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Weird & Gratifying

As you may recall, I have an issue with “oversight overdose”.  I drive everyone crazy, including my wife.  Doesn’t matter if it’s a big game or a holiday at our house. I have issues.

When I first took over the game presentation/video production department, I missed one game all season –  when my son was born on April 17th (Sid’s 100th point game as a rookie) the final home game of the year.

Which makes it very odd to me that I missed two games this week and didn’t sweat it one bit.

With the exception of a few odds and ends and one cranky machine that just refuses to not crash at least once a night,  things are running pretty smooth on the technical end at CONSOL.  A lot of that has to do with us finally slowing down enough to work out the bugs, but most of it is because the staff and crew have come through in a big way.  There’s not one person in the control room that was working on the same machine they were working on at the Mellon. Because of college, high school, and pro football, it’s tough to have the same crew night in and night out, so there’s been a lot of interchange on who is working what on a given night.  It was a steep curve.

In spite of that, only one month in they’ve come up golden. Very proud of the group there from the control room guys, our engineers, both audio and video, and all the other people involved in tech operations.  Everyone except Ryan “@kicksavetwenty” Lenocker.  That dude just perpetrates evil deeds.

The point of this is not to pump the tires of the staff there, it’s to illustrate a very interesting point.  If you’d have asked me even a month ago how long I thought it would be before I could miss a game, I would have responded “January at the earliest”.  Because of how it’s all come together, it turned out to be 11-10.

Very gratifying.

Although I did make up an excuse to call once or twice. ;)

SBE Meeting At Consol

Last week I had the pleasure of hosting a meeting of the Pittsburgh chapter of SBE (Society of Broadcast Engineers) at the Consol Energy Center.  The topic was “Working With Files” and was a great primer for those just entering the world of file-based workflow as well covering some gaps in knowledge (note to self) for those of us who have been in this world for several years.

I have to admit that while I’ve been working in video production since 1992, this was my first time ever at a SBE meeting.  When I was younger, I always thought the subject matter was above my skill level, and as I went further in my career I honestly didn’t think it wasn’t relevant to my career path.  I’ve always been a “self-taught” kind of person, diving into manuals and product guides and white papers and documents of similar like.  With the advent of digital and file-based workflows, I began to wonder what groups like this could offer in the present day market.

I can say with humbleness, that I was completely wrong.

Applause to the local leadership group of this organization for taking an aggressive and welcomed approach to bring both education and focused direction on the file-based issues that we’re all faced with on a day to day basis.

From the meeting description:

“This full evening of important content is intended to be preparation for a follow up meeting that local SBE Chapter officers are calling a “File Summit”, at which we hope to get all of the stations in the region and much of the production community to participate in an interactive meeting aimed at smoothing the workflow which ultimately delivers content to stations.  SBE, as a neutral party, is uniquely prepared to help all parties arrive at common practices which will produce both more efficient workflow and superior quality in locally aired programs and commercials.”

Not only is this welcome, but it’s also needed.  While working with files instead of tape has made many aspects of our lives easier, it’s also opened up an avalanche of new issues with the complexity and differences in the types of files we all work with as we try to interact and share footage with each other.  The days of “just dump it onto Betacam for me” are gone, and they aren’t coming back.

That doesn’t mean we can’t find new standards to base our interchange on.  That’s precisely what SBE 20 is trying to accomplish with this series.

John Luff gave a good tutorial on the basics of file types and metadata.  I always enjoy hearing John speak because I always find myself coming away with some new little nugget of knowledge or looking at something from a slightly different perspective.   Sometimes you just need someone to turn your eyes one degree and it makes a big difference.

Ed Fraticelli from Production Masters also spoke and gave some real world examples of what they deal with at PMI every day.  It was very eye opening to see how Ed encounters and deals with some of the same issues we face at the Penguins every day.  Almost laughable.  Almost.

Snapshot of Pittsburgh Penguins workflow

Karl Paulsen, senior engineer at Diversified Systems, talked a bit about our setup here at Consol Energy Center.  He hit specifically on “ad hoc” workflows and “media aware” workflows. I think I heard a collective gasp from the audience when Karl threw up this slide, which gives a pretty decent look at our overall workflow.  If you were there and heard sobs, that would have been me in the corner.

In a wicked and ironic twist, as I finally had a chance to talk about this stuff in front of a group who could understand what I said, I made my short presentation as devoid of technical detail as I could.  Rather, I talked about what I learned on the projects, the obstacles I encountered, and the mistakes I made.

Yes, hard to believe I made some mistakes.  Probably averaged one a week.  Most were easily fixed, one however was not.  You see, I got fixated so much on the technology that I forgot one thing – the users.  Not in the sense that nearly everything I worked to implement wasn’t based on their workflow, because it was.

Exactly

Where I erred was that I assumed that they would be as deep into the technology as I was.  For some unknown reason, I expected them to be able to catch in on a few weeks/months what had taken me over a year to learn.  When we introduced it to them them, it was as should have been expected, overwhelming. Couple that with some integration delays we had while we were figuring out the network with the physical move from Mellon to Consol, and my timeline, as should have been expected, was delayed.  This is a group that has done an amazing job with the overall transition from facilities.  Heck, they produced an overwhelming amount of content before they even had their desks.  We have a powerful network, a great media-asset management system from Dalet, and good resources to tap. We make strides every day and we’ll get there, it’s just taking a little longer than I expected.  That’s on me.

Bottom line, you can have all the proper technology, procedures, and workflows in place, but if it’s just a spreadsheet full of latin to your end users, you fail.  Which is why I’m so keyed up about what SBE is looking to do here locally, and why I’ll be happy to join the organization and participate in the festivities.

Exhale

Team on the road, some of us are finally able to take a slight break from the action and get some well-earned time off.  For me it’s been nice to get out of the work mindset, get some things done around the house and enjoy my family.

But work goes on:

Opening for dasher cams about to get 2x as wide

- Over the weekend the windows for the dasher cameras will be widened by about 10 inches each.  This will give a little more of an opportunity to try to work a “speed shot” in on the camera. Honestly, the original intention of the cameras was to shoot between whistles and get the occasional isolated puck carrier, but we think by widening the dasher cuts we might be able to cut it in a little better during live game.

- Really focusing myself on our file-based workflow.  This is the central most important thing in our entire technical operations.  Everything we do interacts in this world, and it’s finally time to turn my attention 100 percent in that direction.

- Continue to tweak the PA system.  Appreciate all of the comments (letting us know your section really helps) that we’ve been getting on the sound levels.  Keep them coming.

Been hearing some people having issues with the WIFI at the building.  Folks, the wifi coverage at Consol is probably better and more comprehensive than any indoor arena.  Would love to hear some specifics on issues – connecting to the Pensmobile SSID? Not getting a DHCP address? Not able to get a stream going? Feel free to shoot any specific issues to cdevivo@gmail.com and I’ll be happy to pass them on to both Yinzcam and our Director of IT.  Heck, send your MAC address to me and we’ll monitor what you’re doing at the game.  For the record, we have over 240 access points in the building, with 98 of them in the bowl.

How my technical discussions normally go.

Got to host the Pittsburgh chapter of SBE and SMPTE at the arena on Wednesday.  In an ironic twist, I was finally in a forum where the majority of the room would know what I was talking about, and my 10 minute presentation contained nearly 0 technical specifics. It was certainly a chance to change the normal  tech-related conversations I have with the non-propeller heads.

Figures.

A Title Would Be Nice

My favorite sign is back.

With the dreaded opening week finished, it felt good to come into the office today and be able to start focusing on improvements and tweaks rather than the mad rush to get ready for opening night and the dreaded first “three feed” on Saturday.

Overall things went very well, much better than I expected.  I heard some of the horror stories of other recent arena openings and to be honest I think we had one of the smoothest openings in recent history.

However, that feeling did nothing to improve my mood Saturday night.  It took everything within my power to not post a rant post, because to be honest this building has got the better of me recently.  It’s an advanced and powerful facility, and with that comes a big amount of configuration, unexpected and undocumented “features”, and headaches.  As I stood in the parking lot where the TV trucks were after the puck dropped, i just wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, “Can’t anything in this frickin building be easy?!”

At any rate, a good night’s sleep and extended nap on Sunday restored me.  Onward and upward.

Couple things off Twitter the past few days, and some not.

The only thing bigger than DJ PO’s
backstage monitor is his stardom.

- Yep, we noticed the bottom end mud in the sound system at the game.  Met with my sound engineer today (the famous Brian Duffy) and had a long discussion on type of music played vs. sound pressure levels.  He already had his own thoughts and was taking out a little bottom end and making some adjustments to the mid ranges for Wednesday

- Don’t ask me to comment on the laser sound effects, the music , Ryan Mill, or the amount of sponsorship.  Not my department, and frankly I put myself and this blog/twitter account if I cross that line and join in on a bash of the team.  I’m sure your employers would probably feel the same.  That being said, some of it was sidesplitting, regardless if I agree or disagree. ;)

- Away from the negative stuff, I want to give a shout out to the game presentation crew that made some absolutely beautiful video and graphics for the first few games.  While we were sleeping, they were plugging away with several sleepless nights trying to get everything up and running.  Some of the stuff was just stunning, and really makes me feel glad that we now have a scoreboard that can show their art off a little better.

- Cell phone service sucks out loud, yep.  We are installing a distributed antennae system which will boost all major carriers.  Give it a few weeks, I think they started installing it this week.

- Wifi is underutilized at this point.  If you are having trouble with @yinzcam, send them a tweet.

- Dasher cam is getting better.  Hoping to try it at center ice position on Wednesday.    Overhead cam got a lot of use from CBC, FSN, and RDS on Saturday.  Second dasher cam in time for Friday I hope so we can have both running.

Buries it.

- I walk around this building for miles every day and still have missed some of the nuances.  On the suite level PNC has these “Legends” displays around level 4.  I always noticed one of the Stanley Cup win that had a blackberry in it, but never looked close to see what was on it.  To quote the Pensblog jobbers, “buries it”.

- Anyone catch the outside the locker room shots before the team took the ice.  Perfect example of how this facility was designed to give you guys better looks.  Thought it was such a cool shot to see compared to Mellon where we had to cross our fingers and hope to get lucky.

- Note to self:   When you get an email from the IT Director saying “we have to reset the switches”, be damn sure that you pass the message along to everyone.  I was half asleep when I read the message last Friday, didn’t let the ramifications sink in, and didn’t warn any of my guys.  My mistake took down 25 percent of the TV’s and most of our Dalet stuff that they had worked so hard on the week before to get right.

- @emptynetters Seth has had spectacular WIFI the last few games

- Word off the street is that FSN Pittsburgh will have the “Super Slo Mo” camera in action all season.  Can’t wait to steal it on an off day.

I’ve already posted more in October than I did in each of September and August.  Hope it’s a good trend.

Later!

Mid-Day Report

Oh, the humanity!

Ok, I’m exaggerating, it’s nowhere near that bad.  But the 3-feed is total mayhem as expected.  Just people trying to figure out where to hook up, who is sharing which camera, etc.  It’s nuts.

As much pre scouting that you do, it’s all different when there’s two other networks cramming into the same space and trying to access the panels.

Consol Energy Center truck interconnect room.

Everyone is very happy with the connectivity, both amount and location.  It’s still growing pains figuring out where everything is though.

All three networks are taking dasher cam and center scoreboard robotic. Hopefully we can get it kicking good tonight.

Still have to check on all of our house stuff, and heading out to do that now.  One of my big tests tonight is NHL Center Ice.  We have bought a stadium subscription and should be able to put it on the in house network.  We’ll see.

Fingers crossed.

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