Nebula Awards

So, I haven't posted here in a while - time for that to change!

This past weekend was the SFWA Nebula Awards. Quite some time ago, Steven Silver had asked me to run tech for the weekend, and I said yes. It was an interesting weekend.

The actual tech needs for programming were pretty minimal - a projector, screen, and sound in one of the programming rooms, plus livestreaming the SFWA business meeting Saturday afternoon.

The fun part was the awards ceremony - full lights and sound, video projection, video recording, and livestreaming. The Nebula weekend was at the Palmer House in downtown Chicago - a very fancy, older hotel (sort of laid out like a rabbit warren). Since it's a union shop, it turned out to be slightly cheaper to rent most of the equipment from the hotel (we got a break on the labor that way). I brought some equipment though (like the big projector for the ceremony), which saved us a bundle. Most of what I had to do for the actual awards ceremony was supervise a crew of union operators, and set up and run the streaming.

To do the streaming, we used a widget called VidiU, from Teradek. It takes video and audio in (it has an HDMI input along with an analog audio input), and connects to the internet. It handles all the encoding, and is set up to interface directly with several of the major streaming outfits. SFWA uses UStream, which is one of the systems the Teradek was designed to work with. We sent the stream out in 720p widescreen.

Aside from one internet glitch just as we were about to go live (which cost us about 3 minutes or so), things went very well. The video to start the program off did freeze (I'm not sure why - we ran it about 6 or 7 times during setup and checkout, and it was flawless then), but everything else went very smoothly - which was good, since we didn't really have time to do a full dress rehearsal. It is a real joy to work with professionals, and these guys were some of the best. (I've never had a problem working with the union guys in Chicago - they know what they're doing, are very friendly, and really want the show to go well.)

Now I just have to master the video recording - both to put up on the SFWA UStream channel for later viewing, and for a possible DVD release.

Since the Nebula Weekend will be in Chicago again next year, I get to do it all over again then. It should go even smoother, since I know what to expect now.


Made it in to work without any trouble - but then, I live just off-site from the Lab, and I have four wheel drive. The roads in Warrenville are plowed, but ugly - there is that half-inch of leftover snow the plows miss, which is glazed over and wind-polished to a mirror sheen. The wind is starting to pick up, and what has been plowed is starting to drift over. Unless you absolutely have to go out today, don't even try it.

Almost more fun than should be allowed by law...

This has been a week of plumbing issues. Fortunately, I've got a great landlord, who will let me do a lot of home repairs myself, since I can do them (and it saves him money since he doesn't have to get a plumber, electrician, or contractor to do them - all he has to do is pay for parts) - and, more importantly, I know what I can't do and when we need to call in an expert.

Background information: the house was built in the early to mid 1980s, and has no basement - it's on a slab. This makes access to the plumbing 'interesting'.

First was the outside valve on the back of the house - one of those 'frost-proof' units, with the valve seat 10" inside the wall (where it will theoretically stay warm during the winter). This valve is in the wall between the kitchen and the front bathroom, and it needed to be replaced (the seat had gotten all messed up somehow, and it got to the point that you could get one good, leak-free closing out of a replacement washer - then it would leak again). Now, most of these valves screw in to the house plumbing deep inside the wall, but when I tried to turn this one, it just spun around without doing anything. I was afraid that I would need to remove a couple of rows of tile from the tub surround to get in there (either that, or remove a lot of kitchen cabinets, which I *really* didn't want to do), but when I removed the cover plate over the tub mixing valve handle, there was enough of a hole in the wall to actually be able to see what was going on. There was a collection of adapters and fittings between the valve and the copper pipe that would make Rube Goldberg smile - but, more importantly, I saw that there was no drywall on the other side of the wall cavity (behind the kitchen cabinets). Cutting a hole in the back of one of the cabinets would get me access to the plumbing - yea! (And, when I cleared out that cabinet, I found that some previous owner had already done that, and left a removable panel there for easy access.)

My landlord came over and looked at it with me, and we went over to Menards to pick up the replacement parts we would need. It was interesting (to say the least) to get in to the plumbing, but with some contortion I managed it and got the valve replaced (and got rid of quite a few of the adapters, nipples, and couplers that someone had used earlier).

Then, the water heater tank sprung a leak. (Not real surprising, since both my landlord and I believed that it had been in there for 20+ years.) Of course, the water heater is in a utility closet just off the living room, next to the furnace and behind the brine tank of the water softener, so getting to it was also an adventure.

In the last day or so, I learned more about water heaters than I ever wanted to, including which brands are good and which are total crap. The best rated are made by Bradford White, but you can only get them through a plumber or plumbing supply store (and you will pay an extra $100 just for the name). Rheem water heaters are almost as highly rated, and you can get them in most of the big-box home repair stores. (Rheem makes water heaters under their own name, as well as under the brand names of GE, Marathon, and Richmond.) Avoid water heaters made by AO Smith (Sears/Kenmore, Whirlpool, and a host of really cheap 'store brand' water heaters).

So, today my landlord goes over to the local Home Despot and picks up a 50 gallon GE natural gas water heater. Turns out it is an almost perfect physical match for the 20 year old Richmond that it was replacing. It took about 2 or 3 hours for us to make the swap (a lot of which was spent waiting for the old tank to drain), but we got it in! And it produces copious amounts of scalding hot water; Boo-yah! (And he probably saved between $500 and $1000 on labor, which is another win!)


Made it to San Antonio Wednesday afternoon and got checked in to the hotel. We lucked out, and got the Grand Ballroom early - 19:30 instead of 00:00, so we could start the build early (and actually get some sleep instead of staying up all night). The road cases of gear were delivered to the Grand Ballroom, and we sorted everything into piles, depending on what it was and where it was supposed to end up. We got the followspot towers mostly built, and the cables that needed to be flown laid out on the floor so the riggers could hang them when they showed up at 08:00 on Thursday.

The first official day of Worldcon. The riggers hung the lighting truss and left it at working height. Most of the morning was spent hanging lights and speakers on the truss and cabling it all up. Once that was done, the riggers lifted it to trim height. They also hung the cables to the Front Of House control positions and hung the delay speakers for the back half of the house. While the staging crew built the stage, I went over to Ballroom A in the convention center and helped set up the concert venue - a pretty simple build (about what I usually do for the Chicago local cons I normally work for). The concerts were in Ballroom A because the Marriot decided to remodel the Alamo Ballroom in the Riverwalk hotel where we were supposed to be. Ballroom A is a *huge* open space, which they divided in half with pipe and drape, then divided one of the halves in half. One side of that was concerts, the other side was dances. Once we finished setting up, it was time for the concerts to start. (Thursday was 'Music Night', with quite a few concerts.) Unfortunately, I wasn't running the board for Seanan's concert. There were a couple of issues, but overall the evening went fine. Once the concerts were over, I headed back to the Grand Ballroom, where we spent some time tuning the sound system. I ended up heading back to my hotel room around 01:00 in the morning, as there was a 10:00 crew call Friday.

Worldcon day 2. I spent most of the day over in Ballroom A helping with concert sound. This time, I actually got to run the board for the concert featuring Mary Carolyn Phillips Crowell, Amy McNally, and Brenda Sinclair Sutton. They sounded fantastic, as always. We set up the dance side for the evening's dance, then had a Tech Meeting over in the Marriot Rivercenter, where the runtime positions for the Hugo ceremony were assigned. I asked for and got the A1 Sound position - running the big board in FoH. Boo-yah! (And, when I say 'big board', I mean it - this thing was huge! A Yamaha M7CL digital sound console - 48 mic inputs, 4 stereo inputs, 16 assignable 'Omni' outputs, Mono out, and stereo out. Computer controlled, digital effects, fully patchable and configurable. The owner's manual is 282 pages long! If you have an iPad, there is an app that will control the sound board from the iPad, so you can walk around on the stage and set the monitor mix levels remotely. MSRP for this board is ~ $29,000.) While we didn't use more than 8 inputs, we did need 13 of the 16 'Omni' outs to feed all the house speakers, stage fill and monitor speakers, and the audio feeds to 'Videoland', where the video crew handled recording the ceremony and dealing with the live stream on the internet.

Worldcon day 3. Spent most of the day in the concert venue, setting up equipment on the stage and running sound. Ran the board for Toyboat - they sounded pretty darn good! (I ended up driving Kludge to the other side of the room - I tend to run Toyboat on the loud side, but not too loud - you could still understand the lyrics. I think it was too loud for Kludge, which is why he retreated.) We had a Tech Meeting, where the Tech Director for the Hugos talked to us. He is (in real life) a television producer in Australia. (Apparently, some people don't like his style - you have to realize that producers tend to rant, rave, scream, and shout during a show. It's nothing personal, it's just the way it is; they're trying to get the right camera shots for the TV feed, and make sure things run smoothly. You need a thick skin to do this kind of work. He wanted to let us know, beforehand, that this could happen, and we shouldn't get freaked out by it.)

Sunday (and Monday)
Worldcon days 4 & 5. Hugo ceremony madness! We had a Tech Meeting at 11:00, followed by Hugo rehearsal. Once that was done, we had time to grab a quick bite to eat and change clothes before Crew Call at 18:30. Cleaned up the deck around the sound board, then had to do a quick re-patch to give the MTV camera crew an audio feed (they were also recording the Hugo ceremony). Once the show was over, we struck as much of the room as we could with the stage still in place, and packed things up. This took us until the wee hours of Monday morning. We all managed to get about 3 hours of sleep while the staging crew disassembled the stage and cleared it away - then it was back to work taking the rest of the equipment down, packing it up, and loading the trucks so it could be sent to the next gig. I got a little more sleep, then it was time for closing ceremonies. After that, we packed up the rest of the gear from Ballroom A, and palletized all the equipment that was left for return to Boston and New Jersey. After that, I crashed until Tuesday morning, when it was time to go to the airport and return to Chicago.

It was a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. Would I do it again? Yep - in a heartbeat. (But not in London - I can't afford the trip. Maybe NASFiC in Detroit, if they need the help.)

Well this should be 'interesting'...

...in the Chinese curse sense of the word. Just got off the last 'all tech staff' Skype call for Worldcon. We've got a metric buttload of stuff to load in and set up, with almost no time to do it in. (Someone said we've got 36 hours to build a show that normally takes 3 days.) They haven't given me my run-time assignments yet, but I suspect I will be spending most of my time doing concert sound for Filk. :-) (I actually asked for that, since I've already done sound for most of the performers, so this should not be a problem.) Since I'm flying down, I'm not hauling any of my own gear - I'll be using gear that belongs to someone else. Hopefully this won't be a problem... :-)

Electric - smooooth!

It's been terribly rainy the past few weeks, but I managed to get the electric bike out and ride it to work a few times This is especially good on Evening Shift, since they changed the hours that the East Gate was open, now closing it at 11pm instead of 1am. Evening Shift doesn't get out until after midnight, and I *really* hate driving all the way around the lab to get home - with the bike, I can ride out the bike path on the east side and not have to worry about it.

The last time I rode to work, I ended up with about 6 broken spokes on the back (motor) wheel. The motor hub is big enough that the spokes end up pretty short - 168mm - and I can only lace the wheel in a cross-1 pattern. This ends up putting a lot of stress on the spokes when I go over bumps, and if I'm forced on to the bike path, this results in broken spokes (the paving on the path is terrible).

I normally use 12 gauge spokes on the back wheel, but that size needs to be special ordered (especially at 168mm), and I have to drill out the holes on the rim to accommodate the oversize spoke nipples. I decided to rebuild the wheel using 14 gauge spokes - these are standard gauge bicycle spokes, not quite so hard to obtain, and I don't have to drill on the rim.

I got the wheel finished the other night, and put the electric bike back together today and took it for a ride. Everything seems to be working. I did have to re-tighten the spokes after the ride today, but that's not unusual for a newly built wheel. I'll carry the spoke wrench with me for the next few weeks, and retighten the spokes after each ride.

The electric is now ready for MuseCon, where Dermot and I will be giving a class on electric bikes and letting people try one out.
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I survived Capricon and the adventure of the Big Truck

Capricon went well - there was a lot of great music (and performers), and no disasters with the sound equipment.  The fun part came during load-out.

The hotel has a two bay loading dock.  When I drove the Big Truck (26' Freightliner diesel monster with air brakes) to the dock, I discovered that there was one Butthead Dealer (tm) who insisted on parking his white van so that it was totally blocking access to one bay, and partially blocking access to the other.  He finished loading his van and left it there while he went back in to enjoy the rest of the con - when it was mentioned to him that he was blocking the dock, he just laughed and walked away.  (Moron.)

Not really wanting to sit there waiting for this jerkwad to finish his fun and then decide to leave, I backed the Big Truck into the one bay that he was only partially blocking.  (Missed his van by about 2 inches.  Literally.  And the passenger side mirror of the Big Truck passed over the top of his van without touching it.  Not bad for someone who doesn't usually drive anything that big.)  Never dare someone who is driving a rental big rig who took the $0 deductible full insurance option - anything that happened to the Big Truck was fully covered, and wouldn't cost me a dime.  I probably could have pushed his van out of the way with the back of the Big Truck (it had a monster lift gate on it) without even scratching the paint on the truck, but as much as it would have been fun, responsibility won out.

If I ever find out who this Butthead is, I will recommend to any concom I am a member of that he *not* be invited back.

MuseCon 2012

Woof.  Busy, busy, busy - but fun!

Started off by renting a big truck (really big - with a diesel engine, even) to haul all the equipment with.

That was fun, but the highlight of our equipment rental was a 75kW (yes, 75 KILOWATT!) generator to power the giant musical tesla coils.  This thing weighed in at 6000 pounds and was mounted on a dual-axle trailer.  (By comparison, the vehicle we towed it with weighed about the same - 6000 pounds.  Needless to say, we were *very* careful towing this thing, sticking to the surface streets (we didn't want to attempt driving on the expressway while pulling a 6000 pound load) and leaving plenty of stopping room.)  The generator came through like a champ - didn't even really notice the load of both coils at full output.  We did, however, go through about 9 gallons of diesel fuel for a 2-hour show.  And, it was quiet - if you were standing more than 20 feet away from it, you couldn't hear it running.  According to the guys at the generator rental place, this was one of the more unusual things their generators have powered.

We had lots of great classes, panels, and demos this year - everything from blinkies to fiber arts, stained glass, dance, improvisation, music, 3-D printing, legos, and lots of stuff I'm probably forgetting.  Gregg Taylor, our Guest of Honor, did one of the lost episodes of The Red Panda (from what he calls 'The Stupidverse' - a very early episode from when he was perfecting his scriptwriting style), with various people from the audience selected to read the parts (although there were a couple of ringers thrown in, to make things run smoothly).  The whole thing was recorded, along with crowd sounds and various screams provided by the rest of the audience, and will be available to listen to once Gregg gets done mixing it down.  I'm looking forward to it!

We've already started planning for next year (actually, planning for next year started 4 months ago) - Seanan McGuire will be Guest of Honor (with Amy McNally as a Special Guest).  We will have even more classes, panels, and things to do and learn.

Oh, yeah - I get to be ConChair.  Yikes.
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    exhausted exhausted

MuseCon is coming up!

Our hotel block closes next week, and the hotel says that they anticipate nearly selling out due to Lollapalooza (in Grant Park on our weekend - quite a few of the close suburban hotels fill up for Lollapalooza).  If you are going to MuseCon, and want to stay in the hotel, make sure you book your room before 7/17 to make sure you get one!
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