Arisia 2017

Down to a  [perpetually inexact]  science

  Arisia 2016 had been a fair success, but we came out of it with a minor to-do list of fixes and upgrades needed in some technical departments.  There were also a few lessons-learned on the logistics side, with improvements always possible in the movement of gear and people.  We started taking care of some items only a couple of weeks after that con.

Smoothed drape-base edges

One thing making people a little leery of handling the heavy drape bases was the fact that all their edges were sharp 90-degree corners, without any smoothing or padding.  I took it upon myself to chamfer or round off at least the handle areas on these, where people tend to grab them to carry them around or load them in and out of the cart.  It took a little work with a grinding wheel and then hand-filing on each one, and as the bases are rather hard steel I decided that trying to do *all* the edges was less feasible and simply concentrated on the handles.  It was a subtle change but made a big difference; they felt much nicer to grasp than before.

A second base-cart was also purchased during the year, to split one of our heaviest single load items into two moderately heavy items.

Chauvet SD50 board

Another need I saw an easy way to fill was for a small but reasonably programmable lighting desk, mostly geared toward dance-tent but one that could also run smaller main tents at other conventions.  For all of $200 I picked up a Chauvet Stage Designer 50, which can control 48 channels of DMX in a conveniently small footprint.  Messing with this led to a whole 'nother review page about its quirks and bugs, but failing ever getting those firmware upgrades at least our crews could understand the board in depth.  Before this, all I owned that could send DMX was the old Hog rig which had held the Club Dances together for many years, but its laptop platform was getting rather elderly and somewhat annoying to get running just to test a couple of things or run a small show.

I took this board and a bag of our LED pars down to Relaxacon that summer, and set up a small but entertaining "lighting workshop" in one of the spare rooms for people to play with.  And they did!  We could even watch the DMX waveforms on the new digital scope I'd also decided to finally splurge for.

As we neared the end of 2016, however, it didn't feel like a whole lot of planning was happening even though the con-committee meetings had started up again.  Maybe I wasn't on the right mailing lists?  Or maybe we had gotten into such a groove with how we handled the con and the Westin, that we didn't need to angst about it as much.  It was only very late in the year that things really started to move, at least from my viewpoint.  What was different for me was a changing situation with regard to the parental units down south, and before I left for my usual December southern hiatus I made sure that the gear *I* would be supplying was already parked in Storage -- just in case unavoidable family stuff hit the fan and I couldn't come back in time for the con.  A hard possibility to plan for, but in such cases kin comes before con.

However, that eventuality did not play out and I was able to have my normal visit and get rolling northward on time, even if I left things in a sort of indeterminate limbo in the rear-view mirror.  My stay had been productive and we got a lot done in the interim, so as far as anyone could tell I was clear for the con as usual.  [Major family events waited until just *after* the con to occur, but that's a different story.]  A couple of tech conference-calls happened over that month, but serious planning on the Logistics side didn't really start until I was *on* my way back -- I was on one of the calls from a motel room somewhere near Columbia, SC.  Once again I found myself being a bridge between tech needs and logistics needs and trying to remind both areas of all the inter-dependent concepts and subtleties, which later became a significant topic in some post-con discussion about need for more "cross-department integration".

[Most images are linked to larger copies.]
Storage stuffed to the gunwales again I got back north in time for the last tagging-party.  The Storage facility was the usual overstuffed horror show, and even at that late date several departments hadn't come to label their stuff to go to this year's con yet.  One of the hardest jobs the Logistics arm has is to keep after people to sort their gear of interest and determine exactly what they need for a given year, and *stringently* avoid the "oh, just bring everything" philosophy -- because specific needs do change year to year and a certain amount of old or broken crap needs to be culled out anyway, and one should never assume the Logistics crew is superhuman.  The corporation had even bought *another* batch of blue ALCs to help get more stuff into standard shipping containment, but it seemed like those were still being underutilized.

Admittedly, the tighter Storage gets, the harder it is for people to shuffle items around and get things properly tagged.  Perhaps our halfhearted efforts to date, toward finding a different facility with about twice the square footage, need to get more serious?

A narrow aisle for access It wasn't completely solid-packed but close to it, with a fairly narrow aisle through to the back and a little bit more buffer room could be had by pushing our new wheeled Metro-shelf assemblies around.  I labeled some stuff I knew about back in the tech area, but found that lighting still needed to be sorted out and there was a lot of "do not take" stuff sitting on top of and in front of gear I knew we needed.  This was *less than a week* out from the con, and thus sort of disturbing.  Expecting to spend a long day in Storage anyway, I did as much sensible rearrangement as I could to push more "do not take" behind the important stuff.
We also managed to fix the flakey freight elevator that day, which kept getting stalled at our Storage floor.  Kevin opened up the plate under the door-switch box that the car-sensor control rod goes into, and we realized that the little interlock mechanism inside was totally covered with sawdust.  Cleaning it off a bit and applying a whisper of lube to the door locking tooth made the elevator much more reliably start moving when the button was pressed.  I should have grabbed a picture of all this, but at least the description might mean something to the next person who dives in there to do the same procedure.

Yet more intercom One item that I needed to retrieve from Storage was another batch of intercom gear, to add to the inventory I had reconditioned the previous year.  Jim from NJ was selling out his production stock, and it made sense for me to continue being the Keeper of Intercom in general.  This batch needed similar vetting, although it was generally in fresher shape already and didn't need de-molding or full DeOxit treatment yet.  Unfortunately, most of the headsets in this batch are the newer but flimsier 310 family from Production Intercom, on which the mic-boom swivels tend to irreparably break under minor strain.  And the included pair of older but much sturdier 210-class headsets both had, rather astoundingly, dead microphones.  How do you kill those??  Simple uncaring abuse by unskilled volunteer "helpers", said the prior owner when I ran into him later at the con.  In the short time I had to go through thise gear I pulled out eight working station/headset pairs, including one more dual-channel box, and that was enough that I could supply the whole wired ballroom setup without needing to augment with anyone else's gear or get into major repair here.
We would still need to borrow the HME wireless rig from z! for the convenience of roving stagehands.  That was already in Storage anyway -- it had pretty much stayed on the east coast the entire year, with a brief jaunt out to MAC2 over the summer.

Radio kit I had included a brief but heartfelt rant at the end of last year's report on the potential benefits of having good quality radios available for logistics and tech work.  I kept pushing that point over the intervening year, and it turned out that Gela had gotten more into event radio support in general and had built up a very nice little kit full of Baofeng dual-band units.  We tested these across the hotel during one of the concomm meetings, and found that UHF on 4 watts could connect between pretty much any pair of areas we would be in around the hotel.  We didn't test them long-haul between different places outdoors, for which VHF might have been better, but they could cover our most important scenarios without needing any repeater infrastructure.  She passed the whole kit off to me just before all the truckin' fun started, having bulk-programmed up a few simple business-band itinerant frequencies as selectable channels.
While usage of itinerants is largely ignored because they're in fairly common local-jobsite use, we could run 100% legally under an FCC license that one of our tech people keeps current.  So my little dream of being able to reach up to a speaker-mic at my shoulder and coordinate with people on the fly was realized, and greatly appreciated.  The radio kit essentially reverted to Tech for con run-time and then back to Logistics for the loadout, and overall we didn't use a whole lot of different frequencies since the specific usage needs didn't really overlap.

  Closer-in planning and preparations were made, and as email finally started to fly in the usual ramp-up volume, I was on *two* back-to-back con-calls for tech and logistics and began to think that really, we need the Definitive Cross-Referenced Checklist for anyone who takes on the Logistics burden any given year.  We were fortunate to have a couple of people who essentially came back out of "retirement" to tackle it this year -- Kim and Kevin, at least one of which *built* a lot of our shipping infrastructure back in the Elder Days, in fact, and already knew how it's supposed to fit in a truck.  In a continuing effort to bring them up to speed on my own experiences and sense of volume I pointed them at past writeups and emailed in an embryonic seed of a general checklist which should live permanently on some accessible Arisia-owned resource, to keep updated with each year's lessons and changes.  Something to maintain on the staff wiki, perhaps?  Not google, please.  But we could solve the long-term problem later; the point was to get *something* in front of eyeballs now and get this year rolling, so to speak.

Many Arisia members have no idea what makes our backend infrastructure work.  For all they know, magic gnomes set everything up in the middle of the night and poof, the next day there's a con.  I was made aware of an amusing chat between a mainstream attendee and one of our crew, and given a transcript, which is a fine example of what happens beyond the cognizant scope of most people who come to Arisia.

##   Chat Log excerpt,   Tuesday, January 10, pre-Arisia 2017

Arisia volunteer (V):   I'm working Logistics, Tech, & Art Show this year.

Arisia attendee (A):   yow

V:   I've always done Art Show; the other jobs come with the company I keep... :-/

A:   "logistics" is a thing? what is it?

V:  "Strong of Back.  Weak of Mind.  Able to Drive Truck."  The folks who move All The Things from storage to the hotel

A:  *grunt*

V:  Truck load starts 11am tomorrow & the trucks get parked at the hotel Wed night & then unloaded once we have access to rooms on Thurs.  Load out starts Mon & continues into Tues.

A:  how much shit do we... nevermind.

V:  Ideally, we get most everything in trucks Mon night before we lose everybody to the Dead Dog

V:  ...You don't want to know.  Metric crap-tons.  Just imagine all the bins of boardgames coming from NESFA.
And David's stash of lights, and Hobbit's wiggle lights, and all the refrigerators, &   &   &

V:  The pipes & pegboard that turn into Art Show walls. The printers for Ops & Print Shop.  [Here is] a shot
  of Storage pre-Arisia 2015:  084sto-sw.jpg

V:  Look up next time you're in dance hall or main tent. You'll see some of the stuff there.

A:  (where is the warehouse?)   also: OMG

V:  Upstairs from Taza Chocolate; it smells yummy in there. When it doesn't smell of sawdust, at least.

A:  <shakes head>   seems like we'd be better off with shipping containers.

V:  (NTS: make sure I pack my gloves)

That last point about shipping containers is almost well-taken, except that it would be impossible to pack gear into those and still be able to rearrange things pre-con.  And it would still need to be in climate-controlled storage.  But this year we had worked a little closer to a "pod unit" concept for some departments in the form of the rolling Metro shelf assemblies with bins stacked into them, and we were about to see how that would work out.  I made sure to advise people moving those that any lifting of such units needs to be done by the POLES, not the SHELVES, to make sure that a shelf doesn't pull up and release itself from the little plastic wedges.  If it's shrinkwrapped, it's okay to punch fingers through that to grab around a pole -- the wrap is going to come right off again at the destination, so minor damage to it along the way is fine.

    The fun begins!

One of the usual hard problems is how to move our helpers around in the process of renting trucks and getting crews to follow them around for loading and unloading.  Besides a passenger or two in the trucks, the usual answer is to pack them into available cars -- but *whose* cars, and how can those cars be kept easily available in non-optimal South Boston parking conditions?  Never any really easy answers here.  With this year's logistics heads living in the north burbs it was determined relatively convenient for them to pick me up on the way in Wednesday morning, heading for our friends at Enterprise commercial truck rentals in Chelsea again.  Meanwhile Rick, who had been handling mountains of stuff at NESFA and was sort of back in the loop logistics-wise, picked up the second truck from Penske.  We used *three* different truck vendors this year, which seemed more complex than needed but someone else was handling all that paperwork.  For the "out" we'd evidently decided to take advantage of the fact that the Ryder yard is within walking distance of the hotel.

A major factor in getting enough load-crew volunteers is that the timeframe for main load-up has shifted much more into the daytime on Wednesday, simply because we have so much gear and we don't want to be working until 2am when people get tired and stupid.  But finding enough people who *can* be available from about 10am on a pre-con weekday is tough.  Many folks who would otherwise love to help are at their day jobs, and might arrange to take any of Thursday/Friday off to start helping build their con, but Wednesday is important because we need to have *filled* trucks to unload when we get our hotel spaces on Thursday!  Previous years when the activities began around 5pm often turned out far less favorable by comparison.  Since I'm able to help in this regard, I generally do.

Back in the saddle at Enterprise So bright and early Wednesday morning, after a not-too-bad slog through typical inbound commuter traffic on 93, I found myself back in the ol' saddle again just like last year.  And it was shaping up to be a stunningly gorgeous day, for January -- clear with expected highs in mid-fifties.  I think I decided about here and now that shoes were simply not going to be relevant to most of my weekend no matter what, even if things got colder later on.

Anyone who is horrified by this picture needs to go read up on the facts, and understand why this is a *safer* way for me to drive a truck.  Sensitivity to what controls are doing is always far better than klunking through the process in little podiatric prisons that can't feel exactly what's going on.  Those enduring MYTHS need to be dispelled.

And I needed that fine control, too. This ol' girl was *very* squirrelly on the air-brakes, especially when unladen.  After a lurching nosedive or two coming out of the Enterprise driveway, I settled into delicately feathering that pedal and popping into neutral at stops, and moving this beast almost as smoothly as the Prius -- the Prius which was about to spend the rest of the week sitting still at home.

We had agreed that Sandy's car could become one of the people-movers, as either one of us could confidently drive it if needed, and neither of us had too much more personal stuff to bring to the con.  Her turn to do the Channelside parking-lot hike, or something [although I'd be happy to as well if it made more sense at a given time].  Once she headed in to join the fray I'd also have a convenient ride home Wednesday night, and we would probably even have time for a decent dinner on the way up.

Salt trucks picking up stock Rather than getting what would just be a duplicate of last year's shot from Marginal St, I waited a little longer to spot this dump heading out with a load of salt bound for some far-flung municipality or the like.  But with no impending storm warnings on the way, truck traffic along here was significantly lighter than I'd seen in past years ...  I didn't have time to stop and admire the Eastern Mountains in any detail today, but noted there are some weird formations along some parts of them and maybe it's worth going back for a more leisurely look and photo-study.

Low fuel Enterprise had given us this truck with a tank heading toward empty, so Storage and its crew would have to wait a little longer while I stopped to rectify this.
  I wanted to come up with some sort of wise-ass witticism about that "idiot light" in the lower left, possibly reflecting on the qualifications of the present pilot, but today I was feeling pretty confident about things.  I assume it's a just a placeholder in trucks not equipped with a jake brake, e.g. the thing that makes the loud farty noises when a larger truck decelerates using engine compression to dissipate energy instead of the service brakes.  Lack of one here didn't stop me from yanking the automatic tranny down a gear or two on some of the downhills, which definitely helped anyway.  It's interesting listening to how the control systems *completely* cut fuel to the engine while coasting at any appreciable speed, making the diesel rattly noises cease entirely until just before a full stop.  For anyone curious about more trucking terminology, there's a nice concise Wikipedia entry on it.

Fuel stop Fueling up
This Irving is conveniently right along the Marginal / Williams / Beacham chain of roads, clearly the major truck route through the area, and it's truck-friendly with a high canopy, a big open pull-through lot, and high-pressure diesel pumps.  Things must get sort of sketchy there on occasion, though, as the attendant stays behind glass in the building and it's only window service for pre-pay.  I threw in about sixty bucks worth and figured that would be more than good for the weekend.

  Working my way over to Storage felt almost routine, and I found myself incrementally less terrified of the truck's size as I kept an eye on where I was in the lanes and left plenty of room out front.  I wasn't worried about my routing, as we'd worked it out in prior years, and I remembered where to swing particularly wide on some tight turns.  I also developed a better feel for how fast to crank the wheel to complete that "J-shape" path and not overshoot, as the steering ratio is certainly different from a car.  Backing in and dropping the gate onto the Storage dock nice and straight also went pretty smoothly with minimal external assistance, and we were ready to start moving stuff -- art show infrastructure first, as this would be the Galleria low-side load.  The truck from NESFA wouldn't be by for a while yet, but would be full of mostly high-side stuff with minor low-side content to transfer truck-to-truck.  The significant difference in destination-based loading this year was that Program A/V would be running out of the Concourse area, so basically *all* the Tech stuff had to go there.

The landlord's white sedan parked in next to the dock never got removed, and in fact had apparently been sitting there for *weeks*.  Maybe it was dead.  My plea to Corporate for a way to contact him fell flat, so we simply wouldn't have the luxury of pulling both trucks in together.  My "curb ramp boards" were thus useless, and could simply go back home that evening.

Examining the suspension
[Pic: SJS]
Unreadable suspension mystery
One thing I try to do with these things is keep an eye on the rear suspension, essentially using it like a spring-scale to determine how loaded we're getting relative to the rated gross weight.  In most setups there's a clear gap between the top of the leaf spring and the rubber bump-stop limiter, such that if that gap closes completely you might be in a little trouble.  However, in some of these International Durastar setups the suspension is different, with a larger rubber block in contact with both parts all the time even when empty, so I couldn't figure out how to read it.  It was the same in the other truck as well.  I had *two* guys at Enterprise crawl under their truck to look at what I was talking about and neither of them knew, and David and I couldn't noodle it out either.

As we got loaded about all I could see was the rubber blocks looking a little more squished, but nothing really notable.  Given how bouncy my truck felt when empty, maybe it didn't *have* much in the way of rear travel by design to begin with.  Whatever fraction of its capacity we wound up with, the Enterprise unit was quite a bit better-behaved with the load in it.

Loading fun Barefoot ghods of Truck Tetris
Around the time we ran out of obvious low-side stuff to go out, the NESFA truck arrived and we swapped it into the dock.  A little bit of gear from it got run across to the other truck, and then we kept going on the high-side load.  The usual heavy-object hijinks and elegant Tetris ensued, and the three people mostly doing that were barefootin' it on the rough wood box floor while wrangling large masses into place.  No problem -- all of us were well-conditioned for this sort of work.  And this had to be the *warmest* Arisia load-up in many years -- we had shed the jackets long since, sure-footedly scrambling up and down on the advancing wall and totally on top of our game.  As the load neared completion [which you know is happening when refrigerators start arriving to occupy the tail!], we paused for a proudly dirty-sole crew shot with our work thus far. 

One aspect I really enjoy in this type of work is the physical dynamics of object movement, feeling where and when to apply a precisely directed bit of violence to get something moving or to fit into a space, but to otherwise be very smooth and efficient.  Loading done right, like I also say about tech work, is almost like its own performance art -- that our "audience" never sees.  It's a whole-body experience for me; I frequently found myself aligning and seating things with my feet, holding load-straps stretched with my teeth as I threaded free ends through the ratchets, and my entire being splayed across the top of a load to receive stuff but carefully balanced on the small points that I could *feel* would hold my weight without collapsing.  We would stretch the walls of the truck box apart to get that quarter-inch of additional clearance to slot something in, and then squeeze them back together as a strategically-set strap cinched everything in place.

One more truck swap happened to stuff a little more into the Enterprise, and we were *done* just after 5pm.  It was almost too early to head for the hotel, thinking there might still be BCEC people parked in the way at the end of Fargo St, but we started the process anyway.  Sandy's car went afield to drop off some of the crew and eventually headed to the hotel too, by which time we'd taken the trucks over there and learned about the next little surprise.

  It turned out that some sort of, uh, transaction had happened between the city of Boston and the MCCA regarding control of that little section of Fargo St, and as we checked in with the hotel security staff they warned us that the BCEC seemed to have no problem arbitrarily towing vehicles out of there without even trying to find owners first.  They could not give us any confidence that the little sleaze we'd been pulling for a few years would be reliable any more, e.g. putting two trucks to bed on the street might now result in one or both missing in the morning.  Unfortunately we'd only contracted to park ONE truck in the hotel's dock areas overnight, so suddenly we had to find somewhere else to put the second truck.  And the previous event had a loadout scheduled overnight into a full-size 53' trailer, so we had to be mindful about where we put our one truck to leave plenty of room for getting that in.

Longish painful discussion-in-Ops story short, Kevin decided to simply take the Penske all the way out to his house that night and park it in his yard.  It would put quite a bit more mileage on our rental, but while he was okay with doing the drive out and back it was decidedly suboptimal.  So, *Note for next year*:   It would be nice to either contract for officially parking two trucks at the hotel on our shoulder nights, making sure to be out of the way of their other morning deliveries, or find some *local* place to stash an extra truck overnight even if it requires a little more convention-budget outlay.  None of our usual drivers live locally enough or have appropriate parking space available to provide an easy free solution.

With that problem nonetheless solved for the time being, Sandy and I headed out through the trailing edge of rush-hour, had a nice dinner to reward ourselves for a day's work well done, and took the opportunity to hang around on the internet for one more evening and catch up on the day's flurry of mail before we'd be offline for the rest of the con.

I reflected several times that day on the large responsibility entrusted to our crew, in which we not only have to safely transit all of Arisia's critical possessions through an arguably risky urban environment, using all volunteer hands and drivers whose experience mostly boils down to doing this once a year ... we also have to interact with the hotel staff and be aware of their larger-scale needs so we can avoid impeding their non-Arisia day-to-day.  Shipping and dock activity is a big part of that.  With both trucks full at Storage that afternoon I paused at one point while walking past and just looked up at them, thinking "wow ... big toys, big job".  It's the kind of thing that can give someone those weird little micro-dreams while just dropping off to sleep, which for me often involves vehicles anyway and is one of the things that keeps me humble with respect to roads and driving in general.  More than once this week my brain would randomly construct some horrible traffic eff-up scenario involving an Arisia truck and its contents, whereupon I'd jerk back awake with my heart pounding.

    Load-in, or "a miracle happens"

Hello, dockness, have some light "Hello, dockness, my old friend..."

So here I was around 11 am the next morning, gazing once again upon the dingy underbelly-of-the-hotel spaces where I would likely spend a lot of time this weekend.  I had already installed a clip-light (yellow arrow) to point into my loading bay of choice -- the inner one farther from the street, to leave it a little easier for our vendors and the hotel's suppliers to get in and out.  We learned that we could start staging Concourse/high-side gear into part of the ballroom a bit earlier than we'd thought, which we had a little of in the tail of the Enterprise truck, so I wasted no time bumping that dock and we whisked it inside.

Interestingly, everything in all the dock areas was *wet*.  It had been quite cold the previous week, and now the weather had warmed up in a fairly extreme way and become more humid.  So all the chilly concrete was making crazy condensation, creating a layer of slimy swill all over the working surfaces that simply refused to dry up until much later in the weekend.  Evaluating this, I chose to remain shoeless throughout -- wearing some would have been a significant hindrance for me, in fact, increasing my own risk of slipping.  My feet could work as they're intended and give me all the precise feedback about the "frictional modulus" I was on, letting me adjust accordingly, and lack of that direct contact *would* negatively impact my stability.  In contrast, some of our shod helpers walked into some of the wetter parts and almost went down on their butts because they weren't expecting it to be so slick.

Let me be clear here, though.  Going barefoot in environments like this is clearly not for everybody, and certainly not for folks who haven't conditioned up to handling rough environments with relative impunity.  It does take some time, usually a few months of being fairly consistent about it, to become what's called a "seasoned barefooter" -- to toughen and strengthen the feet and legs to a sufficient degree, and match that with the kind of situational awareness and experience that increases one's working confidence.  While I would encourage anyone toward healthy lifestyles and broader physical capability, nobody should feel compelled to do anything beyond their own comfortable means or limits.  It is all a matter of personal choice and one's individual path of achievement.  There is plenty of topical information all over the internet, including safe ways to get started for those intrigued by the idea or worried that their own situations may present certain obstacles.

Lumbering Penske truck backing in Kim and Kevin arrived shortly thereafter with the Penske and its lumbering load of tech and etcetera, and as more volunteers arrived on-site the usual stream of Arisia's Things flowed into the building.  We had plenty of clear staging space, obvious departmental signs had gone up on the walls of Grand C/D, and our spirits were boisterous.

Now, note what's going on over at the low-side dock, in the distance.  One of the two bays was occupied by a Sysco truck making a huge delivery, and the other by a big green dumpster tucked in behind the wall.  So unloading the low-side stuff in the Enterprise truck couldn't begin yet, and the art show people were itching to get their build started.

  But the hotel folks very nicely tried to accomodate this, and decided to move the dumpster somewhere else for us.  This turned out to be far more difficult than they anticipated, mostly due to all the water on everything.
Bobcat failing to pull a dumpster They evidently thought that their Bobcat could pick up one end of the dumpster and tug it along, but were largely mistaken.  Bobcats are powerful little beasts, to be sure, but this attempt to hook the forks under some metal edge and lift/drag simply wound up tipping the Bobcat's butt into the air or slipping off with a big BOOM.  Perhaps there was more weight in the bin than they thought?  This effort seemed to have a certain chance of not ending well, so I stuck around to try and snag more shots of the process.

Bobcat slipping all over Tugging dumpster with a pickup
The next attempt was to come alongside and push against some convenient feature along the lower frame of the dumpster, but while this could sort of nudge the thing sideways it wasn't making any progress *out* of the dock bay.  The main problem was that the Bobcat could get *no* traction on the slippery floor; after several minutes of thrashing around with all of its wheels spinning wildly they gave up and tried something different with one guy's pickup and a chain.  From some combination of different weight, better tires, and/or angling slightly downhill this was finally able to pull the dumpster mostly out of the slot.

Pulling dumpster out Bobcat push Dumpster finally out
The pickup backed up and changed direction, and between it pulling and the Bobcat pushing they managed to slide the skip over the hump to the street.  There the Bobcat could get just enough traction to shove it the rest of the way up next to the curb, where it stayed for the remainder of the weekend.

A bit of the concrete around the entry apron got torn up in the process; I wonder how often they actually try to do this... the dumpster must have been there for some particular project, but needed long-term enough that they couldn't simply call to have it hauled off for disposal before the weekend.  Anyway, after the half-hour or so of this banging around *and* the Sysco truck pulling out, we could finally get in and start unloading.

By early afternoon our trucks were empty and rather than swap to my technical hat to help with the ballroom build, I stayed in logistical mode for several more hours.  My hotel room wasn't quite ready to check into anyway, so getting settled in could wait.  I got to try out the Penske truck in the process of returning it, and then got picked up to join our second run back to Storage to help load the rest of the gear into the Enterprise.  The relatively small to-go quantity remaining didn't take too long to bring down with a small crew.

Storage, not exactly empty Storage was not exactly *empty* after this; we still have quite a bit of stuff that was marked "do not take", and it's probably time for another round of cleanout.  Unfortunately some of it is still stuff we *do* use in different years or even for different cons, and a few "permanent" archives of certain things.

Lighting rig construction I finally found my way back and into the ballroom, this time so late in the day that the PSAV-call truss hang was close to done.  I had barely touched the thing at all, but things seemed to be well in hand and running on schedule.


[Just as well that I wasn't on that whole shift, I guess, as the tech crew was still under orders to play the same meaningless charade with PSAV again -- despite that their guys on the ground have certainly known about some of our working preferences for years and are fine with it. Personally I hate trying to work in china-flats, as they *hamper* my agility and I won't even try to do any complex climbing with them on.]

Rig in the air Shortly thereafter, the rig got hauled up to trim.  Like last year, the usual complement of those fun Lustr-2 units mixed with conventionals and the wheezy old scoops to serve as "house light".  Only three 918 scanners this time; we left the oldest one back at Storage this time.  This arrangement could make for some interesting wiggle-light symmetry games.

Intercom cable over door woodwork again For the most part I busied myself with building intercom instead, wrangling up another couple of folks to help run cable.  The design was roughly the same as last year's but the branching could be a little different this time, because I had put together more splitters.  I made sure to install the "rehearsal table" feed along with, and to lay in most of that bundle that could be quickly fished out from under center stage and flopped onto a table in the house when needed.  Again, the triple shot over the door woodwork was done so it could just flip off from the ground at strike, saving time.

I made a minor screwup here, failing to look carefully at my own diagram, and ran the MC "blinky-box" feed the wrong way.  Fortunately I had a couple of turnarounds to sex-change it after the fact.

Driving the lift
[Pic: SJS]
Later it was time to focus, and to parallelize things a little better we ran the scissorlift to get at the difficult stuff and the as-yet-uncommitted scaffold to go along the easier line of the front truss.  The build timeline suggested focus continuing until *2am*, but we all wanted to be done much sooner than that.

Just for fun I handed off my camera for some alternative views of the operation and different takes on what parts were worth capturing.  Evidently the braced posture needed to actually drive the lift *smoothly* was somewhat amusing ... the problem with joystick control used when standing up is that it gives negative inertial feedback with a gain of > 1, causing the lift to lurch forward in bursts.

Directing lighting focus
[Pic: SJS]
Daniel had taken the role of main tent / masquerade designer this year, and thus was nominally the person to stay on stage waving his arms.

He had not only spent a lot of time in deep study of the Ion/Eos family of ETC boards, he'd built himself a laptop-based rig with touchscreens that could be set up elsewhere in the room and talk to the main board over a network, or even run a show on its own.  Similar to my old Hog rig, but with all the updated 21st-century distributed spiffiness characteristic of where the modern show-control industry is headed.  [Even if I still don't agree with some of ETC's user-interface choices.]  He had an optimized workflow laid out, so that at rehearsal later he was banging right through cue-writing like nobody's business -- perhaps one of the few years in which lighting has stayed well *ahead* of the show-caller building the entries.

It turned out that the hotel housemen had installed the front half of the stage-platform assembly wrong, where the flats were supposed to be 90 degrees from the way they sat here and the whole front edge even.  They would fix it later, but in the meantime some tape measures were laid out to indicate the "virtual stage lip" and we were cutting all the relevant shutters to there instead.  Hopefully it would be good enough once fixed...

How to reach lights over stuff
[Pic: SJS]
With focus going well we had time to take a couple of newer folks up for some hands-on training.  To reach a couple of units we had to kick the lift extension out a ways and then approach from a particular direction, past other gear already in place on the floor.  It's nice how lifts of this design can basically turn in place, since they drive from the steering wheels which can be heeled over 90 degrees, and slow-mode control and full visibility from above allow driving right next to objects on the deck.
One still needs to remain spherically vigilant, which becomes more difficult the later into the night we're working [after a long day of labor already].  This pic has been brightness-enhanced to pull out dark features; in focus mode the house lights were dimmed and the room was quite a bit darker than it appears here.  Look carefully directly *under* the orange extension.  We were here or very close to here, my co-worker on the lift had just finished with a unit, and it was time to move.  I looked down around the lift perimeter, saw nothing significant in the ambient darkness below, and started coming down...

Bent speaker-stick tripod The sequence that rapidly unfolded went something like this:

We began to descend.

I heard/felt sort of a funny little noise, followed in fractions of a second by "whoa-wo-wo-whoa!" from some other people in the room.

Almost immediately, someone else said "oh, that's *done*" at the same time that I stopped descending and the light suddenly dawned on *Marblehead* as to what might have transpired.

Me:   *Shit*.

Here's the result, after being decommissioned and folded up.
Basically, the force of the lift bucket coming straight down on top of the speaker-on-a-stick had "broken the back" of two of the tripod legs.  And this was one of Paul's nice roto-locking tall stands, too.  The speaker, quickly recovered by others who ran over to grab things, was undamaged, as was the rest of the stand, thus likely repairable with a minimum of replacement parts.

That didn't prevent me from feeling awful about it.  Remember that little unused light on the truck dash?  The one in my brain was flashing frantically by now...

It was obviously time for me to take a break.  Lesson learned, hopefully by everyone present.

Bad stage leg placement on cable The housemen eventually came in to flip the platforms around, but were apparently a little careless as to leg placement.  Arguably we shouldn't have left rats-nests of wiring in their path, but we did need to get things run and hooked up.

Video control Back video rats nest
With the new digital system, the video layout seemed a lot cleaner this year with less clutter and more workspace.  We were on the borrowed cameras from Emerson again, but not converting to analog until much later in the path to the hotel's headend and I believe staying all-digital for the local routing and IMAG.  It looked quite good, even in the upstairs rooms, and the more modern cameras are much better at low light levels.  People were definitely having fun with the Synergy switcher at times, figuring out how to make it do fancy things.  The rats nest *behind* video seemed mostly due to having a bunch of fixed-length BNC jumpers to hook everything together, but some of those were carrying 270 Mb/s SDI signals instead of baseband component.  And the green stuff of course was my fault, as the intercom originated from here as well.

We've all agreed that the top of the video rack is the wrong place for the intercom headend.  It can go back into the ballroom next time, backstage somewhere perhaps on or near the audio amp rack or something, and fan out more sensibly from there.  The video guys needed to stack more componentry on top of the rack, and the 'comm turned out to be in the way.  The video rack may also be a source of some pretty strong RF hash, and thus not the greatest neighbor for analog intercom stuff.  Regardless, it again worked quite well -- at least when it wasn't being affected by an electrical ground imbalance from C/D that was also trashing sound for a while until Claw went and isolated it away.

Airwall seal-up hacks To really solidify the airwall closure this time, I added a couple of hacks with tie-line to pull the rubber gasket and the wood door tightly together and keep them that way.  Simply trying to extend the lip farther out winds up popping the much-abused little bolt at the bottom so the door swings away, and one or more of the surfaces is curved so it doesn't close all the way with gentle pressure.  A taut-line hitch lash-up made this much tighter, and thus worth warning people to not *undo* it until the wall actually had to open again.

Tech gear depot The Tech "gear depot" got set up again, without any particular organizational scheme but sufficiently functional nonetheless.  I took a small section for spare intercom storage and where I'd maintain wireless-pack batteries [once again, checked but never changed out over the entire weekend].  The radio stash and charging nest was on the table at the far end, and I think Program A/V got fairly beneficial use of them.  Some of the stuff here was empty boxes that could have been better off nested into other empty crates and buried in "dead case land", but we weren't being that organized.

Not the best way to pack cables The Depot clutter included more of Jim's old stuff that had shown up, and here was down to random consumer-grade gack that we were just trying to get rid of.  Clearly nobody was about to care about carefully rolling and sorting a giant wad of beat-up RCA cables, but a few digs through this tangle did turn up one or two useful things that people actually needed.

  I got very few "runtime" pictures, having wearied of carrying the camera around and finally put it aside.  But the con was soon in full swing, and I'm sure that petabytes of pictures by other people left the building over the course of the weekend.  [Where are they?  Send pointers!]  I took some minor tech runtime roles here and there, on a video camera for a couple of events, and busked some fun lighting for Minus World.  I made sure infrastructure was in place to get Masq rehearsals going, including re-gelling the followspot boomerangs that were still sitting around unloved Saturday morning and then listening in on intercom long enough to make sure things were running smoothly.  [The booboo *I* made that morning was failing to put David's gel crate back in the Depot afterward, causing him to have to run around looking for it.  Sorry 'bout that!]

I debugged some DMX issues in dance-tent, and helped change out some color and gobos over there.  My board seemed to be managing the lighting control in that room up quite handily, as they set up some fun wall-wash and truss-warmer sequences.  And the infamous pony got to come out of retirement and proudly ride again, still looking as good as the day it was cut.

I did a decent amount of LED staff spinning at the drum circle.

Kat organized a "squee mob" surprise fan party for Greykell in the lobby, which was hilarious.

I took note of the people handling program A/V running in and out, apparently happy to be in radio contact with Depot dispatch, but nobody poked me to help with any of that [although I did offer and suggest early on that our tech-community folks usually on main-stage and second-stage roles might want to fill in on program A/V once in a while if needed].  Perhaps we need to think about assigning PAV shifts at the meetings?

I was on split-time video duty for the Geeky Bellydance, and managed to capture a few pictures during the first half [presented in a separate page, not here]. 

There were the usual evening parties and exotic libations, providing good opportunity to kick back a bit after our workdays.

The hotel staff continued being generally awesome for us throughout, although Saturday evening I did receive rumor of some objection from on high to the *many* bare feet happily running around.  Origin of this seemed indistinctly attributed to the hotel's new incoming corporate overlords, rather than the local staff.  Source aside, it was rather reprehensible to start pulling this on our members as a *mid-con* surprise, not to mention flat-out discriminatory human rights infringement.  While I wasn't specifically targeted, such arbitrary and unfounded nonsense has to simply stop across the board, and I've got some constructive ideas in that direction which will require Marriott/Starwood/whoever coming up to speed on some basics first.  It is high time for this, because many more of our harmless lifestyle choices and values are becoming solid social memes.  The *last* thing we need is for Arisia to turn into another Balticon, after so many years of our constructive working relationship with the Westin.

Set for Mrs Hawking I took a camera-op position for one of the "Mrs. Hawking" runs, which made it a little interesting to try and keep track of the plot while watching most of it through a 4-inch monitor with one ear covered.  But this group is fun to work with; they're very dedicated and energetic, and put on a high quality production without much help/intervention from our crew.  They build and move all their own sets, and getting their lighting sorted out was all of 15 minutes of their production manager sitting down with Daniel to whip up and record some scenes.  It was interesting to listen to their intercom chatter during some of the show runs; their cueing is tight and accurate and their backstage folks were clearly adapting competently to our stage environment on the fly.

Masq greenroom It didn't take too much gear-Tetrising to clean up for the airwall opening when C/D/E became the Masquerade greenroom Sunday night.  A little pipe-n-drape got wrapped around video again, and a nominal wall of cases lined up in front of the Depot, leaving the Masquers plenty of room to hang out and watch the show on a big screen.  Things were a little rough with both a new show-caller and a new MC involved in the Masq itself, but they got through it with reasonable recovery and both the live event and the replay later looked gorgeous over Arisia-TV.

The official Masquerade photo repository appears to have landed here:
    Page_1   Page_2   Page_3   Page_4   Page_5  

  After the Masquerade was over, we needed to do some token bit of strike to get our stuff out of the way of PSAV bringing the truss down in the morning.  But when I took a quick tour through main-stage later that night, nobody was around and things like the drape-line hadn't been touched yet.  Our official call to clear the path was something like 8:30 am but PSAV often came on these calls early, and they'd still need to work around our setup to hook the motors up again.  I went ahead and pulled down the relevant parts of drape and moved the PA speakers aside and generally made sure things would be clear for them before heading for bed.

We also had a larger-scale idea in the works -- in an example of early attempts at better integration between Tech and Logistics, we [a very loose "we"] had cooked up a plan for the Monday strike and loadout.  The intent was to collect as much of the *large* tech gear that could be packed quickly and get it onto a truck as a "short load", to be taken back to Storage on a quick trip using a skeleton crew -- just to get some large-volume stuff out of our way before the main truck-loading.

Not much for the short load But with the video rack and a couple of wagons and wiggle-lights buttoned up and even some of the comm gear ready to roll, it didn't seem like enough to really be worth a whole separate trip to Storage.  Especially when Tech still had to get all the other things ready for our vendor pickups.  So despite these intentions of efficient order-of-operations, the truck just sat here all day with stuff slowly getting added to the load as it became ready and got rolled out.  The Sorting Party and inventory grind is always one of the slowest and single-threaded parts of these gigs, but we do have to make sure we account for everything that came in.

  The man behind the short-load plan was Dan, who was going to be the main loadmaster and a driver for the "out" but had fallen rather badly ill over the weekend.  We didn't actually have an explicit plan B, but it seemed to fall to some combination of JWeiss and me to become the "stunt Dan" and step into that role.  JWeiss kindly did the walk down D St to Ryder that day to fetch the second-second-truck which would handle the NESFA load, and I stayed on the Storage push.  I still had to get the tech gear under my direct purview all counted and packed before I could really break away to play with trucks, and I would still need at least one of our leaders who had studied the Storage layout in sufficient detail to come along and correctly route things back in over there.  So my weary brain was being pulled in several directions that morning, and some minor too-many-cooks disagreements were going on about optimal paths of action -- which left our otherwise well-intentioned volunteers distractedly cross-conversing or sitting around socializing instead of being efficiently directed toward work.

Eventually the Storage truck was full enough and we scraped up a crew with a couple of cars available and headed over there, and it was difficult getting into the dock because someone had left an extra car in the Green Cab driveway across the street that we *have* to nose our trucks into to get aligned properly.  I managed to come up alongside the obstruction and take a couple of wiggles to line up, but it was dark by then and not particularly easy.  Perhaps we should notify Green Cab and the farmers-market folks in the same building of our target activity days too, so they can try to keep things clear for us if they can?

By the time we got back to the hotel there wasn't much left of the Dead Dog, which I hadn't really counted on making anyway, but Noel semi-forced Sandy and me to actually sit down for a while and eat.  In retrospect, that was probably a good thing.  Our next problem was where to park the now-full NESFA truck overnight, with one idea being to coordinate with the neighbors and get clearance to simply park it in the NESFA driveway until morning.  I don't think that happened, though; from what I understand Rick simply dumped it in legal non-metered parking [!surprise!] over on E street and walked back.  Is that A Thing??  I asked, and the answer was that it was legal albeit a little sketchy and without any guarantee of available space. 

We really need to codify the truck-parking issue for next year, because all this guesswork is eventually going to screw us.  Bigger trucks than ours constantly serve events all over Southie, and they must have some workable solutions even if it involves throwing a little money at the problem.  I did find one potentially helpful document with some info about which local parking facilities can accomodate trucks, but they'd have to be specifically researched in advance.

One idea floated post-con was that the scaffold could be one early short load, and save us a few bucks with Marr on pickup.  It would require knocking all of that down first thing in the morning and getting an appropriate brute-squad to run it out to the truck, but it sounds reasonably doable.  We *did* do our own return in 2015, but had loaded it the previous night.  Oh, and for the record, Marr had picked out a *beautifully clean* set of work-tower parts for us this year -- it all looked brand shiny new, in fact, no construction grit at all ... even the wheels were still in their original shipping boxes and outgassing like crazy, like the ones for that gridwall cart I bought a couple of years ago.  Cheap chinese rubber formulation, full of VOCs.

A wispy sky I opened my eyes Tuesday morning and beheld this out the hotel window, which just struck me as sort of aesthetically artsy even with the translucent sun-blocker screen in the way.  It would be another nice day for our remaining load-out, albeit a little chillier, with a mild threat of rain much later in the day.  The hostess at the in-lobby restaurant understood my quite honest plea that any shoes I owned were packed into crates and miles from the hotel at the time, and let both me and Sandy in to join the rest of the crew for breakfast -- not an issue.  I got a little food in me and then started getting restless -- it seems that the non-operationally-related chatter over these breakfasts always goes on too long, when people need to get moving on finishing up the con.
We were down to the little leftover dribs and drabs left to collect from around the hotel, and once again the radios were reasonably useful in getting that done.  There was a bit of cellphone chatter when needed, but it was a decent balance and once we started getting off-property and more scattered, radio usage tapered off.  The Enterprise truck made one more disgorgement at Storage and then Sandy and I returned it, and whoever was left converged at NESFA to finish putting that load away.  Rick was there overseeing, so last year's disputes over proper disposition would be avoided, and we made sure to bring back all the loaned-out bits like padlocks and ratchet-straps.  Thought was already going into the Boskone load the next month, which is something else to remember as another factor affecting Arisia logistics.

Really, like I discovered with lighting design over past years, logistics as a department is well over 50% a people-management problem.  That's one reason I could never do it at that level, as the frustration I always feel from seeeing people working inefficiently or not at all would not end well in a leadership position.  I'll deliver plenty of hints and knowledge and energy from the ground, where I'm clearly at my personal best for the benefit of the con, but I'm still quite certain that others need to shoulder the realtime administrative roles.  Still, I also want to see institutional memory preserved better than we have been, so things like checklists and summaries of prior experience really need to be maintained and available on Arisia-specific resources for anyone who expects to become a knowledgeable leader.

The issues we continually face are clearly reflected in several prior-year reports visible on the staff-wiki Logistics area [requires login], through which runs a recurring theme of understaffing, unclear direction, poor communication between departments, lack of crew-shuttle vehicles, per-department delays in packing and tagging, and desperate half-ass eleventh-hour solutions.  Our stuff eventually gets where it needs to, but too often due to extraordinary measures.  These are the factors that rapidly burn people out who try to hold Logistics together, and we really need to get a better handle on that in general.  Small isolated improvements seem to happen each year but along the way other key points are easily forgotten, and there's no concise well-organized repository of all the collected information that doesn't require tedious digging-around to find.  I'd like to work toward improving that, pulling from extant info on the staff wiki and elsewhere and consolidating it -- several years' worth of debrief notes, and elements from my own reports.  The official, one-stop "Arisia Logistics Manual" would be nice to have as a well-maintained living document, available and accessible to everyone.

_H*   170126

[Background theme inspiration is twofold:
  by Pink's continuing development as a determined barefooter, and
  by all those "pussy strikes back" hats at the inauguration protests]