Monday, December 31, 2007

TripAdvisor

I occasionally peruse a web site called TripAdvisor.com. It's a pretty useful site, because beyond the usual boilerplate platitudes, TripAdvisor allows users to post their own reviews. When I'm hunting down a decent business hotel in Vienna or a tasty plate of fajitas in San Francisco, I read through 15 or 20 TripAdvisor reviews of a potential find, throw out the two or three most glowing, throw out the two or three most vitriolic, and I'm left with a feel for a given place that's proved fairly reliable

It's odd how some travelers are so inexperienced that something like nice mints on a pillow can rose-color their entire view of a entire city, yet others have such an overdeveloped sense of entitlement that anything short of unlimited free blowjobs from the well-dressed hotties at the hotel front desk causes them to trash a hotel in their reviews, and sometimes even the city it's in.

As for myself, I'm so jaded that it takes a really genuine horrendous experience for me to trash a place, and conversely, it takes a lot for me to gush over something travel-related. I expect very little, and I've pretty much seen it all, so I try to keep an even keel and shrug off lumpy beds or musty-smelling rooms or noisy elevators.

Still, I was in stitches reading this gem from TripAdvisor:

TripAdvisor Furnishes Funniest Traveler Comments of 2007

As Heard On TripAdvisor, Ten Priceless Posts

NEEDHAM, Mass., Dec. 26 /PRNewswire/ -- TripAdvisor®, the world's largest travel community, today announced the ten funniest traveler posts of 2007, as chosen by TripAdvisor editors. Many of these gems and more can be found on our humor blog, http://tripadvisor.typepad.com/.

  1. Not So Great Expectations
"I could have done without the blood-stained mattress
and the (actual) chunk of poop on my bedspread, but I
didn't expect the Hilton."

2. Rest in Peace
"I spent the night in the (hotel) room and experienced
a friendly spirit. This presence got into bed with me,
an old lady, she was nice and I just patted her on the
head and we had a comfortable restful sleep. I think
I will ask for a different room next time."

3. Mime Over Matter
"The neighborhood is filled with aggressive mimes,
including one sitting on a toilet bowl (how creative).
Room cards are changed for no reason and you cannot
understand why you can't get into your room. All
in all it was a very unpleasant stay."

4. Deep Thoughts
"Time could be spent pondering over the meaning
of some of the many safety signs around the complex.
Out of the several we managed to identify, the
two we found to be of greatest use were

1. Not to step on any crocodiles whilst bare foot
2. No ugly, or spotty children to frequent the pool."

5. Is That Really What You Meant?
"I echo the sentiments of the previous reviewer.
The ambience is lacking to be sure, but the food
is like angels copulating on your tongue."

6. Freezing Over
"Sleeping in the street during a blizzard would
be better than staying at this hell-hole. The
place should be imploded."

7. No Accounting for Taste
"Subject: Crab Trap Restaurant. We enjoyed
our experience at the Crap Trap. The food
is very good with nice size portions and
reasonable prices (especially for the shore).
The only down side is the wait."

8. A Sore for Sight Eyes
"Food not special, and the couple that
lives there with their dog is very
'homey' and 'folksy' types. Not for
everyone. The premises are well kept,
but some private parts we could see
thru open door were not."

9. Leave It to Beaver
"Imagine awakening at 4:00 am to the
sound of loud footsteps in the stairwell,
only to realize that someone is drunk
and knocking on your hotel door saying,
'Beaver...it's me. Let me in, Beaver.'"

10. The Last Laugh
"In fact, I told the management there that
I was putting a review on your website about
their poor service and they laughed at me
and said go right ahead, nobody reads the
TripAdvisor site."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The FIS-piss Tree Lives!


One year later, hanging tough. Enough said.

To anybody from FIS reading this blog (except for Mike K): FUCK OFF, EH!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

It's Ski Racing Season . . . .



And you can certainly tell it's ski racing season from these photos, snapped yesterday, of Beaver Creek. First forerunner in 8 days.

I'm in Lake Louise, Alberta, where the conditions are better . . . but not that much better. First forerunner in LL is scheduled for 3 days from now, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Stay tuned.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Garbage, Anyone?



Nothing says "Welcome To The US Open" better - metaphorically speaking - than a big pile of garbage, a $14 parking fee, and somebody screaming at you with a bullhorn.

WELCOME TO THE MOTHERF%%%%%G US OPEN!!!!!!



Just in case you're not happy to be here, this friendly crew will remind you, through their bullhorns, that you are WELCOME TO THE US OPEN

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Reason #1 / Top 10 Reasons Why the US Open Is The Worst Annual Major Sporting Event in the World

1. Exhaustion. Even if it were managed magnificently, there is no other tennis event as exhausting as the US Open. If you fire all the numbskulls making this behemoth wobble down the road like a fat-assed $20 whore, and put a superbly competent tournament manager (such as Mike Davies of ATP - Los Angeles) in charge, we'd all still stagger out of here after four weeks of this torture with glassy eyes, aching backs, and scrambled brains.


For example......qualifying. This US Open site is such a pile of shit that there are only 13 courts available for qualifying. That's not enough. At all the other Grand Slams, at least 20 courts (sometimes 30) are used to bang out qualifying in some reasonable, humane fashion. Here, the site doesn't contain enough courts, so the USTA compensates by installing excellent lights on every court and running qualifying almost around the clock. With perfect weather, the planned schedule of play is merely awful, starting at 11AM and running to about midnight. A couple hours of rain sends qualifying into a cascading multi-day catastrophic tailspin which leaves everybody - players, referees, ballboys, infrastructure - exhausted before the tournament has even begun. On Wednesday, for example, matches began at 10AM (an hour earlier due to rain), and when I left around midnight, there were still 8 matches going on. Play would have ended well past 1AM, but it rained (again) and the last matches were suspended just after I left. So Thursday there were matches scheduled SEVEN DEEP on many courts, again starting at 10AM. Infrastructure people have to show up about 90-120 minutes before play begins to power up scoreboards, set up laptops, etc. So on Wednesday we had crew (like myself) who were onsite by around 8, worked until midnight, then had to be back here around 8AM. Two consecutive 16-hour days.


Imagine how much this sucks for the players, too. A lot of these qualifiers work all year with a goal of playing qualies for the US Open. When their chance finally comes, they walk oncourt at 11:30PM on a cold, drizzly night in front of zero spectators and play until 1AM.


From the moment you get off the #7 subway and walk across the passarelle toward the site, people are screaming at you with bullhorns, herding the crowd like cattle. Smartass that I am, I usually walk right next to the bullhorn dumbasses and let out a “mooooooooooooooo”. At least twice, before I get to my office inside the stadium, a tattooed, dullard street urchin in a yellow shirt scans my credential and rummages through my computer bag. Invariably, some incompetent Barney Fife erroneously tells me I'm walking through the wrong gate or transgressing some rule which (a) I'm not violating anyway and (b) he does not understand because he is a fucking dipshit moron who never graduated high school. This morning, for example, some big fat dumbass in a red SUPERVISOR shirt stopped me and stared at my credential for a full 10 seconds before he allowed me to continue along ON THE SIDEWALK OUTSIDE THE STADIUM.


Much of this bounces back to the mistake USTA made in the late 1990s by not moving the US Open out of NY, and in keeping it here, failing to negotiate a decent lease with the Borough of Queens. When Arthur Ashe Stadium was being planned, a lot of cities around the US were offering to build the USTA whatever stadiums and sites they wanted if the USTA would move the tournament. Atlanta, for example, was offering to donate the 1996 Olympic site for free, and throw in whatever new stadiums and improvements USTA desired. But the USTA is run by volunteers, and their incompetence and inexperience resulted in the US Open staying in the NY slums at a terrible site. There's simply not enough room for more courts, and this mis-management cascades down the line to everyone and everything involved. Thus, you have a major reason why the US Open blows.


The US Open, according to Arlen Kantarian (former manager of The Rockettes, who somehow bizarrely managed to wind up as Tournament Director of the US Open), the US Open brings $1 BILLION into the NYC economy. I don't doubt that figure is close to the reality. Even the NBA Finals and the World Series don't fill stadiums twice a day for two weeks, they aren't televised in 190 countries, and people don't fly in from Uzbekistan, Siberia, and Tonga to watch the Super Bowl in person as is done for the US Open (people from Uzbekistan, Siberia, and Tonga have never even HEARD of American football). So why is the tournament run on this crappy little site? If the volunteer executives at the USTA had half a brain, they would have proposed the following deal:


Either hold the US Open in Central Park (in temporary stadiums), or move it out of New York City.


I personally would like to see the US Open do the same thing as the US Golf Open, which is rotate amongst 6 or 7 sites around the US, spreading golf like Johnny Appleseed across the country. I would guess, knowing the world of professional sports as intimately as I do, there are at least 20 or 25 cities which would bid on the US Open immediately. The Home Depot Center in Carson, California, for example would be an excellent candidate for a site, but the reality of the matter is that you could hold the US Open on the runway at DFW or in the parking lot at Caesar's Palace if you wanted to, such is the state of the art of temporary grandstands, temporary cabling, mobile TV trucks, and so forth. Just look at Augusta National; 51 weeks a year it's the world's most beautiful golf club. Hell, an enormously successful World Swimming Championships was staged in a parking lot in Long Beach, California, using temporary pools. This year, the swimming Worlds was held in Rod Laver Arena at the Australian Open site in Melbourne! Investing $270 million in a poorly-designed stadium was a typical USTA fuckup. Not only are no other events other than the US Open played here, The Open would be a better tournament if the US Open wasn't played here, either.


Friday, August 24, 2007

Reason #2 / Top 10 Reasons Why the US Open Is The Worst Annual Major Sporting Event in the World

2. John McEnroe. Believe it or not, McEnroe is a bigger loudmouth douchebag now than when he was a player. As a commentator for CBS and through his involvement with American Express and Heineken, McEnroe The Douchebag is more omnipresent at the US Open than most current players. For some inexplicable reason, companies with REALLY inept and stupid marketing people still think he's both relevant and a good investment toward getting people to use their products.


Obviously, American Express is stuck for ideas. This is the American Express which featured Laird Hamilton in an ad campaign, the same Laird Hamilton who is known as “The Paris Hilton of Sports” because not only has Hamilton never won any competitions, Hamilton has never even ENTERED any competitions. Hamilton is famous for being famous, nothing more. Hamilton is much like the sad Jean-Claude Van Damme, who declared himself the “undisputed world leader in martial arts” despite never having been considered anything more than a “promising prospect” based on his very thin fight resume. Hamilton is also reviled among Hawai'ians (a very family-oriented people) because in 1995 he walked out on his wife and child for no other reason other than finding a better deal in Gabrielle Reece, a pro volleyball player, now his current wife. Reece's media machine subsequently worked the same magic with Hamilton as they had done with her; Reece's very thin beach volleyball resume has been worked into stardom by her “people”, who eventually did the same for Hamilton.


McEnroe's most poignant contribution to recent US Opens was being seen and heard screaming “GO SUCK MY DICK” to a CBS producer requesting McEnroe's presence in a production meeting. He screamed this while sitting on a couch with his own elderly parents. This incident, witnessed by a colleague of mine (Alex B.), has become as legendary, behind the scenes, as his “oh fuck, you can't be serious, man YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS!” tirade at Wimbledon and his “You fucking French frog faggot” tirade at Roland Garros. If McEnroe would just fade away into obscurity, the world in general, and the US Open in particular, would be a slightly better place.


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Reason #3 / Top 10 Reasons Why the US Open Is The Worst Annual Major Sporting Event in the World

3. Inconvenience. As stated previously, the US Open site is in the middle of a dreadful slum in Queens. Queens is such an armpit that Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith joked about it in the movie Men In Black. There are no decent hotels in Queens, so the players, staff, and contractors have to stay downtown in Manhattan. Players schlep out to the site every day in big Greyhound-like buses. Seeded players can get a ride in a tournament car. At any other of the Grand Slam tournaments, anyone with a credential can get a ride in the tournament cars, as long as they're on official business. But not at the US Hopeless. At the US Open, the car transportation is run by a guy whose job 50 weeks a year is interviewing interns at the USTA office in White Plains. I doubt he's ever even seen a tennis tournament other than the US Open. Maybe on TV.


A few tournament contractors (like me) and a few tournament players choose to stay at the crappy hotels in Queens, just to avoid the exhausting daily commute from the city. The referee staff, for example, who are often the last to leave the site at night, stay at the Crowne Plaza La Guardia, which isn't too bad a place, as long as you do not go outside the hotel unarmed. A bunch of the food & beverage workers stay at the Holiday Inn at Shea, which symbolically and ironically was built as a NY State insane asylum in the 50s, then fell into disrepair, was condemned & abandoned, and finally was bought up and renovated by Ramada in the mid-1990s.


Check out the movie “Kiss of Death”, with David Caruso and Nicholas Cage. It's about an ex-con who lives in the slums of New York, who is trying to rise above his wretched surroundings, go straight, and make a life for himself and his family. It was filmed across the street from the US Open site. The producers wanted a hopeless, lifeless, polluted, noisy, awful place, so they filmed it across the street from the US Open stadium.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Reason #4 / Top 10 Reasons Why the US Open Is The Worst Annual Major Sporting Event in the World

4. Attitude: Just like The Olympics: total arrogance. Mantra:”We are the US Open, you are lucky we even give you a credential to work here, you can easily be replaced, so shut the fuck up and walk the long way around the stadium 50 times a day because NO, we will not give you access to the correct hallways. Oh, and in case you're wondering, the answer to any other question or any other request you may have in attempting to make your three weeks at the US Open a little less miserable is NO”.

The biggest incompetent asshole, with the worst attitude, I ever encountered at the US Open was a big fat sweaty slob named Ezra Kucharz, the USTA's self-proclaimed “Director of Advanced Media”. A douchebag extraordinaire. The douchebag's douchebag. Ezra is long gone, and his job was so important - and he did it so well - that the USTA never even bothered filling it after he left. In one of the funniest incidents I can remember in my professional career, Kucharz waddled his fat ass into The Batcave and started screaming a spittle-mouthed rage at our Project Manager about a mixup, for which Ezra blamed me. He cursed me up and down, accused me of insubordination and sabotage, blah blah blah. The PM, a guy named Andy D., who is a very laid-back and cool-headed character, let Ezra blow himself out, perhaps hoping Ezra would pop a gasket and drop dead right on the Batcave floor. Ezra didn't keel over as Andy had hoped, but at the end of Ezra's rant, with Ezra standing there all red-faced, sweating and panting, Andy deadpanned “Well that's all fine, except the guy you're accusing (me) left New York 3 days ago. He was in Egypt, doing another project in a different sport, when all this happened”.


Note to Chris S: If I see Ezra, I'll be sure to tell him you're still waiting for him to return your call. From 2003.

Reason #5 / Top 10 Reasons Why the US Open Is The Worst Annual Major Sporting Event in the World

5. Incompetence. The USTA has a precious few full-time, professional tennis management and officiating people whose year-round job is to run tennis tournaments. Most are competent, some are outstanding, a few suck. No names will be named here, as one of them may stumble across this blog. Wouldn't want to offend anyone. During the Open, the USTA pulls dozens of people out of their White Plains office whose ordinary job is, say, running the shipping department, and put them into jobs at The Open for which they have absolutely no qualifications and no abilities. The ensuing chaos, caused by pure incompetence, ignorance, and arrogance, can be entertaining.

A good (and rare at the US Open) example of a full-time professional doing a great job at something for which she has the training & experience is Tina T., who runs the kids' tennis program year-round here at the Billie Jean King USTA National Tennis Center. During the US Open, she runs ballboy operations. All year long, she deals with kids and tennis. During the US Open, she deals with kids and tennis. Imagine the logic there. She actually knows what she's doing during the tournament because it's the same thing she does all year long. It's amazing the USTA hasn't assigned her to . . . oh I don't know . . . driving a forklift during the US Open. Then the next typical step would be for the USTA geniuses to assign the guy in charge of office supplies at the White Plains office to head up the ballkids.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

US Open - Is It F%%ked?


Flow chart of the US Open. Sent to me by my sister, who knows quite well just how f%%ked the US Open really is.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Reason #6 / Top 10 Reasons Why the US Open Is The Worst Annual Major Sporting Event in the World

6. The facilities people here do exactly one event a year - the US Open. Few of them have the slightest idea of what it's like to run a huge professional sporting event other than the US Open, and they are unwilling to learn, to listen, or to get off their fat asses to wander around and observe and learn, so they make the same mistakes over and over and over again. Every year. Year after year. Same shit, different year. Nothing ever gets better at the US Open, it only gets worse. The wheel gets re-invented 10,000,000 times over. Every year. Year after year.


There is one exception. The few people at the US Open on the “tennis side” (i.e. who know something about actual tennis) cut out most of the “old farts” exhibition events within the past few years and replaced them with wheelchair events. It's a disgrace and an embarrassment to have middle-aged guys with flabby middles and middle-aged women with cottage-cheese thighs limping around a tennis court at the US Open, regardless of the fact that they may have won some matches here in the 1970's. The wheelies, on the other hand, actually train and practice. The wheelies are an inspiration to many.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

We Interrupt This Foaming-Mouthed Rant For A Brief Humour Break


Only a true geek can appreciate the tailgate of NCP's new HD truck. See if you pass the test.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Reason #7 / Top 10 Reasons Why the US Open Is The Worst Annual Major Sporting Event in the World

7. Abominable security. Because the facility is located in the middle of a dreadful slum, the security “guards” the USTA hires look, act, and speak in a manner which makes pre-TSA airport screeners seem like Oxford graduates in contrast. They do a terrible job, while treating everybody who works in the stadium and the paying fans like they're members of The Crips. In the meantime, equipment vanishes by the cartload (My outfit once lost 15 laptops in one night). Every morning, I show up at the gate to have some skeevy-looking ex-convict with a shaved head, tattoos, and glassy eyes rummage through my knapsack, pawing my sandwich, my bottle of iced tea, and my Wall Street Journal. NOTE: I have read the Wall St Journal daily since I was a teenager. Now that Murdoch has bought the Wall St Journal, I will never read it again. Why bother? I could, in theory, watch the Faux News Channel for free, but I never do because they do not broadcast actual news.

New York Times, anyone?

The absurdly bad security at the US Open - and the absurdly incompetent street urchins who are employed to implement it - reminds me of an interview I saw on an American talk show about a year ago. The interviewer asked his guest, the head of security for El Al, why security at the US airports is so awful, so unnecessarily time-consuming, and so utterly ineffective. The Israeli's chilling reply: “because in Israel we look for terrorists, in the US you look for nail clippers”.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Reason #8 / Top 10 Reasons Why the US Open Is The Worst Annual Major Sporting Event in the World

8. 25,000 seats in the main stadium, approximately 2,500 staff, approximately 4,000 media, and .... about 100 parking spaces. Do the math. Employees and contractors schlepping hundreds of people and tons of equipment in and out of the site every day have to park almost a mile away under a trash-riddled highway underpass, and hoof it to the stadium. Really fun, and even MORE fun when it's raining.

Some days there is parking available for lowly ticketholders over at Shea Stadium (about a half-mile walk), but if the Mets are in town, there is little to no parking for them, either. If the Mets are having a good year (they are currently leading the NL East by 4 games), then repeat after me . . . “youze guyz want pahking? Fuhgeddaboudit!!”

Reason #9 / Top 10 Reasons Why the US Open Is The Worst Annual Major Sporting Event in the World

9. Because the USTA “negotiated” such a terrible lease with the Borough of Queens, the USTA is only allowed to use their own facility for major events a few days per year. Each US Open, the facilities have to be shined up, repainted, and the entire infrastructure re-installed and brought up from scratch, since the place has been sitting there, decaying, for 49 weeks since the last US Open. Efforts by some of the professional staff at USTA to - for example - move the Pro Circuits Office to Flushing for the entire summer (so at least the goddam phones would work when people start arriving for the tournament) have been blocked by the Borough of Queens and the terms of the lease.

The chaos brought about by the crumbling infrastructure is mind-boggling. With matches oncourt, there is landscaping going on, the floors are being painted, there are miles of wire being run, workmen are screaming at each other, power tools are screeching, there are ladders, cranes, and snorkel lifts in the hallways and on the walkways between the courts. The entire site should be declared a hard-hat zone through qualifying and the first week of the tournament, but I'm guessing the local fire marshal and assorted local officials have been paid off, and are all driving new BMWs.

Rudy Giuliani's predecessor, David Dinkins, loved tennis and was instrumental in getting the USTA/Borough of Queens lease done. Dinkins doesn't realize the damage he caused to the US Open and to American tennis by keeping it in the shithole of Flushing, Queens. When Giuliani took office, he vowed to investigate the lease and have it set aside if he found any hanky-panky. Giuliani never followed through, thus setting American tennis back decades. No WONDER there are currently exactly two Americans in the mens Top 50.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Reason #10 / Top 10 Reasons Why the US Open Is The Worst Annual Major Sporting Event in the World

10. The stadiums are awful. USTA spent $270 million on Arthur Ashe Stadium. It was obsolete before it was built, it's in the middle of one of the worst slums in New York City, the sight lines are awful, it leaks like a sieve, and it is directly under the flight path for not one but two of the busiest airports in the world (La Guardia and JFK). Louis Armstrong stadium and The Grandstand were built in the 1950s, and they weren't even built as tennis stadiums (the Armstrong/Grandstand complex was originally called The Singer Bowl and was built as a concert venue for the World's Fair), so the crowd flows are downright dangerous, the whole complex is an armpit, and the place is falling apart.


There is no roof - retractable or otherwise - on Arthur Ashe stadium, which forces the entire event into chaos when the weather is bad.


In contrast, the Australian Open facility in Melbourne Park is the best tennis facility in the world, it has TWO stadiums with convertible roofs (Rod Laver Arena & Vodafone Arena), a top-notch corporate hospitality / convention center, and the entire facility was built for less than $80 million. Working at the Australian Open, which I have done every January since 1992, is a treat. Working at the US Open, which I have done every August since 1988, is torture.


Top 10 Reasons Why the US Open Is The Worst Annual Major Sporting Event in the World

Well, here I am, back at the US Hopeless. Again. Right now, this list is a Top 10, but I am going to publish them one or two at a time over a period of days, so it may turn out ultimately to be more than 10, because in a week there will surely be additional things that piss me off. And you know what they say:


“You don't tug on Superman's Cape

You don't spit into the wind

You don't pull that mask off the Lone Ranger

and you don't piss off The Skunk”.


Or something like that.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

NASCAR Pit Crew Challenge



















Once a year, I get to parachute into NASCAR world for a week.

It's a blast.

This past week was my NASCAR adventure for 2007, as the NASCAR Pit Crew Challenge was once again staged successfully (with Timing & Scoring by Skunkware) at Bobcats Arena in Charlotte.

A little background.....

Two years ago, I picked up the telephone one day and a guy named Jay Howard was on the other end. He'd been referred to me by David Hoots, head of Timing & Scoring for NASCAR, who knows Skunkware from the days when I produced the timing & TV graphics for Winston Cup Pole Night. Jay has since proven to be one of the more brilliant and engaging characters I've met in my odysssey through the world of international sports.

Check out Jay's web site sometime (www.gojhe.com). His company, JHE Productions, is in the extravaganza-staging business. Let's suppose you're the NFL and you've signed Paul McCartney to play two songs at your halftime show. You need to find a company who can erect staging, sound, and lights powerful enough to showcase Sir Paul to 100,000 people . . . . in 5 minutes. And then strike everything in 3 minutes.

Who could you possibly call to stage this kind of high-stakes Chinese Fire Drill?

Jay Howard.

JHE does this sort of thing every weekend, mostly at NASCAR and IRL races. JHE has the muscle, the money, the talent, and the experience to do this sort of thing in a controlled frenzy without anybody getting hurt and without anybody outside the production knowing just how difficult it really is.

Trust me on this . . . it's fucking difficult.

The one thing I can't figure out is how Jay gets insurance.

Anyway, Jay had this brilliant idea: to take NASCAR's pit crew contest, held every year at NASCAR's equivalent of the all-star game, and bump it up by several levels. Take it away from the lube-and-tire-smoke environment of Lowe's Motor Speedway, put it in a more intimate, downtown indoor venue where the fans could really see how pit stops are accomplished, and showcase this little-known aspect of NASCAR racing. Normally, pit crews are anonymous other than when they screw up. But the PCC gives them all their once-a-year chance to shine. The winners make significant cash.

Most people, even many at NASCAR, thought he was nuts.

Further complicating Jay's vision was the fact that NASCAR's 80-strong timing & scoring department had neither the expertise nor any interest in developing a custom, one-off timing system for something so complicated.

When I first talked to Jay, figuring out how to time the damn contest was his biggest obstacle, other than getting approval from a skeptical NASCAR. After 20 minutes on the phone, I apparently convinced him that Skunkware was his solution, most likely because I was the only guy to whom he'd spoken who could figure out what the hell he was talking about.

The rules are basically like running a downhill ski race, with 8 intermediates, on a course 20 seconds long. In other words, utter chaos, action too fast to follow with the naked eye. Thus, it falls squarely in the middle of my main area of expertise: mission-critical software controlling scoring, timing, & TV graphics systems designed to make sense out of chaos too frenzied to possibly be handled by humans (no matter how many), or even by existing off-the-shelf timing & scoring systems.

The first year's contest (2005), was simply to show NASCAR officials and NASCAR teams the concept. JHE didn't advertise at all, they really didn't want big crowds just in case some aspect of the contest went pear-shaped. All the brass at NASCAR (President Mike Helton, VP Robin Pemberton, etc) showed up to see if JHE could pull it off and what, in fact, Jay had been talking about.

It went great. Way better than anyone expected - possibly even Jay himself.

In 2006, the contest moved from the obsolete Charlotte Collisseum (home of the defunct NBA Charlotte Hornets) to Bobcats Arena, home of the NBA Bobcats, and a high-tech showcase. This was REALLY up my alley, because Bobcats Arena is a huge Daktronics installation. I do consulting work for Daktronics all over the world, and I probably know more about making Daktronics scoreboards dance than anybody, except for the few people at Daktronics who actually design the stuff.

The 2006 contest was way better.

This year, I spent a bunch of money on my timing infrastructure for the PCC because it's clearly here to stay. I upgraded a bunch of stuff to super-high-quality electronics and wiring, because it's a nerve-wracking two hours and I need to know human error is the only thing I need to worry about. Key to my peace of mind was a World Cup Blinky Box (www.TheTimingGuys.com), which I helped my good friend and colleague Jim Karnes to design and finance.

The 2007 contest was the best year yet. The lower bowl of Bobcats Arena sold out, and the teams are really getting into it. This year most of the drivers showed up to support their crews, including such heavy hitters as Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Jarrett, and Mark Martin. Kyle Busch not only showed up, he actually drove the push-car in the contest (usually a small, light crew member is recruited to do this).

After the contest was over, Jay took me aside to tell me about improvements already in store for next year. Those improvements are not for public consumption yet, so I will not elaborate in this space, but 2008 is going to be bigger and better. Make your reservations now to visit Charlotte during All-Star week 2008.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Living in Hawai'i

It blows the minds of a lot of people when I tell them I live in Hawai'i. I'm amazed to find otherwise worldly people who simply can't fathom anybody actually living here. As much as I'm here, that is. I still spend approximately half of each year living in a hotel room somewhere.

A lot of people save their pennies for years to come out here for a week or two. For many, a brief visit to Hawai'i is the trip of a lifetime.

But....trust me on this....there are drawbacks. Sure, we enjoy perfect weather, amazing watersports, huge mountains right next to the ocean, daily rainbows, it seems idealic. But some things about living in Hawai'i just plain suck. To wit:

1) There is essentially no medical care, essentially no (competent) police force, essentially no civil services (the roads suck, for example). I am continually amazed at how dumb and incompetent the average police officer is here. I'm continually amazed at how dumb and incompetent the county government is, the retail workers, the technical workers. Maui is a banana republic. There are landed gentry and there are people who dig ditches, but very few classes in between.

2) It takes a minimum of 5 hours to fly anywhere.

3) There are a disproportionate percentage of dumb people here, and a disproportionate number of flakes. I call the latter "crystal danglers". I call the former "dumbshits".

4) There are very few restaurants serving decent food at reasonable prices. Sure, it's easy to find a great meal if you want to drop $150 for two people at Roys, Hali'imaille General Store, or Mama's Fish House. Probably THE ONLY thing I miss about the years I lived in West Palm Beach is 50 great restaurants within 20 minutes of my house, where a great meal for two could be had for $35. Including tip.

5) Tourists must leave their brains at home when they go on vacation. They dress like idiots, they drive like idiots, they act like idiots. I see them pulled over on Old Halekala Highway when I'm driving home, taking photos of horses or cows. What's the matter, Marge, there aren't any cows back home in South Dakota?

I'm told the reason the Dumbshit-In-Chief, George Bush, was elected president (twice) is because smart people generally don't vote, and smart people generally do not realize that in between New York City and San Jose, there are 250 million people to whom dinner at Red Lobster represents a big night on the town.

The one good thing I can think of about George Bush being president is that if he wasn't, he and that vacuous Stepford Wife of his probably would be two of the dumbshits driving around Maui right now, looking for whales and swerving all over the road.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Ski Racing Heresy



On Saturday, I skied Beaver Creek for the first time since the 1999 World Alpine Championships. From the Larkspur chair, it looked like Birds of Prey had been groomed, so I took a trip down memory lane and headed up to the top of the race course.

I first discovered, thankfully, that the painfully slow race lift has since been replaced (in typical Beaver Creek style) with a high-speed quad, the "Birds of Prey Express".

What I discovered next was nauseating.

The first 25 seconds of North America's most ferocious, ass-kicking, rectum-puckering DH course has been turned into..... a terrain park.

That's right. The hallowed ground where Michey and Daron and Bode and Hermann have swallowed their fear and let 'em run . . . is now a playground for ramp monkeys.

Thus proving the end of the world is nigh.

With the utmost respect, I made my way carefully over The Brink on solid windblown ice (wearing randonee boots clicked into never-been-tuned 104 x 193 fat boys with edges as sharp as a ham sandwich) and discovered that Greg & crew froze the course so hard in November that basically not one flake of the 300 inches of snow that has fallen since World Cup has stuck to the course between the Mens Bad Weather Start and Pumphouse. That whole section is still the consistency of stainless steel, streaked the color of snowmaking dishwater.

Needless to say, there was nobody else up there with whom to share these thoughts. The Ramp Monkeys pull off to skier's right just before The Brink.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Long Beach, cont'd

The Courtyard Marriott in Long Beach gets a solid thumbs-up, four out of a possible five stars. Here's the breakdown:

Check-In: A-plus. Only 68 seconds elapsed between the moment I entered the lobby and the moment I exited, key in hand. No waiting line.

I timed the whole process on a Timy. I'm sending the audit tape to Francesco Cattaneo at F.I.S. tomorrow, along with a hot poker and instructions to shove both the timing tape and the hot poker up his useless Swiss ass.

Shower: A solid "B". Water pressure is fantastic. Nice big shower head, located overhead rather than the despised sternum-high location. The bowed-out curtain rod (for additional maneuvering room) was a nice touch. However, I never give a rating higher than a "B" for a shower that's built in a traditional-sized bathtub. The whole thing is too small. In order for a shower to earn an "A", it must be at least 5' X 5', and the shower head must be a minimum 6'4" off the floor, since I'm 6'2". If I can palm all four walls without moving my feet, the shower is too damn small.

I wonder if there is one shower in all of Europe that would rate an "A". The Euros may have designed the Airbus 380 and the Ariane rocket, but they have zero engineering expertise when it comes to shower technology. Perhaps that's why they all reek.

Morning Beverage Availability: A-plus. There's a local java place across the street. I got my usual half half-caff, half decaf, with a twist of lemon.

Just kidding. I don't like coffee. I drink tea.

Starbucks is about 6 blocks away, but I don't like Starbucks. Starbucks serves a brand of tea called "Tazo", which tastes like dirty socks. If I have no other choice, I'll go to Starbucks for tea, because at least the water is hot and clear. Nothing worse than drinking tea where the hot water is run through a coffee-maker, and tastes vaguely like coffee before you even insert your teabag. Bleccccch.

I always carry emergency backup teabags in my briefcase. Sometimes, like last night on the way out of Santa Clarita, you find yourself stuck at one of those huge gas station trucks stops, and they have nice clear hot water but a lousy selection of tea. I still have a bunch of TeeFix tea bags I bought in Kitzbuehel a few weeks ago in the pocket of my ski jacket, which I was wearing. Surprisingly, Austrians drink a lot of tea, and Austrian tea is damn good. So I bought a cup of hot water and used my own tea bag.

This season, my Precision Timing partner Ted Savage and I bought nifty red Spyder jackets for our FIS World Cup timing crew. I insisted on zip-off sleeves, which make the jackets a lot more useful (in my opinion). Well, before the Tour of California, I had worn mine maybe twice. During Lake Louise, the weather was too damn cold for a ski jacket (-37C!!) so I wore my coach's coat, and then during Kitzbuehel, it was 50 degrees and raining most of the time, so I mostly wore a raincoat. But since this gig started, I have worn my Spyder jacket, with sleeves zipped off, at least 12 hours a day, every day. It's pretty filthy, so on Monday night when I get home, that puppy is going into the washing machine. After I take a nice long hot shower in one of my squash-court sized showers, of course.

Long Beach: Which Marriott?

The Phoenix Sports crew had a group dinner tonight at California Pizza Kitchen in Long Beach. Naturally, the place was filled with biking people. Fred's friend Vincent, who is a mechanic for Discovery, came by the table and told us Hincapie fractured his wrist today. Instead of starting the crit tomorrow to protect Leipheimer's lead, Hincapie is going into surgery.

It was my turn to fuck up today. But I had some help.

All the American networks have a graphic "look", i.e. fonts and shells for their graphics which identify the network just in the way the graphics look. It is an extremely pretentious, extremely stupid, extremely wasteful, and uniquely American affectation. No other country in the world does it, and it's a waste of time and effort.

Versus (formerly OLN), which is televising the Tour of California, is no exception. They have a "look", and it is without a doubt one of the ugliest, most cluttered, schizophrenic, and dysfunctional graphic "looks" I've ever seen. It truly blows. But I'm sure there's some highly paid executive at Versus, with a shaved head, a goatee, an earring, and a $2500 Hugo Boss suit, who proudly claims credit for designing it.

The Versus "look" sometimes has as many as 4 different fonts on the same page. The athletes' first names and last names are in a different font, for example, which is dumb. And the graphics are way too big. If Jackson Pollack had gone into TV, he would have liked the Versus look.

Typically, for an event like this, a network would send me their shells a month or two in advance and make one of their design people available by phone for any questions. This is particularly true for timing graphics, as networks almost never have anything in their style guide for a sport-specific clock layout with time-to-beat, and so forth.

Well, the fuckwads at Versus sent me their shells & fonts - literally - the afternoon before the race started, and half the stuff wasn't even complete. Some intern at Versus got on the phone with me and apologized as she headed for the airport to start her weekend, and wished me luck. Gee, thanks.

Normally, I would have all the graphics software tested, approved, and burned to CD before I left home. But a week ago, there I was in the parking lot of the Rennaissance Hotel in Burlingame, holed up in a motor home, trying to make all the clock and standings graphics fit the Versus style guide for a race starting in about 12 hours.

Turns out one of the clueless knuckleheads at Versus complained to the producer, John Carter, that my graphics didn't fit their "look" closely enough. Carter told them something like "gee, for all the guidance you gave him, you're lucky it's even close". So today in Santa Clarita, I had to re-write all the software. Again. It was purely a cosmetic thing, but I had to make a few database changes so that I could render the athletes' first names and last names in separate routines SINCE THEY USE A DIFFERENT FONT. Aaaargh.

Well, the new software worked great all day, and when the race was over, I had the stage results up there off my photo-finish interface almost instantly. I was feeling pretty good. Then Carter called for me to change the page on the standings, and page 2 was blank.

Aw, fuck.

They had to re-do the whole segment, not only because of my fuck-up, but also because of a bunch of other fuckups with the RF, the helicopters, the cameramen, and who the f$%^& knows what else and who else. There was so much screaming going on in the truck, I couldn't make out most of what was happening.

I kinda feel sorry for Carter this week. I don't think the guy has produced many bike races OTHER than Le Tour de France, which is a big problem, because he's accustomed to a multi-million-dollar media machine dumping huge buckets of information on his head in real time all day long. At this race, the budget for remote cameras, aircraft, GPS, and scoring & timing is about 90% less. It's like a surgeon who was trained at Harvard Medical School who then gets assigned to a M*A*S*H unit in Korea. Hey, that sounds like it could be an interesting TV show.

Nah.

Anyway, so everyone in the TV truck got screamed at today, including me. Especially me. I screwed up. Then again, I never should have been forced to do a major software re-write an hour before a show. That certainly didn't help, so a resounding "fuck you" to Versus Network, but ultimately it was my bad, end of story.

Tomorrow should be amusing. Stage 7 is, in essence, a big criterium on a 7 mile course. I wonder if Carter has ever produced a crit show. I doubt it. Carter is struggling with the transition to this lesser level of technical television. Perhaps AEG should have gotten a Director with more experience in making TV the "old fashioned" way, i.e. digging the story out of cracks in the woodwork. For example, his P.A. (whom we call "The Slipper Girl") is a cute young thing who fetches him a latte on command, but she's never seen a bike race before. He would have been way better off hiring a girl with a big, muscular bike-racing ass, who happened to be a former hard-core bike racer. She could go beat up the Commissaires for information, dig for tidbits behind the scenes, and figure still more out on her own, out of experience and instinct, rather than disappearing periodically to brush her hair and re-apply her makeup. But no, he wanted Slipper Girl, ostensibly because she looks good in tight jeans.

At this race, there are two remarkable books issued to every race support person: The Technical Guide and the Housing Guide. The Technical Guide describes every stage down to the smallest detail. For example, if you're a tent guy, the technical guide tells you the exact position and layout of the finish line in every city, down to the inch, so you can get to the site, figure out where your tents go, and get started putting them up without having to ask anybody. The caterers can look at the Technical Guide and know where to park their truck, where all the trucks, motorhomes, and tents which require catering are located, and how much catered food they require. The Housing Guide is issued to all 880 people associated with the race. It has directions and rosters for all housing in all cities. There is a woman named Elaine who has done a remarkable job with those guides, They are full-color, high-gloss magazine stock. They are works of art.

Unfortunately, Elaine fucked up today too. My housing group (#30) was listed as staying at the Courtyard Marriott at 5855 West Century, near LAX, for tomorrow's Long Beach Stage. I put the address into my GPS, and we skedaddled out of Santa Clarita. When we arrived at that address, we found it was a Marriott, not a Courtyard Marriott, and they didn't have our rez. So we hopped back in the motorhome and drove a few blocks to the Courtyard Marriott at a different address on West Century. They didn't have our rez either. We called Elaine. She said a page from last year's Housing Guide had mistakenly appeared in the 2007 Guide, hence the mistake. She had assigned someone to tell everyone, but we were never notified. She said we were staying at the hotel for one of the Start Groups, which is a Courtyard Marriott at the Long Beach Airport.

Turns out that wasn't right either. We spotted some of the support trucks at a Courtyard Marriott in Long Beach, about 2 blocks from the race course. THAT's the right hotel. So here I sit, sucking free bandwidth.

Elaine, I don't know you, I'll probably never meet you, but I think your Housing Guide is a work of art - despite today's trevails.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Do The Math, Part II

This morning I discovered I was two pairs of underwear short of making the flight on Monday wearing clean drawers.

Today's calculus:

Cost to have one pair of underwear laundered at the Hyatt Valencia in Santa Clarita: $4.00

Cost of a 7-pack of Hanes Mens Cotton Briefs at Super-Target (across the street): $5.49

Do the math.

I'm now wearing underwear that's not only clean, it's brand new. I wonder if the maids at the Hyatt are pondering why there's a bunch of dirty undershorts in the trash can of room 644.


I'm sure they've seen stranger things.

Santa Clarita: My Kind of Town

Santa Clarita is my favorite town in the Tour of California. Why? It's the simple things.

Last night when we arrived, I was so destroyed, the only things I cared about were, in order, a room key, a long hot shower, and a pillow. If somebody had dropped a million bucks on the sidewalk in front of me, I would not have had the energy to bend over and pick it up. I skipped dinner for the 2nd straight night and crashed. (NOTE: the Hyatt Valencia gets deductions for lousy water pressure in the shower)

Sometime in the middle of the night, I vaguely remember hearing a few vague "clang" sounds. Not a clear sound, like a bell; more like an aluminum baseball bat connecting with a ball.

This morning I woke up early, feeling surprisingly good. I headed downstairs in search of a hot mug of tea. Upon walking out the front door of the Hyatt, I discovered that the finish line of the race is literally at the hotel. I don't mean near the hotel, I mean at the hotel. Last night we couldn't find a parking spot amongst all the big rigs and box trucks carrying tents, staging, sound, etc, so Fred stuck the motor home over in the far corner of the parking lot next to a huge garbage dumpster. This morning, I discovered that we don't even have to move the motor home to do the race, because the garbage dumpster is now obscured from view by the stage, which is erected right on the finish line. The occasional clangs I heard in my sleep last night were race contractors erecting staging and tents outside my room, six floors down.

At this point, anything that makes a day even marginally easier is more valuable than platinum to me.

And that's the very simple reason why I love Santa Clarita.

DO THE MATH!

Greetings from Santa Clarita California.

We're back in a nice hotel, a Hyatt. A Stephen Colbert Wag of the Finger, however, to the management here at the hotel. They must have known there would be 300 tired, pissed-off people checking in tonight within a two-hour period, yet there were only two people on duty at the front desk, and both their electronic check-in machines were on the fritz.

Stuff like that drives me bat-shit. I mean, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to do the math. If you're so damn concerned with customer satisfaction, GET ME MY FUCKING ROOM KEY SO I CAN GO UPSTAIRS AND TAKE A MOTHERFUCKING SHOWER. I REALLY DON"T GIVE A SHIT IF THERE ARE FLOWERS ON THE NIGHT TABLE, I JUST DON"T WANT TO STAND ON MY FEET ANOTHER MOMENT.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!!!!


Time Trial went well for us today. We got plenty of good information on the air, and our EvDO wireless stuff out in the middle of the countryside at Int 1 worked just fine. Kudos to Fred Patton for buying the EvDO stuff and arranging for us to give it a try. Fred's a swashbuckler, he dreams up bold ideas, then straps on a set of brass balls and tries them on live TV when a lot is on the line.

I can do a better TT than we did today, but the Phoenix team worked well together, I would give ourselves a solid "B+". Once again, the truck had massive RF problems, and the promised aircraft didn't show up until only 3 riders remained on course, so if we had dropped the ball too, TV would have had precisely nothing. I just watched the show on VS and it looked pretty decent.

We're on live tomorrow for two hours. Leipheimer pretty much has the race locked up unless something outrageous happens. But if there's one thing I've learned this week, it's this: In a road race, anything can happen - both on the course and off.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Solvang: The Time Trial

Last night we arrived in Solvang for the decisive Time Trial. Solvang is a weird place, best described as "Little Denmark". It looks like a contingent of Danes settled this area many years ago, and have kept their spiritual ties to their homeland intact through generations. Danish names and flags all over the place.

Danish cuisine, like all Scandinavian cuisine, is pretty awful but not nearly as revolting as many other types of Eurofood. The worst Eurofood, of course, is French. French food is famous for its sauces and wines, both of which were invented to mask the fact that the meats and other ingredients making up the underlying French cuisine are so disgusting and indigestible. The disgusting-ness of French food is a possible explanation for the fact that the vast majority of French people are foul-smelling, rude, bitter, sour-dispositioned assholes. If anybody from France is reading this blog, FUCK YOU and FUCK FRANCE.

As you probably know, Maui (my home) is the #1 island tourist destination in the world. From time to time, I'll be out on my bike and a carload of tourists will ask me for directions. If the tourists are anything other than French, I will carefully give them directions to the best of my knowledge. But if they are French, I always give them the most incorrect, inconvenient, and awful directions I can plausibly make up off the top of my head. Hopefully I have ruined the vacations of dozens of French tourons, the way so many French have ruined every single one of my way-too-many trips to France. About ten years ago I vowed to never again set foot in France, no matter how much money a potential customer was willing to throw at me. This vow has served me well, I have never been tempted to waver from it in the slightest.

Once again, if anybody from France is reading this blog, FUCK YOU and FUCK FRANCE.

Now back to trashing the Scandinavian countries.

Making Scandinavian food is easy:

1. Cook your favorite meal, serve it up on a large dinner plate.

2. Take the plate and dump the entire contents, en masse, into a big pot.

3. Add some really disgusting scrap fish, such as eel.

4. Simmer for about four hours, until it is an unintelligible, congealed goo.

There you have it: Swedish / Norwegian / Danish food, at its finest.

Solvang's hotel of the day was the first lousy hotel of the Tour: The Best Western King Frederik. The towels were small and threadbare, and the walls were thin to the point where, when cars passed by in front of the hotel, they sounded so close and so loud that I expected to hear THUMP-THUMP as they ran over my ankles.

I suppose I should be grateful, however, as I heard Medalist Sports put us here because hotel space in Solvang is extremely scarce. Many of the 850 people in this crazy show had to stay as far away as Santa Barbara, which is \an hour away. Given a choice between the King Frederick, 5 minutes from Friday's racecourse, and a Four Seasons or Grand Hyatt an hour away, I would definitely take the thin walls at this point.

My ingenious and ultra-cool nephew, Christo Wilson, is coming out today for a visit. He's studying for a Masters in Computer Science at U Cal Santa Barbara, so he's driving up to say hello and check out the show. That should cheer me up a bit.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Levi Tosses His Transponder

I just saw one of the guys from AEG responsible for producing the GPS TourTracker on AmgenTourOfCalifornia.com. He had a long face. Apparently, as CSC, Adobe, and AEG were struggling yesterday with throughput issues, cellular coverage issues, and bandwith issues, Levi Leipheimer reached into his jersey pocket during a crucial climb, grabbed the 80-gram GPS transponder assigned to him, and tossed it out on the road, where it was run over by a passing car.

As I told him several weeks ago, technology - however exotic - is pretty straightforward; once you get it to work, it works. The problem is usually the stupid practical shit.

Oriental Fantasy in San Luis Obispo

http://www.madonnainn.com/tour/209.asp

Last night sucked. After the San Jose stage finished, we had a 5-hour drive ahead of us, to San Luis Obispo. We stopped in Monterrey for dinner out on the pier, which was nice. We arrived in SLO well past midnight.

After almost 25 years touring the globe on these sports gigs, I thought I'd seen it all. But then I checked into The Madonna Hotel in San Luis Obispo.

I would imagine, without a shitload of careful thought and a lot of construction, The Madonna Inn would be just another nondescript highway-side Motel 6 in the middle of nowhere. But somewhere along the line, some clever person came up with the idea of a hotel in which every room has its own unique, campy theme, and then they apparently hired Elvis and Liberace to decorate.

When you check in, there's a wall of postcards for sale (75 cents), and the display contains a unique postcard for every room. I was assigned room #209, "Oriental Fantasy". When I walked in, I just started laughing. The room looked like it was designed and decorated by Fu Manchu. It was a nice big comfortable room. Everything was covered in glitz and chintz and oriental camp. The headboard behind the bed looked like a poster for the movie "The Last Samurai". Too funny. Huge shower. Maybe 5' x 5'.

Showers are my thing. Anybody who has ever been to my house can attest to this. I built all the showers in my house myself, and they are a minimum of 8' x 5'. Some are bigger. The showers in my house are so huge they don't need doors. The water can't possibly spray far enough to splash the bathroom floor, the showers are just too big. If I ever sell my house, I imagine the next owner may convert a few of the showers into squash courts.

Anyway, I walked out to get my suitcase from the car, and a bunch of the guys from TV and from AEG were wandering around at 1AM, checking out each others' rooms. One guy was staying in a room with a caveman theme. The shower was a big, hollowed-out rock, and the water sprayed out of a boulder on the wall.

Everyone in the TV compound this morning was walking around talking about the theme of their hotel rooms at The Madonna. You've got a lot of jaded road warriors out here, and the fact that they were enthused about The Madonna and not complaining about this or that is a good thing.

Time Trial tomorrow in Solvang. Big day for Scoring & Timing, the whole show depends on us.

Pissing Down Rain

When I was a little kid, I saw a movie with my parents entitled "If It's Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium". It left an impression on me, because 40 years later, I still remember parts of it.

Today is Thursday, and so this must be San Luis Obispo. And it's pissing down rain to beat the band. It's about 48 degrees and pouring.

The race just started back near Seaside, and we have no RF yet. The choppers so far are finding a ceiling of 2000 ft, which isn't bad, but the weather is fine in Seaside. Once they hit this storm, the RF feeds will vanish and we'll have jack schitt for pictures.

Instructions for finding the TV compound in each new city:

1. Go to the Finish Line.

2. Find the bunch of blue TV camera triax cables.

3. Follow them for a block of two until you see about 6 big semis and a satellite uplink.

Lunacy. This is Lunacy.

I remember once reading an article by Eric Heiden, one of the most amazing overachievers in sports history. Heiden won a bunch of Olympic gold medalsin speed skating at Lake Placid, then won a bunch of US and World Championships in track cycling, then raced in the Tour de France. THEN he went to medical school and became an orthopedic surgeon. Now there's a guy who should be tired. Heiden said something like "on the morning of the second stage of my first Tour de France, I woke up convinced that the organizers would cancel the stage due to the fact that all the riders were too exhausted to ride. We had battled so hard in that first stage, there was absolutely no way anybody could possibly race the next day. I couldn't get out of bed. But somehow I did, and we raced, and we did it again 18 more times before we reached Paris. It was numbing".

Well, Dr Heiden, I've got news for you, it's not just the riders. It's Day Four of an 8-day tour, and I can't get out of bed, either. The sound guys, the staging guys, the drivers, the chopper pilots, the TV production crew.....we all feel the same way. This event has a US Open-like Death March feel to it. The US Open is way longer (3 weeks), and the hours are way longer (TV on the air from 11 AM until past midnight), but at least at the US Open I sleep in the same bed every night and I don't have to get into a car from the time I arrive into LaGuardia until the day I leave.

Hence, I've come to the conclusion that working at stage races really sucks. This is the best-produced, best-organized stage race in the world, yet for me, every day pretty much blows. I'm not having any fun at all.

Here's a typical day:

7AM Wake up. Long, hot shower and 30 minutes of stretching & yoga.

8AM check out of the hotel, trudge out to the vehicle with my suitcase. Drive to breakfast on the way to the site.

9AM finish breakfast

9:15 AM arrive at TV compound, set up my stuff.

Work like hell all day in a TV truck, which, if you've never been in one, is like working in somebody's bedroom closet with the door closed, on a desk the size of a dinner plate.

Never have time to eat lunch.

5 PM. Stage finishes. Walk to Starbucks, get a venti tea, and cool my heels for an hour while the timing crew packs up. Check e-mail, watch the 650 support people (staging, lighting, sound, fencing, commissaires) pack up all their crap into their trucks and hit the road.

6:30 PM Dinner. I'm all grimy from working all day, but I'm not currently checked into a hotel, so I can't shower before dinner. Wash my hands at the restaurant and eat like a zombie, staring off into space.

8PM Hit the road. Drive 2 hours to the next day's stage finish.

10 PM Check into a new hotel. Trudge across the parking lot with my suitcase and go upstairs.

10:03 PM FINALLY...... a hot shower.

10:13 sound asleep.

At least the hotels are nice. Mostly Hiltons and Hyatts. Big beds, good showers, big fluffy towels. That's all I ask for out of a hotel, and I'm getting it every night.

Thank heavens I refused to go work the Tour de France all those years I had the opportunity to go. Le Tour not only has the same shitty hours and ridiculous levels of chaos, but the hotels are all these crappy little shitboxes in the middle of nowhere, the showers are awful, and the people are all French, and therefore malodorous grumpy assholes badly in need of a bath and a smack upside the head with a crowbar. And of course the food is disgusting, and by the way don't drink the water.

The Governator came to yesterday's stage in Sacramento, which really screwed things up. His security must have been trained in Berlin in 1945. Fucking bunch of Waffen SS wehrmacht jarheads. I have a credential with a picture of a key on it, which means I can go anywhere at any time. But Arnold's Assholes wouldn't let me in to the scoring & timing motorhome 30 minutes before the stage finished. So I had to call an ATOC official on the phone to come out and chew the guy out.

Another Harvard graduate working security. God Spare Me from event security guards and the highly trained technicians at the TSA.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

GPS Transponders


Tomorrow is the Prologue, which is only 2 miles long. 3.2 kilometers. That's a tough distance. These thoroughbreds aren't used to doing track cycling distances. Should be interesting.

I walked past both Bobby Julich and Dave Zabriskie today at the hotel. Those guys look like genetic freaks. They're built like supermodels. Their legs are so long, their crotches are approximately where a normal person's belly button would be. No wonder they're so fast, with levers like that.

Since almost all the timed events I do are either outside the US or are Euro-centric sports, the people here in TV production think I'm weird because I talk in meters and kilometers. I asked a tech for a "two meter cable" today and he looked at me like Dr. Pepper was oozing out of my ears.

All my TV equipment is installed in the truck. A lot of my stuff was damaged in shipment, it took me two days to repair a lot of stuff, reload software, and reconfigure. I had 3 CD-ROM drives damaged in transit, for example (out of a possible 4).

We had a good production meeting today. The CSC guys passed around this transponder. This is what CSC are using to track the whereabouts and speeds of the riders. They are putting these things in the seat packs of the top 5 riders on GC, a few other riders, and on 3 or 4 race vehicles. I really wish those CSC guys luck, they've never done this before and it's a tough technology. 50-milliwatt signals from the riders' seat packs are amplified and relayed via aircraft. They've got both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft following the race. Eventually, the data winds up on a server in Pennsylvania. From that server, some guys from Adobe are doing a tracker map on the Amgen Tour of California web site. I have access to the same data; I can feed it though one of my character generators and put it on the air in a textual format:

Breakaway 112 Km
Yellow Jersey +4:23
Peloton +6:33

Something like that.

You won't see that GPS stuff during the Prologue, because, obviously, it is irrelevant. We'll start with it on Monday. If you don't see it on Monday's broadcast, then it's not working, and rest assured there's a lot of screaming going on somewhere very close to the TV compound.

Amgen Tour of California

Kickoff. Another event. Tour of California.

This should be interesting. I've never done a stage race before. I declined
the Tour de France in 99, when MatSport started using my TTWare product, because I despise France, I hate French people and I just didn't want to
deal with Frogs. The Tour of Calif is produced by an American company
(Medalist Sports) and obviously it's in the US, so I'll give it a try.

Versus Network, formerly OLN, is televising. That's a problem because they
haven't hosted a race since they changed their name, so their artwork and
Style Guide is half-baked. John Carter, the guy who has produced all of
OLN's TdF coverage, is producing here. After a million e-mails, I finally
met him today. He seems like a pretty cool guy for a sports producer.
Pretty much every other producer I've ever met falls in between "dick" and
"unbelievable dick". We'll see what I think after a week. He's from
Colorado, not NY, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt for now.

Two minutes after I checked in at the TdC office, Medalist Sports Prez Jim
Birrell hooked me up with a guy named Joelle Felicio from Versus, to start working on getting my timing graphics shells tailored to the Versus "look". Joelle was in the hotel restaurant having lunch with Paul Sherwin and Bob Roll. I joined them for a few minutes. Bob Roll looks about 30 years older in person than he does on TV. He looks like he's 65. And he's nothing like his "charmingly cracked pundit" TV personna. He seems like a real asshole. I mean John McEnroe-league asshole. Sherwin, on the other hand, is a soft-spoken gentleman who introduces himself to strangers with a handshake and a smile. He had just flown in from his home in Uganda (!!!!), so he was feeling pretty rough.

I spent all afternoon coding frantically while on the phone and internet
with 3 people back at the Versus graphics department in Connecticut. I
didn't eat or drink anything between 6 AM and 6 PM, but I'm starting to
make some progress. My timing graphics are starting to look like Versus
graphics.

I just went and checked myself into the first of 8 hotels I'll be staying
at in during the next 10 nights. I'm not sure how this is going to work. I'll
either love the challenge or I'll hate the hassles. Probably both, to the extreme.

It looks like this event, despite being perhaps the best-organized and
best-financed stage race in the world, may be on a par with the US Open in
terms of sheer chaos. That's my first impression.

The teams were rolling in today in their fancy rolling palaces and support vehicles. I had no place to work (nobody does), so a friend let me set up all my TV broadcast CG gear in his motor home with a generator out in the parking lot of the official hotel, the Crowne Plaza in Burlingame. The motor home was parked next to the Toyota United motor home, which looks like perhaps they bought it from some rock star, and the Health Net team support truck, which has perhaps a half million bucks worth of gear inside. Ten pairs of carbon wheels stacked up against the curb, perhaps 50 carbon frames, all sorts of bike geek happy horseshit.

All the stars are here, I saw them wandering around. Bettini, Hincapie,
Horner, Zabriskie. I 've been too busy to really check out the scene or to
take any pictures. Maybe after Sunday's Prologue things will settle down to
the point where I can absorb any of this.

Funny though, almost all the support people - the truck drivers, mechanics, PR people - have shaved legs. Not me. I don't even shave my legs when I'm racing, and I don't walk around the US Open carrying a racket, either.

Frankly, the prospect of setting up 8 TV compounds in 8 days in 8 cities is
absurd. Pretty much every event in every sport sucks for the first few
days, until things settle down. The problem with a stage race is that
things never settle down. EVERY day is setup day. EVERY day is breakdown day. It's insane. EVERY DAY you're in a new hotel room.

We'll see how it goes. Even if it sucks and I hate it, I needed to do one
of these at least once before my days are done. I owe it to The Fred to give this a try since I blew him off for the Tour de France.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Sad in Vienna





I'm in Vienna for a few days of testing with SIEMENS Data Handling in preparation for ski racing's "Super Bowl" (Kitzbuehel) next week. I should be happy, but I'm not. The reason? I walked around Vienna today, perfectly comfortable, in shirtsleeves and jeans. It's been in the 50s for most of the winter in Vienna, and there is not one ski resort in Europe with decent snow.

I watched Wengen on ORF today, and it was just depressing. The racers were skiing through mud, and there was no snow anywhere other than the man-made, chemically enhanced slush on the course. You could see huge patches of rocks and mud even between the nets.

Kitzbuehel's Hahnenkamm-Rennen has been canceled due to warm weather four times since its inception in 1929. It may be canceled this year, but I doubt it. The town of 11,000 lives and dies on this race, roughly half the town are members of the Ski Club which puts on the race. They are all out there working night and day on the course.

The forecast is for more warm weather this week.

I've always thought Al Gore is full of shit 99% of the time, but it sure seems like he knows what he's talking about when it comes to Global Warming.

And just so I don't get through a post without a dig at either FIS or Swiss Timing (or both), the FIS blew it by not re-scheduling a whack of these warmth-canceled races (Val d'Isere, St Moritz, Chamonix) in North America. The Canadian Rockies are enjoying their best snow in decades, and the "blizzard-proof" Denver Airport has been closed three times in a month due to massive snow storms. The idiots at FIS could have brought the whole circus over to Vail or Snowbasin and made up 10 canceled races in a week.

I know these photos suck, I snapped them sitting in front of my TV here at the Penta in Vienna. But check out the rocks and mud right out on the course.

Depressing.