Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Live GPS Mapping Graphics Using Bailing Wire and Chewing Gum


After 3 years of total failure by CSC (one of the largest computer companies in the world), a 0% success rate, AllanP and I successfully got live GPS mapping graphics on the air (on both Worldfeed and on VERSUS in the USA) on the very first day on which we had a fighting chance.

The previous day, the weather was so shitty that we later learned the FAA had banned all light aircraft within a 250 mile radius. No chance at an RF relay. That's what fucked the whole race to a dry bleed during the Santa Rosa stage.

The start of the Santa Cruz stage featured really sucky weather once again (as the peloton crossed the Golden Gate Bridge), but the FAA at least allowed the RF relay plane off the ground.

AllanP, who really never was given the opportunity to do anything more than a basic comms test with the GPS base station before yesterday, got live GPS data (indeed from 8 transmitters) for the first time ever. Amazingly, he stood there in the TV truck and thwacked away at his code for 2 or 3 hours (my code was considerably simpler, and already finished), and by the time the racers were 30 or so miles from the finish (passing Mavericks, the famed big-surf spot at Half Moon Bay, ironically), damned if we didn't have live GPS mapping graphics live on Worldfeed and live on VERSUS in the US.

Wasn't perfect, didn't work that consistently, but was accurate, looked good (that's my part) and was good enough for Director and Producer to use about 10 times on the air.

AllanP and I were, frankly, stunned. The first time we saw it on the PROGRAM monitor, knowing it was going live to the world, we looked at each other dumbfounded, as if VERSUS was showing a naked Angelina Jolie having wild monkey sex with a Passa Fino.

After the broadcast, a dishrag-looking Producer slapped me on the back and said "DAMN, after 3 years, we've finally got live GPS. Nice job".

It was a good day.

Ironically, the simplest piece of the whole Buckminster Fuller-esque chain (but still the last missing piece) was provided to us at the last minute out of nowhere, like pennies from heaven. We'd discovered during the ill-fated Santa Rosa stage that AllanP's map-composition app sucks up a fair amount of bandwidth, and the satellite internet connection in the TV compound is too weak to support it, given all the other bandwidth-sucking going on in the various production trucks. As I drove from Santa Rosa to Santa Cruz on Sunday night, I'd stopped at a Best Buy and bought a cheap wireless router in hopes that somehow we'd find our own pipe in the parking lot of some BOA bank branch in Santa Cruz (site of the next day's TV compound). An hour before the broadcast, Eric Hall from PSSI Satellite Systems stuck his head in the door to say they'd secured a temporary internet drop from the City of Santa Cruz, would I like to use it as a dedicated pipe. I quickly unwrapped the new router, configured it, password-protected it, and attached all the GPS mapping PCs to it. Eric stuck a Cat5 through the truck's mouse hole, and away we went. A quick test revealed the temporary drop was wildly asymmetrical (50K push, 2 meg pull), but AllanP's mapping app mostly pulls, so we were good to go.

3G Wireless ultimately completed the circle by coming up with the goods with the RF. Wasn't perfect, wasn't even great, but worked well enough at times, so after the stage I went over to their trailer and spread some love. Those guys could use some good news, they've been busting their ass for a week now, and the weather has cornholed them every day. They had no fucking idea what we were planning to do with all that data they were firehosing to us, so I showed them examples of what we used on the air, and let them bask in some glory. Thanks to Greg and Craig, the pilots, the ground crews, and all the rest of their ass-busting technicians.

Speaking of examples, the mapping graphics AllanP's application generated, which my app fed through to my AKISPORT GS2 CG and displayed on the air, are still on the RAID drive on my AKISPORT CG in the truck, so I can't post them at the moment because I'm at the hotel in our next city (Doubletree in Modesto). I will post some of them later today for those of you who didn't see the broadcast.

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