagram of the truss layout, I had moved all the unit numbers outside the outlines for better readability, turned all the bottom-hung unit numbers red to see the upper vs. lower chord assignments more easily, and then tried to lay in some q&d notion of physical circuiting.

I wasn't intending for anyone to work from this, but printed a few to bring along anyway ... and they actually came in handy, as did having the text circuit list printed on the flip side, to augment Daniel's more formal large-print plot.  I like having the visual representation of wiring paths, as it seems to allow better eyeballing of lengths, where others are comfortable enough working from lists of dimmer numbers and DMX chains.  Even with all the cross-checking we'd been doing with each other pre-con, we still seemed to run a bit short on supplied jumper cables.

I had also given the whole rig a ballpark load calculation, and determined that our heaviest point would most likely be "B4" at around 600 pounds, well within the limits of PSAV's half-ton motors.  Their guys didn't see any issues with the slight asymmetry from the center truss, and the hoists didn't show any signs of excess load.  But it's still kind of amazing that those skinny little chains can safely hold all this up.

Rig in the air Eventually the wiring-up was done and pre-tested and the rig got hauled into the air and trimmed.  Meanwhile PSAV had brought in the spanky-clean orange lift we would have available over the weekend, and said that our "authorized" crew could already go ahead and use it.

They never even asked to see our certification cards.

I suspect that it's not the guys on the ground making up all these rules and changes thereto, it's some back-office drones who barely know what any of this stuff looks like but run in perpetual fear of the lawyers.  They're probably terrified to talk to us directly, either, lest we would handily debunk their little belief structures.  I really wonder how many more years this pointless game is going to continue.

Daniel at the Ion board We could finally get to focusing, though, and it was nice to be able to just drive to the next units.  Daniel manned the Ion and started some basic programming, as it's one of those boards that you don't get *anything* out of until you bang in a lot of framework.  And then bang in a lot more framework over top of that to have anything conveniently grouped under your hands, such as subs on sliders.  See prior-year rants about ETC, workflow, and why I still like Hogs.

Series 2 (new) Lustr + (old)  
Lustr Series 2 LED matrix Lustr+ series 1 matrix
We could work autonomously on large sections of focus, because the LED fixtures have the handy focus-mode menu to turn them full on.  These were the new Series 2 Lustr units, a significant upgrade from the ones we rented two years ago.  And they do the same fun trick when the lens barrel is removed.  While the shot of the old unit's matrix on the right is a bit washed out by room light, it's easy to compare and see what changed -- the white LEDs got replaced by something called "lime", and everything seems generally brighter and punchier.  Note that where the array seems to mirror-image itself radially *is* its edge; the image outward from there is from the hexagonal kaleidoscope mirror inside the "light engine".  ETC claims they're getting twice the lumens out of these, making me wonder what everybody [ALPS included] was supposed to do with the Series 1 units they likely sank significant dollars into.

[Well, so I checked.  ALPS wound up selling off that inventory, which still commanded respectable pricing, because the original series units are still fine for smaller venues that don't need top-of-the-line CRI.  There was no low-cost "upgrade" path from ETC, as too many things were different about the new units -- everybody had to just buy new stock.  That's the downside of how fast the LED industry changes.]

Lustr evolution chart The channel assignment chart seems to confirm that white turned into the "twist of lime", and in certain color ranges they're getting more lumens out of the LEDs than conventional lamps.  Best-case seems to be about 45 LPW plug-to-snoot, but that's after all the drivers and optics and thus rather respectable.  And they don't throw video into fits; the incandescent emulation looks fine on camera too.

Maybe we'll be able to use them with the cyc heads someday too, which look pretty sweet.

Safety third With PSAV off the call and out of the room, we could go back to our normal preferred mode of operational safety.  See, simple common sense says to not let the scissorlift down onto Paul's toes, and I don't think a shoe would make much difference here anyway.  Situational awareness *is* what makes all the difference.

  After documenting the intercom layout to hell and gone such that anybody with moderate clue could go build it, I wound up deploying most of it myself anyway.  I suppose the more I talked about it the more others assumed that I would handle it.  That was okay, it didn't take all that long and I kind of wanted to debug the process anyway.  I used several more Y-splitters than I'd brought, because z! made more available, and I *hope* they all got back into his stock because being black they could have looked like generic sound widgets and gotten mis-packed.  Someone else set up the main power supply and wireless base on top of the video racks where we'd talked of placing it, so I popped the fancy head-end [also a station] onto the table by the video switcher and brought all the other runs up to it.

The wireless system, a HME setup from z!, needed a lot of TLC as there was a bit of corrosion on the contacts of the beltpack battery-sleds even though they'd shipped empty.  Perhaps from prior storage where batteries had been left inside?  Anyway, I eventually got them working fairly reliably via scraping and doses of DeOxit, and loaded 'em up from the generous box of Procells someone handed me, but then found that one of the packs couldn't transmit back to the base and another channel was getting random motorboating interference once in a while.  Well, two fully-functional wireless packs is all we technically need for the Masquerade, so this was manageable.

Further minutiae about intercom inventory and battery management are in some email I sent about it post-con.  Overall I was very pleased that the whole system worked quite well with no major issues over the weekend.  What I missed noting down, despite z! asking at one point, was the correct switch settings on the wireless base for best clear-com system type compatibility, but it didn't take that long to work out by brute force.

Airwall gasket and wiring pass-under Our first thought was that inter-room wiring had to go deep into the airwall pocket to protect it from the airwall itself, but that turned out to be false.  The wooden door of the pocket presented far worse a hazard to those delicate triax video cables than the seal at the bottom of the airwall!  Straight across with a little clearance for some hardware at the bottom of the sealing lip was the right path, conserving us a lot of length in the process, and then the last airwall section could be very carefully run out over it while *holding the sealing gasket piece up* underneath by hand.  We took direct charge of all of this, not quite trusting the housemen to analyze the problem in sufficient depth.  A little rotation of the extender crank fitting [arrow] with a wrench pushed the edge piece [other arrow] out to meet the wood, just enough for the big rubber bulb to touch but not push too hard against the wheezy little barrel bolt holding the door shut at the bottom.  Reverse to disengage.  The bottom sound-seal is mostly rubber and gives over an inch of clearance and still blocks noise when resting on the floor; one just has to be careful to not drag its metal parts across anything sensitive.

Intercom routing nest On the other side of the airwall was my nest of   'comm routing, with the main in-room split points for both channels.  Look closely, it's a good example of proper labeling, and all those white-gaff flags are easy to tear off at strike.  Later I hung this whole mess in the air from the wainscoting and taped it neatly into the corner, to keep it from getting mashed by stuff that some performer would inevitably dump in this handy backstage nook over the course of the weekend.  The "three-leg" splitter with the red heads has an embedded loop of tie-line to make that easier to do.

  I didn't get any notable run-time pictures of anything for the remainder of the weekend, in part because I'd stashed the camera in my little dump of stuff in the Tech Depot and didn't think to pull it out too often.  I'm sure there are gigabytes of media from the rest of the con floating around on the net by now; happy searching.  I will make a few minor observations here:

  • Hotel ballrooms are the perfect place to fly small drones -- no wind, a soft carpet to drop onto when needed, and you can still hear them in line-of-sight flying which helps track what they're doing.  Beware of venues with light-beam smoke detectors near the ceilings, however!  A little challenge I set for myself once or twice was to sail smoothly over the truss, without hitting anything or getting stuck in the light soffits.
  • It takes one tech about fifteen minutes to change over the area in front of the stage for masquerade rehearsals, assuming all the materials needed are at hand.  It takes six techs about an hour.  Yes, that's a snark, but also another procedural area where we need a lot more general efficiency and competence.  The "bus" for all that temporary hookup should be built in advance and stored under the stage in an immediately deployable way.
  • Don't mess with the dance-tent lighting designer's aesthetic decisions.  If she's unplugged all the green lasers it's likely for a good reason.  Sorry Kristin!  Partially blame the scotch...
  • My jury is still out on whether the three-pin "DMX" cable from ALPS is really data-grade stuff or just cheap mic cable.  On the other hand, we should also test more of the personally-owned DMX cable that's been gigging hard for years and may be suffering the effects.  We had some fairly mysterious behavior going in main tent for a while.  Happily, it wasn't from 75176 chips blowing up inside my dimmer packs again.
  • It takes a lot of effort to set up an Ion for generic busking, but we need to learn how to do that as part of standard setup.  Across multiple fader pages, perhaps, for templates that can then be quickly customized and extended for each show.
  • It is way too easy to wind up with too many attributes captured in submasters on the Ion, which will fight each other in an LTP manner when you try to bring them in together.  Discovered the hard way while bumbling my way through lighting Bellydance.  The necessary trick for editing out unwanted parameters is evidently the {Make Null} softkey.
  • The fact that Video-land was in E meant that they didn't really need any worklights, and could just run under regular house light because their space was completely isolated from the performance areas.

Tech task list and assignments All that aside, Arisia has become a lot more like Worldcons with regard to getting everyone on the same page about tasks and personnel.  I referenced the Noreascon review earlier -- which was one of the first events where I saw such things being codified onto big sheets of paper or whiteboards at our meetings, instead of trusting people to remember.  There were many names here -- we had a lot of people on the tech staff, and that didn't include the ones running around doing small-room program A/V and chasing down problems outside the ballrooms.  On one hand that's awesome, on the other it makes the TD's job harder just from having to remember who everyone is let alone the skills matrix, what's on fire, and all the rest of it.  I'm still convinced that it's not for me; I'm much more effective on the ground and passing useful points back up the chain when needed.

Our daily meetings were well-focused and laid out the necessary frameworks and staffing for everything ahead of us until the next meeting, and Abby et al seemed to do a kickass job keeping all that together.  Even after we had to move all these sheets when it came time to open the airwall and turn half of our tech-hole into Green Room.

Green room full of masqueraders Even with our pile of crap wedged into a corner of the C/D/E space, the Masqueraders had plenty of room.  There were 40+ entrants -- that's also Worldcon-ish grade, refreshingly up from some dismal low of what, 12? not all that many years ago.  I don't know any of the backstory but Arisia seems to have become a much bigger deal for the ICG.

[Photo credit:   raffem]
Intercom based rig for MC in-ear monitor We came up with an interesting alternative to the red/green "blinky box" MC cue light -- an actual in-ear monitor so the show-caller could *talk* to the MC and describe what was going on.  This used Marty's old in-ear rig that he used to hook into the show-run intercom channel, but here using a totally separate channel and this "speaker station" that has rarely gotten used over the years before I had it.  The "talkback" feature allows temporary use of the speaker in the box like a microphone, and puts that audio both onto the 'comm line and into any connected earpiece.  In this case the earpiece feed goes to a transmitter and thence to a little beltpack receiver and ear-plug worn by the MC.  With this isolated setup it stays totally silent in the MC's ear until the show-caller needs to talk to him, so the MC doesn't have to sort out the running tech chatter.  We had a little problem with volume levels -- probably not turned up quite enough -- but for a first try at doing this as an independent path from caller to MC, it worked rather well and is worth improving on as a general "foldback" capability.  We still ran the blinkie as a backup if needed.  Which, incidentally, got its own share of reliability rework but is still based on its original light-bulbs.
Another thing I'm probably going to need to acquire is at least one more dual-channel beltpack.  The video director got the only one in my kit and nobody had others, but a show-caller might want the capability to jump onto the video channel if needed.  We worked around it by running a "B" channel to the caller position and then Mike could just replug his single-channel box from A to B temporarily.  But I can totally understand the desire to listen in on video's chatter once in a while, possibly at a lower level just to make sure they're still running okay.

Re-powering chainmotors Rig coming down
We struck a token bunch of stuff after Masq to make sure things were cleared for airwall moves and if the housemen decided to pull out part of the stage, and went off to party.  Then, back into pseudo-safety mode the next morning, as PSAV came in to hook their motors up again and drop the truss.  After we had it stripped and down they ran the the motors up toward the ceiling and left them there, as they had another event coming in that might need them similarly placed.  Why haul them all the way back to the closet for no reason, when it would be easier to just zip them over to another point in the lift bucket...

Then began our monster multi-hour task of sorting everything out....

The shot on the right makes me stop and ponder a couple of points.  Could we have hung the cyc and wings off the crank-up truss, perhaps configured slightly longer, instead of Arisia's usual flimsy one?  And the way we do these builds and strikes, is there some way we could usefully involve the PSAV guys a little more, as long as they're on our 4-hour-minimum call anyway, rather than having them sit around the motor controller playing with their phones and watching us swing wrenches?  After all, they do soup-to-nuts solutions with the same kind of hardware for any number of other clients.

Bouncy castle fan A particularly notable form of whimsy for this con was having bouncy-castles!  There was a dedicated team managing their setup and teardown over multiple days, and two of them were running at once during the heaviest peaks of usage.  They fit into a typical ballroom just fine, and carpets are likely a lot nicer to their lower surfaces than the asphalt at an outdoor carnival.

One was still running during much of our strike, and their crew came over at some point to ask if we could look at one of their fan fittings and suggest how to repair an attachment that had failed.  These motors are about 1.5 horsepower, *loud*, and a castle can run with two of them although only one is really needed for most setups.  Evidently bodging the second blower on with zip-ties hadn't worked for them, so they were looking to me for ideas.  Eyeballing this I suggested that simple rope or even tie-line run three or four times around the fitting with a good cinch lashing would be fine, and have a little resiliency for when the pressure shocks came.

Bouncy castle deflating It was actually a little annoying to have to work our strike with that constant whoosh going on in the background, not to mention periods of thumping and screaming kids, but it was all good and eventually they decided it was time to shut down.  This is a bouncy-house becoming no longer bouncy -- you just kill the fan motor and unhook it, and then start jumping on top as the whole thing deflates and work the upper structures in toward the middle and eventually roll it up into a neat bundle with a tie strap.  These were in fact wheeled back and stored in the tech depot when not in use, and they didn't take up that much footprint.  They're heavy suckers, though.

Tangled pile of gear Gear got sorted out and moved to piles according to ownership, as usual.  Everyone seemed to understand that all the intercom stuff and green cable came back to me now.  [It *is* all properly marked, but with "TLC Services" and I haven't gone through and slapped my own logo on anything because its precise long-term ownership may still be in flux.]  I gazed at this mess and thought that the best way to deal with it might be to get a snow shovel, and just back the Prius up to it ...  but it didn't really take all that long to pack up properly.

One of the most helpful steps is to make sure all the headset cables are neatly rolled and tied to the mic booms, as headsets tend to get tangled together enough on their own and you don't want wires adding to that and then getting yanked around.  And they get packed *ON TOP OF* other things in their crate thankyouverymuch, not buried underneath!  Headsets are like microphones.  Gentle treatment of them will avoid one of the primary problems Dale had when sending this gear out, e.g. that headsets would come back crushed and damaged, and that was a completely avoidable human problem.  Would *you* want to put on a headset whose ear-pad had been all squashed out of shape under a dozen hundred-foot cables for six months?  Likely not.

  Things began to flow back out of the building.  Vendor pickups arrived, and our folks were steadily loading the Arisia trucks as packed stuff appeared on the docks.  I switched back to my Logistics hat upon being asked to take a first load and small crew over to Storage, which seemed all fine until we got there and docked.  It took us a little while to remember that the "dome light" switch in these Freighties is also the liftgate-enable, and that it also helps to have the key turned one click over to the *left* -- apparently some sort of "accessory" position that prevents the gate and the lights from timing out in a couple of minutes.  Then we started to bring stuff upstairs, and I had the sudden and dismaying realization that I wasn't qualified to lead this crew.

Here's an excerpt from the mail I later sent to Logistics:

Monday night, however, I was on one of the early runs back to Storage and
found that I had very *little* concept of how to route stuff in.  My brain
just sort of froze on it.  Lia was mostly guessing and getting it wrong
here and there that I managed to correct before it was too late, but for
stuff that isn't tech or fast-track whose areas I might know the clear
delineation of, I had no effing clue how to start on it.  That's why I
needed Lucky and/or Rick over there to send things in directions that
wouldn't have everyone pissed off at *my* bad guesswork or make a total
jammed-up mess.

It also felt like we were way behind on Monday.  As midnight approached
we still had a boatload of stuff in Grand, and the next event had already
started loading in next to us.  I thought we should have been 100% out of
there three or four hours before we were, but perhaps someone else was
considering the midnight deadline and planning within those constraints.
The other half of that problem was that it was mostly NESFA stuff, two or
three times the volume therefrom than last year, and I *barely* managed to
convince all concerned to *not* go over there Monday night and bang around
with that large unload at 1 in the morning and keep the neighbors awake.

I can't quite figure out why we seemed so righteously effed on Monday
night -- maybe we weren't, but it all definitely had a less controlled feel
than last year.  It's really hard to not feel partial responsibility or
flippantly think "not my circus" even if I *am* one of the monkeys, but I
figured that guidance would eventually come.

We got this load somewhat haphazardly rolled in, and I took the truck back to the hotel with a couple of the folks who had helped, but really needed Lucky and/or Rick to go over to Storage and do a proper sort-out.  I also needed food, and there didn't seem to be that much in the way of proper fuel at the oddly-located dead-dog -- in the comedy-club space, which I thought was a rather suboptimal place for it.  Then I went to chip my car loose from its icy tomb at Channelside, brought it back to the dock to load my stuff out of Grand, and discovered the huge untouched NESFA pile with the next event's gear sitting near it.  Suddenly it felt like we were way behind and out of control.  I loaded and just stuffed the car under the hotel in the expensive deck for the night, and went back upstairs.  More crew got shanghaied and we managed to get the NESFA heap moved and into a truck, but there was no way any of us were in a condition to make that run by then especially given the hour.  Ignoring the remote possibility that the sodas buried under everything else in the nose might freeze and leak, we put it on Fargo for the night.  The topper came when someone realized that Ops hadn't been loaded out yet either, so we had to slam stuff from *there* into the other truck before putting it to bed too.  After which, bed was about all any of *us* were capable of dealing with anymore.

I dunno, it just felt like everything got done much earlier last year.

  Wrapup, and owww

A nice sit-down buffet breakfast the next morning [high kudos to Lucky for pulling that together] had everyone in better spirits, but there was more work to be done.  A few things still had to be pulled out of the hotel, but the NESFA truck was ready to roll and Lucky sent me off with it.  Here's where the plan got weird: I needed someone to drive *my* car out of the hotel deck and over there too, as the most sensible thing seemed for us to drop off at NESFA and then simply continue up and return the truck to Enterprise.  There are very few people I'd trust to pilot my ship, especially with the "video game" of the extra instrumentation in play, but fortunately one of said people was with us!  Sandy had previously received her alternative CDL, aka Curmudgeonly Driving Lessons, and after a quick map review she then handily extracted the car out of hock and met us over at NESFA.  While my truckin' chops were still in good form and the cold soda bottles had thankfully not exploded, the rest of that day didn't go quite as smoothly as I might have wanted.  More from that same email ...

So the Tuesday-daytime NESFA trip seemed okay to me, and gave me another
crack at the birth-canal back-in to their driveway [got it in one!], and
would have all ended up great had I not whanged my kneecap really hard on
one of those heavy Pelican projector cases with all the goddamn little
hard flanges sticking out on the exterior.  So I'm about good for nothing
until that heals up, if anyone was thinking of huffing a lot of things
around at either location and wanted my help.

The Pelican case in question was something akin to their 1610 line, the design of which is positively pointy.  I simply picked it up by one of the handles and for some reason, one of those stickey-outey bits wound up diving *precisely* in under the side of my kneecap.  [*FUCK!!*]   Put me out of commission for a few minutes while I carefully flexed and analyzed it, and it didn't feel like anything was broken but it kept twinging as I continued pulling flatbeds in over the clubhouse threshold.  Thankfully this happened near the *end* of all the work, but still, bloody hell.  A sudden reduction in capability when it's most needed is a real downer.

[Photo credit:   SJS]
Returning one of the trucks I was still able to drive the truck, though, and it was decided that for the NESFA crew to go back over to Storage would probably be redundant and that we should simply declare ourselves done and the empty truck could get returned to Enterprise.  Sandy trailed me out and even after detouring to drop off another one of our crew at home, got there *way* before me because I had to go refuel this thing.  I headed down Marginal to the truck-friendly Irving station on Beacham, which took me past the entrance to the salt mounds again -- possibly a mistake, because with towns gearing up for the impending snowstorm later that week, traffic was totally hosed through there.  There was a cop out front of Eastern's gate directing big dump trucks in and out, and this is evidently traditional.  When I finally worked my way through all that and back to Enterprise, Sandy snagged this shot of my dubiously-triumphant return into the yard.

Swollen knee It didn't feel quite so triumphant this year, though.  Two days later, my right knee was still pretty swollen up and hurting but I could tell that it *was* starting to improve.  A week later it was almost back to rights, with only a little hint of a twinge under the kneecap when just starting to bend under load.  I'll probably never know exactly what I whacked, but it hurt like a mofo at the time and I was fearing that I *had* done some long-term damage.  What's kind of funny is the realization that I use my knees all the time for minor repositioning of objects I'm working with, and if the case in question had been any other style like an ATA or a crate, the smoother surface and different weight geometry would have presented absolutely no problem.  It's just the design of those typical Pelican exteriors, which one one hand tries to protect their latches and hinges but on the other can turn them into weapons.
For giggles, or as procrastination against facing the monumental task of starting to pull this very writeup together, I called Pelican's support line and related my little tale of woe -- just as an informational suggestion to perhaps pass the concept of smoother exteriors on to their design department for future product development, and then felt mildly better afterward.  Something like this really puts into perspective how one's body really needs to be in *full* functionality to do this kind of work.  Whether huffing cases into a truck or Irish step-dancing across a Masquerade stage, the transient forces that healthy human legs typically withstand is nothing short of amazing and it's no wonder that problems with them can crop up so easily.

    An old idea made new again

  While thinking about some of the past cons I've been involved with, I remembered something that seemed to work really well for the jobs at hand there.  Radios.  Not cellphones, and not cheap-ass unreliable FRS toys, but good commercial grade units with a solid local repeater infrastructure and multiple selectable channels.  With robust accessories like earphones and speaker-mics to make their usage seamless and easy without having to fumble around.  More importantly, push-to-talk type radios would enforce a particular kind of useful conversational dynamic that works best for these situations, e.g. one in which someone talking can't be interrupted, and *everyone* hears the results.

Cellphones or texts don't work because it's a single-point to single-point interaction that can take a leader's attention away from directing a group for too long, after which they have to relay the information to everyone else and hopefully get it right.  In-person discussion often breaks down into too many side conversations with people talking over each other or ignoring the main flow, which *I* find profoundly annoying when we're actually trying to plan.  Tuesday breakfast, for all its merits, was like that and I felt like we *didn't* have a solid plan for the morning until I forced people to go carefully back over it without interruption.  Another great example came later on, after I'd fetched the Storage-bound truck off Fargo and bumped it into the dock.  It would have been nice to just key up smoothly and easily while walking back in -- the present-day equivalent of tapping the Starfleet-emblem communicator on my chest -- to tell Lucky that it was there and ready to load, and everyone else on the channel would also hear that and could respond with additional information if they needed to.  For example, perhaps an informational response like "great, Hale's almost packed and we're starting to move that stuff down now" from whoever happened to be in that area.  You can't do that with a phone call, and when people working a job are scattered all over a facility it's a great help to still be in immediate and *brief* communication with them all.  The ubiquity of cellphones has influenced our conversational styles in an arguably bad way, luring us farther away from a dynamic that would actually work in these settings.  Them infernal little machines really is gonna kill us.

Tech has had radio infrastructure in the past but generally just for larger spread-out facilities; when we're all in the same ballroom the in-person method works a little better but once in a while radios help there too, such as when trying to focus lights while sound check is going on.  [Although wireless intercom may be a better specific choice for that].  For an area like Logistics or even Program A/V, I could almost see good radio infrastructure as an essential efficiency tool.  The equipment and parts would have to be designed to not get in the way or risk getting damaged by fairly rough activity, and would preferably work in remote locations either via the same repeater or some selectable simplex channels for localized coordination.

We totally *need* this.  We need good radios, but more importantly we also desperately need the way that they force us to interact.  I'm going to do a little looking around, and would be glad to hear any wisdom from others on the topic.  Many of the hotel's own staff wear small voice communicators from Vocera, which are also quite popular in medical facilities, although they depend on local wi-fi infrastructure and thus likely wouldn't meet our more long-haul requirements.  I'm sure outfits like Bearcom could offer us several options, but they're not the only player around either.  What's available in modern rental systems, and what sorts of useful advantages and features do they have over older ones?  Is the efficiency boost that radios can provide worth the costs in dollars vs. non-wasted people-points?  I'm convinced that it is.  Let's get a serious conversation going on this.

_H*   160125