Wednesday, February 27, 2008


It's over, and I'm back home.

A special shout-out to my friends GaryB from Pa'ia, GeorgieP from Melbourne, and Leonard from Palm Beach. All three of these fine fellows sent me notes of encouragement during the 8-day ordeal called the Amgen Tour of California, which kept me going and reminded me to keep updating this blog. Sharing this experience with friends is what this blog is all about.

Here are some screen-shots of my work during the ATOC. Many of you who watched the broadcasts have already seen these, but you may not have known it was me pulling the strings behind the curtain.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A Disaster In the Making?

The ultimate stage of the ATOC could be a disaster. It's been pissing down rain for 24 hours, the Rose Bowl is a soggy mess, and there's been talk that the roads up in the mountain passes in the middle of the stage are icy. Up until a few minutes ago, I heard the race jury were considering scrapping most of the stage (the mountainous run-in from Santa Clarita) and just running a crit around Pasadena.

The NEP production truck is leaking - right into the switcher. Will the aircraft containing the cameras and the wireless be allowed to fly? That's another critical question of the hour.

This is a classic example of why bike racing is nowheresville in the US. Americans like their sports run under tightly controlled environments. If somebody is going to risk a lot of money on a television production, it must not only be a good close contest, but it must finish on time and within a tightly scripted envelope. Bike racing, on the other hand, even under the best of circumstances, is simply a big string ball of chaos.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Santa Clarita

If there's one good thing about my participation in the Tour of Calif, it's the fact that I get to drop in for a few hours on my sister, my parents, and my nephews. Yesterday after the Solvang TT I drove to Santa Barbara and took my sister's two sons, Christo and Tyler, both of whom are students at Cal Santa Barbara, out to dinner. It was a quick but fun visit. I also did laundry at Christo's apartment, which helped both my logistics and my state of mind.

Today is, in my opinion, the best stage of the ATOC. We stay at the Hyatt Valancia, which is the nicest hotel of the tour, and the finish area is literally 10 meters from the hotel's parking lot. So last night I got some decent sleep in a decent bed, and was able to wake up leisurely, since the hotel is right at the finish line and the race started at 11 instead of 10.

Today the riders are racing from Santa Barbara to Santa Clarita through the mountains. It's a murderous climbing stage and the weather is deteriorating, but right now we're an hour from the finish and the rain hasn't started, so the finish may look decent on TV. The forecast for tomorrow's final stage is terrible. Windy with heavy rains.

Word among the worker bees is that the event is going no further North than Santa Clarita next year. Due to atrocious weather ruining several stages this year, there will be stages in the San Diego and Palm Springs areas next year instead of the San Francisco area. I'm sure Levi will be disappointed that he can't ride into his hometown, Santa Rosa, next year, but the Santa Rosa stage has logistical and design problems and has been a lousy stage every year anyway.

Solvang has been a nice time trial every year, so I'll be sorry to see that one go. But the hotels in Solvang blow, so my aching back will perhaps be happy if it winds up in a hotel with better beds at a more Southern TT next year.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Intermediates via eVDO

The eVDO intermediates via web services actually worked quite smoothly, and they made air quite a bit. It really was held together with bailing wire and chewing gum, as Bruce told me he was right on the edge of eVDO coverage and his POST updates timed out about 50% of the time. The internet coverage here in the TV truck sucked too, so my GETs were timing out about 25% of the time too. Nonetheless, it was great information and the director used the hell out of it. Check for the "12K Time Check" graphic, for example, in the final segment with Millar's and Leipheimer's intermediate time.

Solvang Intermediates

The good news is the satellite guys got the satellite VPN going yesterday, as a proof-of-concept. I e-mailed my TTWare timing software down to one of their technicians in LA. He was sitting in one of their mobile units idling in the parking lot of their offices near LAX, running TTWare. I was 300km away in San Luis Obispo, running TV graphics to the 1/10 second from his data. It was cooler than hell. Tracy and Eric, the satellite guys, were stoked. There was about a 3/10 second latency, which is amazing considering every UDP packet send out by TTWare has to travel 22,000 miles from LA straight up to a satellite, and then 22,000 miles straight down again to me in SLO.

The bad news is that Jimmy B, the race organizer, decided not to pay for the satellite service today for the Solvang TT. It's a bummer, but I can't say I blame him. For a one-hour tape-delayed show, real-time on-air running clocks for the intermediate is a cool luxury but hardly a necessity. Even if we ran live timing via the satellite link all day, probably only 3 or 4 racers at the intermediate would make air in such a short show. Hell, with the weather forecast looking so bad, we probably won't have any video footage from the time check anyway, because the RF video links have been spotty at best.

So what we're doing is this. I'm sending my colleague Bruce out to the 12k Time Check with a laptop PC running TTWare, and an eVDO modem. He's going to time the intermediate with TTWare, and my TTLiveToWeb software plug-in will update one of my test servers back at my office in Hawai'i. In the truck, I've written an interface to grab the XML off my test server back in Hawai'i via a web service and shove it into one of my character generators to build intermediate rankings. The commentators and PA announcers will browse their laptops to my test server to get a page of rankings. The rankings page has an AJAX refresh every 10 seconds, so the intermediate results will be close to real-time.

As long as the eVDO keeps working, and as long as I don't have a power failure back at home (very likely, since Maui has power failures almost every day), it should work adequately.

I won't tell you what the URL of my test server is, because it's just a crappy old T23 Thinkpad sitting on my desk in my office, and it can't handle much traffic. Maybe next year I'll use a commercial server so FOS (friends of Skunk) can follow along with the live timing.

If you see any intermediate rankings on the broadcast tonight, you'll know it worked. It'll look something like this.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Mid-Thursday Update

Today the stage comes down the coast on the PCH past Big Sur, potentially one of the most picturesque stages in cycling. However, it's been pissing down rain all day, it's nasty cold, and the riders have been grinding away into the teeth of a 30 mph cross-headwind. Just an ugly, ugly day. Right now it's looking like the peloton will probably wind up being well over an hour overdue into San Luis Obispo.

Danielson just abandoned. Half the Gerolsteiner team never showed up for sign-in, as there's a virus going around amongst the riders. The same virus knocked Farrar out of the race yesterday while he was in the yellow jersey. I felt bad for him, he seems like a nice young guy, and he was absolutely over the moon on Tuesday at the podium presentation. I like to see young athletes getting some props to encourage them, especially bike racers, because this sport is just so unbelievably hard. People who haven't raced just can't begin to conceive how truly harsh this sport is. I'm a lowly Cat 4; part of the reason I keep racing is because it always amazes me how hard I have to train and how hard I have to race just to finish 25th out of 40 guys. Every race is a rediscovery of how unbelievably hard this sport is.

We have very limited footage today because the aircraft relaying the video signals have had problems staying in the air due to the atrocious weather. The reason I've got time to post an update in the middle of the day is because we have no pictures at all at the moment, so everyone in TV world took a break.

At least lunch was good here in the TV compound. Chef's salad today, my favorite lunch.

For those readers who get VERSUS network, don't expect much of a show tonight. Even if the pictures were perfect (and they are far from it), there's no racing to show. The riders are just out there hudded together, trying to survive.

Rain is forecast for the rest of the week.

The Madonna Inn

One of the few highlights (at least for me) of the Tour of California is my 10-hour stay at the Madonna Inn. In case you didn't read last year's ATOC blog, Madonna Inn is a Motel-6 quality hotel in San Luis Obispo which has transformed itself into a tourist attraction by decorating every single room in a different theme, most of which look like they were rigged out by Liberace or Elvis in 1965. It's a hoot.

Last night my room was #151 "Sugar And Spice", and it looked like it was decorated by a teenage Marcia Brady. Pink walls, baby-blue bathroom tile, and a brown velour couch. And of course, the room next door was "Everything Nice". Gawd knows what the hell THAT one looks like.

Actually you can see precisely what "Everything Nice" looks like right here:

Yesterday it was supposed to be raining, but the finish in San Jose was brilliantly sunny and gorgeous. Today we're in SLO, and the weather is supposed to suck. I wore my Spyder soft shell ski gear, which is totally waterproof, yet breatheable. Warm enough to wear on the slopes, but breathable enough to wear on a plane. Great stuff, I recommend it.

Tomorrow is the Time Trial in Solvang, so the TV show is very dependent on me. Timing graphics are everything in a TT. Our timing graphics during the Prologue in Stanford were 100% spot-on. If I can do that again tomorrow, there will be a lot of smiles around here.

The satellite guys here are trying to rig up an experiment; they're going to try to extend our VPN out to the mid-way time check (about 10 km away) via satellite so that I can do live timing graphics from the INT as well as from the finish. These satellite guys (Strategic Television) are very, very bright and technically adept, so I think they just might pull that off, and it will be way cool if they do.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

San Jose

Three stages and we're now 10 miles from where we started. Tomorrow's stage, Modesto to San Jose, brings the riders back to a spot about 10 miles from the start of the Prologue last Sunday.

Two pretty crappy hotels since I last wrote: the Holiday Inn in Sacramento and now another crappy Holiday Inn in San Jose. But, hey, I arrive exhausted to the point of incoherence, I sleep for a few hours, and I'm gone. The Abu Dhabi suite at the Raghead Inn would make little difference to me.

It rained today and the racing sucked, but Cipollini got third. He almost won the damn thing. He was right there in the hunt, as aggressive as ever. Pretty cool for a 41 year old guy who hasn't raced in three years. I admire him.

This "Rock Racing" is quite an outfit. Their team car is a Hummer limo, and their podium girl is a rent-a-slut in studded motorcycle leathers. If anyone can appreciate that sort of thing, it's Cipolini.

I'm having problems with Matt, the graphics coordinator. He's worked for VERSUS on six Tours de France. He demands things "because that's the way we do it at The Tour". However, the way VERSUS does a lot of things at The Tour are just plain wrong. 180 countries take the graphics & results from the ASO as-is, and one does their own - Versus. Versus's graphics suck, and Versus is a joke to the people at The Tour.

Today Matt had me re-write a clock program because he didn't like the way it looked. Then when the Producer & Director saw Matt's "revised" look, they told him to shove it up his ass.
I wasted an hour of programming in the middle of a show.

Fred's Lynx photofinish system displays results in a cycling-specific format like this:

1 Boonen 4:04:09
2 Bettini same time
3 Cipollini same time

Matt demanded that my interface program display stage standings "the way we do it at the Tour". Like this:

1 Boonen 4:04:09
2 Bettini +0.00
3 Cipollini +0.00

Well, Fred and I KNOW the guy responsible for all photofinish & results at Le Tour, a fellow named Gerald. Fred called him, and Gerald said Matt is full of shit. ASO displays their photofinish results like this:

1 Boonen 4:04:09
2 Bettini M/T
3 Cipollini M/T

M/T stands for même temps, or SAME TIME in French.

So I worked for a few hours on a program which does things Matt's way, but Matt is wrong and it looks fucking stupid.

Monday, February 18, 2008


The Prologue went perfectly for us. Graphics perfect. Timing perfect. As for things beyond our control, the site (Stanford University) is awesome, the weather was perfect, it was just a great day.

Things can only go downhill from here, I fear.

Stayed at the Hotel Flamingo in Santa Rosa last night. Trust me on this....if the Hotel Flamingo is on your list of places to visit on your Winnebago tour of the US, remove it. Enough said.

I took off from Stanford around 5:30 and was asleep by 8:30, then was onsite in downtown Santa Rosa around 8 this morning. Having my own car is definitely the way to go on this tour, from a sleep and relaxation standpoint. My roommate, Bruce Braesemle, arrived at around 11:30 and was out the door at 6:30, so he was at the hotel for a grand total of 7 hours. I on the other hand had a much better night, having utilized our stellar room at the Flamingo for a whopping 11 hours.

Here are some pikkies for your amusement.
This Toyota Camry is my steed for the week. Great having a vehicle which, in and of itself, is a credential.

Meet Jill. She gets coffee. This is actually a very bad photo, she's gorgeous, and dresses very nicely.
Doping control. No further comment.

The finish straightaway at the Prologue. Note the perfect weather.

RF antennas on the snorkel lift.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Hamilton out, Cipollini In????


I was e-mailed an entry list about noon today, with the comment "there are a few changes forthcoming".

About 3 PM I heard some people talking that the UCI had notified the event last night that it was re-opening the Operation Puerto investigation. Since ATOC has a policy of barring anybody who has an open investigation going on, that wasn't good news for a few people.

So this evening, around 7 PM I got a revised entry list, on which Oscar Sevilla and Tyler Hamiltion from Rock racing were out, and MARIO CIPOLLINI was in.

WTF? A 40-year-old rider who has been retired for three years?

Tour of California - The Madness Begins

Not much has changed. Arrived in San Fran, took a few hours to visit with my parents and my awesomely cool sister, and then the chaos volume knob went straight to ten.

First hotel - the Courtyard Marriott in Los Altos. Scores:

Bathrooms / Showers: 8 out of 10. Convex curtainrod is nice.

Beds: 8/10. Could use a heavier blanket.

Front desk staff: 8/10 Mostly Indian or Pakistani. Very helpful. The one haole back there is a douchebag.

Parking sucks. There's a ghetto-gate over the entrance & exit, it takes forever to get in & out of this damn place.

Bonus points for in-room refrigerator and free high-speed internet.

First stage is a gorgeous venue - right in the middle of the Stanford campus. Should be nice weather too. I hear the weather is going to get bad around Tuesday.

Installed my CGs in the TV production truck yesterday; everything fired right up and genlocked on the first try. Ahhhhhhhh.

The Chyron graphics operator is an attractive blonde named Michelle Bacon. Can you imagine the teasing she took in grade school? She seems to revel in it, however. Her e-mail address is miss_bacon@whatever.

Saturday will be a long day. Breakfast meeting at 7, we'll probably go full-blast to 9 or later.

Unfortunately, Bob Roll is back. Saw him in the hotel lobby yesterday. He cut to the front of the line at the front desk to ask directions to Sausalito. Dickhead. Sherwin & Liggett are back, and there's a new reporter named Mary something-or-other. She's a racer. Carter was talking about her yesterday in the production meeting.

Photos when I get a minute.