Arisia 2019, part 2


Typical morning traffic through Medford Heading inbound
    [Pic credit:   sjs]
Bright and early Thursday morning I brought my own load of gear over to Wally World and cross-loaded it into the full truck, intending to simply leave my car in the lot for the weekend and the truck(s) would be my transport to and from the con.  Then it was down through the snarl of typical weekday morning traffic through Medford and into the tunnel.  But even in that kind of pack-up I keep a healthy following distance ahead of me, because I cannot imagine any reason to not do so.  Again, that sense of responsibility -- I had everything Arisia was going to get for the con that morning in my tender care.

Arrival at the Park Plaza Well, maybe not all!  I finally ground my way through the lights and construction on Kneeland St and arrived at the hotel, only to find Paul's sound-gear trailer in the way.  Helpful people were already on-site and he was almost unloaded, and soon pulled ahead so I could swing around and back in toward the loading door.  Being careful to miss that overhanging canopy in the process, of course, whose corners show clear evidence of other delivery drivers paying somewhat less attention.

Beginning unload Dicey roll off the liftgate
It's all liftgate work here, as noted in my survey page.  Fortunately we had liftgates that interacted well with sidewalk height; only a brief pause was necessary during back-in to extend it out, but then the truck could come all the way in and drop it fully on the sidewalk.  Crews started a brisk stream of stuff into the building -- almost too brisk, perhaps, as haste can make for some dicey roll-offs at the gate lip.

4Wall had also made its delivery earlier in the morning, so we had that stuff inside already.  At the very least we'd have an art show and maybe some sound and lighting for the stage, but everything else was in limbo.

Picking up at publisher
    [Pic credit:   dpn]
Meanwhile, Dan had grabbed the other truck and was picking up pallets of pubs at a warehouse way up north.  I heard him radio in later that they'd finished loading and he was on his way south, so we'd be swapping trucks in a little while.

The astute technologist might be wondering at this point: radioed in?  From way up in northeast-bumfuk Newburyport, almost 40 miles away?  That's some impressive repeater infrastructure.

  Zello screenshot Yes, because our repeater infrastructure was the internet this year.  Instead of traditional radios, loaned or rented, we were using our phones and a very clever app called Zello.  It essentially provides a push-to-talk voice channel that works just like a digital walkie-talkie but gets carried over any IP network, be it local wifi or cellular-data.  Since I had finally gotten a smartphone, I was prompted to check it out after hearing about it from the WC76 crew [who didn't actually use it that much].  I found myself quite impressed, and began endorsing it for logistics and other convention uses.  Zello and a little clever usage could provide what I was asking for near the end of my 2016 writeup, and then some.

Rather than repeat all the investigatory details here, I've simply collected selections from the email thread we had about it which hits most of the advantageous points.

Car-size load of essentials Lisa and I got the truck out of the dock and took it and her car over to Storage, knowing no better place to park it for a while.  I got it sort of stupidly wedged into the neighboring scrapyard but at least it was out of the way for the moment.  We had also been handed a very short list of more essentials for Tech, which we figured we could huff down the stairs and fit in her car.  Even this much was a pain in the ass, and the bigger/heavier stuff was basically a non-starter for this method.  We loaded her car and the paused for some much-needed lunch.  There was still no word on either elevator, and a feeling of desperation and/or hopelessness was starting to grow on everyone.  But maybe not all bad, as desperate times often do call for desperate measures.

  At this point there were a lot of things going on in parallel.  Out of frustration, Kristin rounded up a small tech detachment to go over to Storage, commandeer the empty truck sitting over there, and try to usefully retrieve something, *anything*, in a similar way for dance-tent and some other key areas.  But the concept was larger than that.  A seemingly crazy idea was forming amongst the staff who were still home or sitting around the hotel with nothing to do: to bring a whole bunch of people over to Storage later and brute-force hand essential items down the stairwell in a big human chain, rescuing as much as they could to actually build the rest of the convention with.  It would be grueling work, but possibly worthwhile depending on what items could be recovered.  I was a bit skeptical, having just busted our butts getting one carload down the stairs, but they were talking something like a hundred-person handoff party.  While we headed back to the hotel, I was on the phone to some of the leadership, strongly suggesting that every department head that supported this idea needed to physically go over to Storage and pick their items carefully, to avoid burning out a whole lot of Arisians on moving stuff we didn't desperately need.  I think I got general agreement on that, and folks back at the hotel were already at work on a massive recruiting effort.  Word went out on about every arm of email and social-media they could touch, in a desperate plea for warm and willing able bodies.

On our return to the hotel I decided that maybe it was time for me to segue to tech roles, as I had several responsibilities there whether we were going to have a full setup or not.  And as much as I'd been doing anyway, I felt like my leg wasn't really up for being under load at odd angles in a stairway.  I'd already been at this for a day and a half, but it was clear that there was a growing number of fresh volunteers lining up to descend on Storage and attack this movement problem.

Thus, I was not directly party to one of the most heroic efforts that the Arisia community has ever put forth, but I've been given some pictures and story text about it and it must all be told.  I could also hear many of the Storage adventures in realtime via the still-active Zello at my hip, and felt like I was still in touch with it as I shuffled around the ballroom doing other things that needed to be done.  Therefore, the tale splits into two concurrent threads for a while.

  Ballroom Build and Bucket Brigade, bifurcated

Ballroom again, this time with our stuff in it
I went back up to the same back-balcony vantage point where I'd taken my long room shot on my lightning tour two months ago -- the difference was now that *our* stuff was all spread out in it.  With hopefully more stuff on the way.

One thing to note here, perhaps in the big-pic: the way 4Wall rolls its cables for rental delivery, e.g. the nearer piles on the floor.  Everything is straight-wound on a machine, and *four* jute ties put on the larger stuff.  Often connector ends are put together, so for example you have to disconnect them to see if you're holding 3 or 5 pin DMX.  Smaller stuff gets several little wraps of friction tape.  This is a pain in the ass.  You wind up with scraps of F-tape and jute crap everywhere in a mess, and the detached ties are likely to get lost by the end of the gig.  People who expect flip-coiled cables are going to wind up with a lot of twist when they side-pull to run stuff out.  Not only does it take like twice as long to deploy cable stock due to fighting with all this, it clearly takes a lot more time turning the stuff around back at the shop to go out again.  The traditional Boston-area way this is done is a single piece of tieline on every cable, that *stays* on it all the time, and can even be used to help dress installed wiring when convenient.

Yes, I called and bitched out 4Wall about this.  Their own guys on the ground hate it too, but this new "procedural requirement" gets thundered down from the corporate mountain with no room for counterargument.  Maybe the IATSE peeps in NYC like this, but we don't.  I asked the shop guy I talked to, please add my voice to the growing swell of pushback against this because it just impedes everyone's work.

I wonder if anyone makes a winding machine that over/under coils??

Lift rail sticking up
PSAV had showed up for the truss call, and we had all the right gear for them!  They were doing a little mysterious movement of the scissorlift here, with one piece of its safety rail sticking up that would have snagged on the balcony.  Eventually they got it out of the way and the truss got hoisted, loaded, and sent to trim height.

Element lighting board up and running
The truss didn't go up quite to the optimal point suggested by my quick-n-dirty section diagram, but eyeballing it from the back of the stage showed that from there we'd still get a high enough angle to cover upstage without being too all over the backdrop.  Meanwhile, I'd gotten the board up and running enough to make sure we had basic control, and start programming in some fundamentals we'd need on it.

The board would basically be under my care for the weekend, as none of the other folks in our tech group with any fluency on ETC's Eos/Ion/Element family of consoles would be at the con.  Knowing that this would fall to me, I had spent some of the week beforehand studying up and playing with the "Nomad" emulator at home, and kept notes on operation as I worked through the weekend.  I've put that whole rundown/rant in a separate file, as others in the community might find it useful.  Full disclosure: I still view all of these as "Hog done wrong".

As I worked, I could still hear the chatter from the folks over at Storage, and thinking about that and our build at the same time prompted me to key up the phone and ask Dan a question -- since things in bucket-brigade land seemed to be going way better than anyone anticipated, how feasible would it be to get the Colorblaze cyc LEDs down the stairs?  In their dual cases they're bloody heavy, but if opened up and the lights and case parts carefully passed down separately, it seemed entirely doable.  They made it work, and the other thread describes how, with a picture showing them safely re-packed into the truck.  Yet another total win for Zello -- if I hadn't been hearing hints of how things were going over there, I might never have thought to ask.

Ballroom B DMX map
A hotel engineer came by and dropped off a little surprise present: a rough map of the house dimmers and fixtures, which are now on DMX based control and we could in theory run from our own operator position!  Even including the LED pillar washes, to a fine-grained degree if we wanted, although the physical addressing layout of those is a little odd.  This copy got marked up with some additional notes as I explored their system.

DMX input to house system
Here's the DMX input to the house system control, now ETC Unison/Paradigm instead of the old Crestron system I had railed against so long ago.  Gone were the little hardwired control screens that I'd built 4-pin XLR extenders for way back when, and good riddance.  It took about 150 feet of DMX hose to reach from our board to here, but I ran it and plugged it into the second universe output.  Since the house system starts with address 1 and we'd already addressed most of our rig the same way, I had to physically separate the runs instead of splitting off our existing loop, and then I could map dimmer "channels" for the house starting from 301 and patched to address "2/1" and up.  Which, fortunately, you can do in bulk via the board's command syntax.

Unison controller setup
External DMX input is sent to the Paradigm controller, which also talks to the house wall touchscreen panels, and they're basically HTPed together into an output to the dimmer racks.  [One of which, amusingly, is labeled "loaner" despite being permanently mounted on the wall.]  A nice feature of having the controller examine and combine the inputs is that *saving* new touch-panel presets can also include what an external controller is sending.  In other words, you could use a regular lighting board with full channel granularity to get a certain room look, and then save that as a preset that would then work without the external board present.

But the system is surprisingly flakey -- we managed to crash the entire thing by fooling around with some house presets and had to reboot it.  Later in the weekend, the hotel guys came along and pulled one of the touch-panels completely out of the wall and replaced it because it wasn't working at all to control its room.  My combined-control experiments were affecting the "B" section on the other side of the airwall for a while, because I didn't remember that it's all on the same single dimmer setup.  And of course the printed sheet with their supposed map didn't include anything about "B" and was wrong about "A" in a few ways too, and I didn't have time or a good viewpoint to map it all out for real.  It looks like whoever installed the Paradigm and mapped it to the dimmers retained a lot of the fucked-upedness in circuiting that plagued the Crestron system, when that would have been a beautiful chance to straighten most of it out and put sections in sensible ranges.

We discovered a couple of other things in the dimmer room.  First, there are another four dedicated 20A Edison circuits [pink arrow], with breakers in the panel to the right of this view.  This was really useful to find as we started powering on-stage dimmers.  It's odd that they're mounted so high up, needing a chair to reach, unlike the nest of circuits at the other side of the stage.  Before we knew about this, Sound and Video had already grabbed the four circuits we did know about just outside the door, and run a bunch of feeds through a short conduit that goes out at balcony level [green arrow].  It would have made much better sense the other way 'round, with the balcony feeds coming from the inner box and lights taking the outer one.  But nobody had really ever done an overall power map for the room, it was all slammed together seat-of-the-ass as we figured out where to run stuff.

Kristin's small crew had managed to bring a token batch of critical items back to the hotel before any of this went down, but the next phase would be a full-on assault to try and free much more of our gravitationally confined infrastructure.  I will let Sandy's words tell much of this thread, since she was there and contributed many of the pictures as well:

Even before the original 4pm Thursday decision point, the word filtered around con that the 7pm Bucket Brigade would be happening.  Rickland offered to coordinate ride shares so that people could get from the hotel to storage with less parking trouble.

I got the word when I was in Art Show, and went to Grand A at 6:30 to meet up with the hoped-for crowd.  I snagged a spot in a car with my best friend, who had driven to BPP from Somerville to pick up a crew.  While riding over with her & two others, I radioed Lisa, "How many do we have for the bucket brigade?" Her answer was 25...I knew that wouldn't be enough for 2.5 floors of stairs circling around on themselves.

I got to Windsor St to find Dan already upstairs organizing.  As people arrived, he asked for anyone who was an Area Head or had Clue about specific departments to please talk to him, to prioritize what went downstairs.  Very few people stepped forward.  I would have *liked* to see that Lisa had communicated priorities with all the departments prior to the 7pm call, but I don't think it happened.  Instead, the selection process was a mish-mash: One person said this goes, Lisa said no, and then I later saw it on the truck anyway.  An example: I watched M. pare down the Fast Track racks, but someone else later shipped all of it.

As we didn't initially have quorum to station people along the length of the stairs (& knowing I would hurt myself if I ran loads up & down), I simply stationed myself at the top of the stairway, pulling items from the racks in the hallway & handing them to whoever approached me from below.  Vests for The Watch, printers, costuming bits for Project Cosplay, crockpots, etc., etc.

Apparently, many more people arrived while I was doing this...I don't know the official count, but at least 40 people were there.  We filled out the stairways, and had an effective & motivated bucket brigade.  I believe lots of people got the call for help in email and came in from all around Boston, complementing the small group that came from the hotel.  Because of the greater turnout, more stuff went, and the mood continued to be positive the whole time I was there.

Tech, of course, has lots of bulky, fragile gear, and it was not going to get passed down the stairs by people unfamiliar with the gear.  The 3 cyc light cases rolled up to where I was working, and we pulled out the lights one at a time.  I took the upper end of the first one, with Dan (?) on the other end, and we hand-carried it down to the the lobby.  I went back & took an end on another light, by which point most of the cases had joined the lights downstairs.  I then helped the six lights rejoin with their cases.  There were also questions radioed to Hobbit about his personal 'wiggle' lights, which were in Storage.  These are more bulky & fragile than the cyc lights, and I was glad to see that they stayed put, at least for that night.

While traversing the stairs with the cyc lights, I saw many familiar faces, people who have been involved in Arisia for years, and some people I knew but did not know they even went to Arisia.  These folks were not there to get 3x hours on their timesheets, but because they *believed* in Arisia. This is the magic that made Lisa's heart swell.

Bucket-brigade out to a truck
    [Pic credit:   sjs]
I then stationed myself outside, and coordinated loads from the first floor lobby to the truck.  The ALCs went first; they were steered out to the sidewalk and around to the curb cut at the loading dock, then liftgated onto the truck.  Somebody else stacked the load, I alternated between checking the lobby for what should come next & feeding it into the truck, meanwhile encouraging people to use wheels when they could & not to hurt themselves.

Still needed the fridges
    [Pic credit:   sjs]
At some point, the amount of stuff in the downstairs lobby was reduced to a few random things plus the rebuilt pallet of soda, awaiting application of black pallet wrap.  Rumor was that Sharon had hired people to hand-carry the fridges to the truck.  I started upstairs to see how things looked up there, but was told to clear the stairs for the fridges coming down.  So I stood in an alcove partway up and made sure nobody else came up.  From that vantage, I saw a still-assembled metro shelf coming down, with some careful navigation to get it to fit down the stairwell.  The first fridge came down as well, one mover on each end, and they didn't even set it down as they went around the corners.  I then went upstairs to find storage relatively empty, and the movers taking the doors off the wide fridge under Lisa's watchful eye.

Hand-picked and hand-moved load, holy shit
    [Pic credit:   dpn]
After that, I took the next car heading back to the hotel, and got back in time to start my shift at Art Show.  Two hours of work, and most of an hour in transit, but we pulled together to Get Stuff to the Con.

    [End of Sandy contributed text]
Emergency suboptimal truck sex
    [Pic credit:   dpn]
However, that wasn't the end of it, and the triumph of the moment was short-lived.  Dan fired up the truck to return to the hotel, and drove all of a couple of blocks before the dash lit up like a christmas tree with check-engine lights.  The truck had gone into some kind of limp mode, and wouldn't go over 5 MPH no matter what he did.  Around 9:30 I heard him on the radio, imploring something like "tell Rick to NOT return that other truck!  We need it back here!"  Fortunately, the earlier crew had taken a dinner break and still had the other truck available.  The community of volunteers that was probably on its various ways home by now was asked to come back, this time for "suboptimal emergency truck sex", performed in a tiny little parking lot off Cambridge Street.

Soda pallet transfer
    [Pic credit:   dpn]
That entire load was brute-force moved *again*, including all the fridges and the stealth pallet of soda and all the other heavy stuff, albeit over a much shorter distance and no vertical other than slightly mismatched liftgates.  It was still better than having it sit in the Storage lot all night where Dan eventually dumped the dead truck once it was empty.  The Enterprise folks couldn't get it running right; it was towed out the next day.

The "bucket brigade" load finally made it over to the hotel later, to the great relief and enthusiasm of all concerned.  Many departments now had most of what they needed to set up, and despite getting it so late attacked doing so with gusto.

So basically with the lack of the labor-saving conveniences we have in 2019, people were back to moving things around as they might have in 1819 -- by human muscle and strength in numbers, yo-heave-ho!  And my own doubts about the capability of that had been proven totally wrong.  Actually, back then there might have been a big door on the 3rd floor opening into nothingness, and a beam sticking out from the top of the building with a rope and a pulley.  But try to get that setup past the building safety inspectors nowadays...


  The Logistics zello went silent somewhere around midnight, and that's about the time Paul looked up at the truss with its lights still pointing every whichway, and said "We *have* to focus that tonight, this is our only day of scissorlift rental!"  We managed to get that done between three of us, the very last people left in the ballroom that night, and then nicely tucked the lift away in the storage closet like PSAV wanted.

It had been a helluva day, for everyone, but astoundingly enough in spite of everything we were well on our way to actually having a con.

    [Go to Part 3/5]