March 2010

Monthly Archive

Of course, it all makes sense now!

Posted by Office-Bob on 23 Mar 2010 | Tagged as: General Craziness, Rants

My Dear Friends:

It is with a heavy heart that I write the words you are reading now, and yet I must write them because you have a right to know the Truth.

A Truth so heinous, so insidious that it strikes at the very fabric of our society.

And to think that I am able to give you this Truth because of a television commercial.

Last night I saw an ad for Verizon, in which a mother was going to let her daughter go off with her friends at the mall; she was comfortable doing this because her smartphone had a program which allowed her to track her daughter’s location through the daughter’s cellphone.

Think about this…the ability to track someone by using one of the modern devices that we have come to rely so heavily upon.

I considered the seriousness of this and felt reassured that, should I desire to avoid being followed as I went about my business, I could simply turn off my phone and remove the battery.

But hold on a minute…there are phones that have the battery installed in such a way that they cannot be removed. That’s right, my friends, I’m talking about Apple’s iPhone.

Now please bear with me here, as this might get a bit confusing, but I promise that when I’m finished, you’ll know the Truth.

What phone carrier offers the iPhone? AT&T.

Who has co-operated in the past with the National Security Agency, allowing the government to have information about their customers? AT&T.

Who’s on Apple’s Board of Directors? Al Gore.

Who do some people claim “invented” the Internet? Al Gore.

What administration is rolling out a National Broadband Plan? The Obama administration.

What political party do Gore and Obama both belong to? The Democratic Party.

Health care reform, also known as “Obamacare,” has recently been signed into law.

Excessive cellphone use has been targeted as a possible cause of brain tumors.

The connection, my friends, is this:

The Democrats can track everyone who uses a cellphone. Sure, we know AT&T is in bed with the Administration, but why should we believe the other telcos are innocent?

If you use an iPhone you can’t remove the battery, which means you can still be tracked, which means that not only will the government know where you are at all times, but when you eventually enter the hospital for treatment of a brain tumor they’ll already have even more information on you because of the mandatory insurance requirements that are part of the health care “reform.”

If you try to avoid being tracked by turning off your cellphone and removing the battery your chances of developing a brain tumor will be reduced, which means you’ll be less of a burden on the healthcare system. This reduction in medical claims could eventually drive the insurance companies out of business, and if that happens then nobody gets any medical care.

Is this the kind of world you want your children to live in – a world where the choices are to use iPhones in order to be able to have access to a doctor, or else have the freedom to move about as you please but run the risk of not being able to get treatment should you fall ill?

Why haven’t Beck, Limbaugh, Hannity and Coulter picked up on this? Am I the only sane voice out there?

I think Dr. Miles Bennell said it best:

“Listen to me! Please listen! If you don’t, if you won’t, if you fail to understand, then the same incredible terror that’s menacing me WILL STRIKE AT YOU! They’re here already! You’re next! You’re next, You’re next…!”

Popularity: 49% [?]

Don’t slam the door, you’ll ruin my balloon!

Posted by Office-Bob on 07 Mar 2010 | Tagged as: The Church of Pyro, FX

In addition to doing pyro for the opening ceremonies, I was assigned – along with another local pyrotechnician – to work with 3 Finnish pyros who were involved in the Russian part of the closing ceremonies…the “handover,” if you will. The pyro itself wasn’t very spectacular as it consisted of helium balloons, 4 foot in diameter, which were loaded with confetti; where it got interesting was in the number of balloons required – 150, plus spares – and how we reused the flare wands to trigger the effect.

When I arrived at BC Place the day before the show, I was introduced to the Finns who had been spending the last 4 days getting confetti into the balloons using a combinations of funnels, empty pop bottles and sticks - and, no doubt, a lot of cursing. They were (top to bottom) Markku, Kimmo and Teppo:

Once that was done, the balloons had to be inflated. To accomplish this, we had banks of helium tanks.

In order to avoid overinflating the balloons and popping them, we set up a rig consisting of two vertical poles set a specific distance apart (you can see one in the picture); once the balloon’s diameter reached those poles, we stopped inflating them. After inflation the neck was tied off and a pre-made harness, consisting of two e-matches connected together by a length of wire, was tied to the balloon. The wired balloon was then connected to the firing system, for which we used the flare wands from the opening ceremonies (See? I told you I’d be talking about those again). It took 7 hours to inflate and connect 160 balloons – 150 for the show, 10 spares, plus 4 that popped during inflation (they weren’t over-inflated; we suspect manufacturing flaws).

The two e-matches were taped to the surface of the balloon at opposite sides of the “equator;” the idea was that the spark and flame from the e-matches would be enough to pop the balloon and let the confetti flutter down. There were a few tweaks that needed to be made to the system, however, mostly because the number of balloons in play – 150 – meant that there was a distinct possibility the head of the e-match could be knocked out of position, thus reducing the chance of a successful firing. The solution to the problem was to wrap a length of flash string around the head of the e-match before it was taped to the balloon; this ensured that as long as the match fired, there’d be enough flame and spark to pop the balloons.

Here are pictures of the balloons which show the e-match positioning as well as the flare wand firing systems. Most of the wire used to connect the balloon was wrapped around the wands so they could be easily moved around; once each performer was in position they unwound the wire and let the balloon reach the correct height before triggering the effect.

Trivia: Did you know that the sound of a slamming porta-potty door is almost exactly the same as an exploding helium balloon? Our prep area was located behind a bank of porta-potties that were reserved for the athletes so we found this out rather quickly Fortunately, other than a single mishap before handout (I won’t say who did it other than it wasn’t me), all of the balloons survived.

When the show started, we set up a distribution line with the help of some volunteers; we would bring out a balloon, hand it to the performer, remind them of what to do (keep it close, keep your distance from anything that can pop the balloon, don’t unwind the wire until you’re in final position, remember that the arming switch needs to be pulled out a bit before it can be flipped) and get them into position. After they finished they brought back the wand, with its attached wire and balloon spoor, which we collected and then started the tedious process of disconnecting the wires from the wands and tossing the garbage into cans for disposal.

Because we’d made spares, most of which hadn’t been used, we now had to deal with the question: how do we dispose of them? We thought about carefully poking a hole in the balloons and letting the helium out in order to try and eliminate the release of confetti…but that didn’t work very well, not to mention it was time-consuming, so in the end we just said screw it and popped them ourselves.

Of course, we have videos:

Balloon test

Kimmo doing two at once

One of the volunteers having fun

Yours truly setting one off

After we swept up as much of the confetti as we could we put the wands in their holders and took them out to the storage container. After that, other than saying farewell to our new Finnish friends (who had an early morning flight) and helping with some additional teardown, my Olympic experience was at an end.

It’s been a week since I left BC Place and I still feel a bit of a disconnect; part of me has a hard time believing it happened, another part is saying HOLY SHIT, DUDE, YOU JUST WORKED ON THE OLYMPICS!

However, there will always be a part of me that knows…

THE BEAVER IS WATCHING.

Popularity: 100% [?]

It’s a nice day for a White Weirding…

Posted by Office-Bob on 06 Mar 2010 | Tagged as: The Church of Pyro, FX

If you have worked in any sort of backstage capacity you’re likely to know the term “stage blacks,” meaning the all black clothing worn by stagehands so you can’t be seen by the audience. For an event such as the Olympics, where most of the behind-the-scenes action occurs below the stage itself, blacks weren’t needed – but if there was a possibility that you might be seen by the audience, or (Heaven forbid) be caught on camera, you needed to be wearing all-white. Since I had to keep “my” tappers and fiddlers in sight when they were on the stage it was possible for the audience to see me - plus I was a backup operator for the emergency cutoff switches on the flame bars - so I was issued a set of “Olympic whites.”

Not only did this just seem downright unnatural to people like me who are used to wearing black, the outfits we were given obviously weren’t designed with pyrotechnics in mind as they were 100% synthetic. In case you don’t understand why synthetics are bad, I can give you two reasons:

  • Synthetic fabrics can melt, or even burn, if exposed to flame.
  • Synthetic fabrics can generate static electricity.
  • Neither of these scenarios is desirable when working with items that are designed to burn, and which you want to have only burn at a specific place and time.

    Fortunately our crew chief had planned ahead in case the outfits hadn’t been provided in time and had given us all a pair of white cotton “painter’s pants.” We wore those instead of the synthetic pants, and I only wore the jacket when I was on the entrance ramp doing the fire watch. If something had gone wrong and I’d had to use my extinguisher, I’d have removed the jacket first.

    Here’s a picture of me in my whites; feel free to laugh – I know I did.

    After donning the outfit, my first thought was that I looked like the guy from the SpongeTowels ad…

    …while a co-worker said it looked like what Admiral Ackbar wore in Star Wars.

    You be the judge.

    Next time, I’ll talk about the closing ceremonies and how I came to hate helium balloons.

    Popularity: 52% [?]

    Hey, leggo my Wago!

    Posted by Office-Bob on 05 Mar 2010 | Tagged as: The Church of Pyro, FX

    After 640 dreamstars, 700 flares, 140 (or thereabouts) wiring harnesses, 36 helium tanks and 164 helium balloons, the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics are finally over.

    That’s only the stuff that I was directly involved with/responsible for; additional pyro included waterfalls, airbursts, confetti mines, stage pyro, roof pyro, barge pyro and no doubt other goodies that my mind has decided to blank out. In this entry I’ll try to summarize what went on behind the scenes – or at least my small part of the process.

    My first day on the job consisted of the previously mentioned “induction training” and building airburst harnesses out of CAT5 cable and some nifty devices called Wago clips. I couldn’t find a listing for the specific model of clip we used, but this will give you a general idea of what they look like; imagine a connector with both ends like the clip on the right and you’ll be good.

    The clips are great; you attach one end to the harness wire, plug the airburst lead into the other end and…instant connection! Plus, they’re reusable! We also used them for the flare wands, which were aluminum tubes housing a battery pack, arming switch and firing switch. The flares were a custom formula designed to give a specific shade of red and burned for 30 seconds – they were secured in a foam collar, which fit inside the wand, and the e-match which was taped to the flare was connected to the firing circuit using the aforementioned Wago clips. There were 163 flares used for the maple leaf pattern on stage, plus another 16 needed for the snowboarder’s ramp used at the start of the ceremony. Between rehearsals and performances I calculate that I set up just over 700 flares.

    I didn’t get a picture of the wands as used here but never fear, there will be pictures…later.

    The tappers and fiddlers had a different setup. The tappers had dreamstars (small tube fountains about 4 inches long) mounted on the soles of their boots; a copper tube had been glued next to the raised heel so there was sufficient space for everything to fit yet still allow the tappers to walk and dance. Each dreamstar was connected via e-match to a wiring harness which consisted of a battery pack with arming switch on one hip and a firing button on the other, with wires running down each leg in their costumes. We would attach the e-matches to the harness using crimp-type connectors, which had to be cut off after each performance. There were 27 tappers, each with 2 dreamstars, so when you need to assemble that many devices - plus extras because due to manufacturing variances they didn’t always fit into the copper tubes that held them in place - it adds up to a lot of pieces to be built.

    (Click on an image to enlarge)

    The fiddlers had a different firing system; it was self-contained on the bows so while the dreamstar was also secured in a copper tube at the end of the bow, the wires were connected via screw-down terminal blocks.

    (Click on an image to enlarge)

    The bows were prepped ahead of time in assembly line fashion; one person would do a circuit test on each bow to verify that it was functional (including the safety features), another would slide the dreamstar into the copper sleeve and screw it down; another would wind the e-match wire around the bow, and another would connect the e-match to the firing system. As the bows were readied they were hung on racks which would be wheeled to areas under the stage where the fiddlers would be issued a bow before they made their entrances.

    Prepping the tappers was a bit different; because we couldn’t connect the shoes to the costumes until the tappers were dressed, we did things in stages. The first stage was a circuit check on the firing systems which not only allowed us to verify that everything worked but also gave us the opportunity to extend any leg wires that needed it – since we had to cut the connections off after each performance, eventually the leg wires became too short to use and they needed extensions. We couldn’t use Wago clips because of the amount of movement; there was too great a risk of wires being pulled out of the plugs.

    The next stage was to place the dreamstars in the copper sleeves attached to the soles of the boots; after they were screwed down, the e-match wires were run up the “inseam” side of the boots and taped into place.

    Once the tappers were in costume they’d come our prep area, sit down and put on their boots. Once this was done we’d run yet another circuit test to ensure nothing was damaged when they put on the costumes, and then we’d connect the dreamstars to the wiring harness and tape the wires onto the tapper’s legs so the wires wouldn’t tear loose – and in case you’re wondering, we weren’t taping down to their skin.

    Once a tapper was fully connected they would move to the green room where’d they remain until it was time to go to their staging positions. As they moved from place to place I went with them as their safety person, looking oh so cute in my whites while lugging a fire extinguisher.

    Oh, yes, the whites…that will be covered in my next entry.

    Popularity: 75% [?]

    Yes, as a matter of fact, they DO need to see our stinkin’ badges.

    Posted by Office-Bob on 04 Mar 2010 | Tagged as: The Church of Pyro, FX

    Now that the Olympics* are over and my life is returning to what passes for normal, I can start updating y’all about what’s been happening over the past few weeks.

    As you may recall from a previous entry I had to submit paperwork and photos for a security screening in order to get my Olympic accreditation, which would allow me access to BC Place so I could work there. It turned out that getting the accreditation was only the first in a number of steps.

    On my first day at BC Place I had to attend an “induction” meeting where the various site safety regs were discussed – hi-visibility vests, hard hats and safety boots where needed, shirt sleeves must be at least 6 inches long, never go into an area cordoned off with red tape or you will be immediately fired. It got interesting when the Chief Safety Officer asked everyone at the table what they did:

    “Lighting.”

    “Rigging.”

    “Sound.”

    “Pyro.”

    You can guess who said that.

    The CSO seemed a bit surprised to hear this, though I can’t imagine why as I wasn’t the first pyrotechnician to attend one of these training sessions. From that point on, for the rest of the session, he called me “Sparky.”

    Sigh…before you ask, No. You. May. Not.

    At the end of the session we were all given another piece of ID to hang around our necks; this one to be worn until Feb. 4th – if you’re keeping score, I now had 2 neck lanyards.

    The pyro crew chief handed out another piece of ID later; a photo ID card that allowed us onto the actual Field of Play, i.e. the stage itself. This card was attached to the site safety ID card. Current score: ID 3, lanyards 2.

    Because we were working with pyro we were expected to carry our pyro licenses with us, so that was another set of ID to be worn. Now we’re at ID 5, lanyards 3 (I keep my indoor and outdoor pyro licenses on a single lanyard).

    Still another ID card was required if you were working after 9 pm, which in our case was quite often because we were handling the gas supply to the four flame bars around the Olympic cauldron. To get this ID card you went to the Production Office and signed it out – and you also had to turn over your cellphone; I guess they were worried that someone would leak info about the cauldron. Once you were done for the evening and turned in the ID card, you got your phone back. Since that card was a temporary measure, I’m not including it in my ID/lanyard count.

    Speaking of cauldron security, I should mention that not only were the practice runs performed late at night, but we never referred to it by name over the radio…only by code words. If the producer had been in possession of an ENIGMA machine I’m sure he’d have used that, too.

    In case you might be wondering why I didn’t just attach the extra IDs to my accreditation lanyard, it’s because we were told that we couldn’t – anything added to your accreditation would invalidate it. We were also told that the accreditation lanyard was part of the accreditation and therefore you couldn’t use a different lanyard with the card itself. Of course, after the opening ceremonies were done the rules on this were apparently relaxed a bit as a number of people – myself included – attached their FOP ID card (and the late shift ID if used) to their accreditation lanyard with no hassle.

    Then there were the stickers.

    There were two dress rehearsals, and before each rehearsal we were given a sticker to be placed on our accreditation card. There was a sticker that had to be applied for the opening ceremonies, and there was another sticker for the closing ceremonies. I think if I’d received 2 more stickers, I’d have gotten a free dessert with my next Olympics (of equal or greater value).

    Here is a picture of my accreditation with certain details obscured:

    Here’s a picture of the FOP card:

    Click on an image for a larger version.

    Now that I’ve covered ID, let’s discuss the actual process of accessing the venue. Every time you entered the site the barcode on your accreditation was scanned, the picture displayed on a computer was compared to the picture on the ID, and then it was compared to the face of the person wearing said ID. After that you walked through a metal detector – except for a couple of days when they let me bypass it for some reason I don’t comprehend – and put your belongings through an x-ray machine – except for a couple of times when they let me bypass it for some reason I don’t comprehend. Of course, wearing steel-toed boots and a bunch of neck lanyards with metal clasps is pretty much guaranteed to set off the WTMD – except for one time that it didn’t beep at me for some reason I don’t comprehend – so I got used to automatically stepping over to the side of the security tent and “assuming the position” while I was checked with a handheld metal detector. After being wanded, and occasionally being asked questions about my tools (I tried to leave them on-site but sometimes I’d forget and take them home at night), I’d be allowed to go about my business.

    The first time I went through with tools (nothing special - connector pliers, a multi-tool, flashlight and small screwdriver in a belt pouch) the person running the x-ray machine called out, “HE HAS TOOLS!” and I had to explain why I needed them and what a pyrotechnician was; the person asking me thought it had something to do with computer repair (the hell?) so when I explained it to her I mentioned fireworks instead of my usual response of, “I blow shit up.”

    One interesting aspect of the security checks was that the only time I was patted down was on the last day for the closing ceremonies; I guess the opening didn’t rate “Level 4 security,” whatever that is. Oh well – being Canadian, they asked me if I was okay with being patted down. Being Canadian, I complied. Being from the Greater Vancouver area, I wondered what would have happened if I’d refused and then pondered what being Tased might feel like. At least “Level 4” security didn’t include snipers on nearby roofs, as were in place during the opening ceremonies - that was a somewhat disconcerting sight for the crew installing pyro on the roof.

    All of the security people were polite (and/or Canadian), and their training was apparently so ingrained that even when entering the site at 10 in the evening when there was nothing going on, I was told to “Enjoy the Games!”

    Leaving the venue was easier; all you had to do was figure out where the exit was (the fencing they used to channel people offsite seemed to get rearranged on a regular basis). There were no security checks when you left so with a big enough bag, you could have taken anything you wanted offsite and no-one would have known.

    I see I haven’t mentioned the site sweeps yet. The site sweeps were a 2-day process: on the first day, the outer areas (prep areas, office trailers and such) were checked and because they couldn’t be accessed for the 24 hours it took to complete the sweep, if you wanted to be able to work during that time you had to move anything you needed to within the venue security area. The next day was when BC Place itself was swept; if you wanted to be able to work during that time – oh, hang on…we can’t work because WE CAN’T GET INTO THE VENUE. Hey, everybody, we get a day off!

    That’s enough mind-numbing stuff for now. In my next entry, which should be posted in a few days, I’ll actually tell you what the hell I did.

    *Olympics, Olympics, Olympics…suck it, VANOC, I’ll use the word as much as I like!

    Popularity: 43% [?]