Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Spain & Alfonso X

Me in the middle of Plaza Mayor in Madrid.  Took it with my Insta360 One on my iPhone.

The last 2 weeks of September 2018 found me in Spain - Seville, Madrid, Toledo, and El Escorial. I went there with Rob DeMilner of the LRC and Ryan Szpiech, Associate Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and Associate Professor of Judaic Studies in LSA. We went to Spain to shoot a video for Ryan. This was a much ‘leaner’ version of the same kind of shoot we had done in Athens in May 2017.

The topic was Alfonso X, the King of Castille in the 13 century. Also known as Alfonso the Wise, he inherited a large and prosperous kingdom from his Dad.  Since he did not have to fight any wars he was able to direct his significant resources to other work.

At the time, the Arabic world was the height of fashion and knowledge. Their works were being translated into Latin, which at the time was the language of scholars. But Alfonso thought they should also be translated into Spanish, in particular, Castilian Spanish, which was the dialect that was used in Alfonso's kingdom. Alfonso also hired many astronomers, chart makers, and other scholars to expand current knowledge and create new areas of learning.

This is why the language that we know today as simply Spanish came from Castilian Spanish. That Spanish became another language of scholars (and conquest) and was spread throughout the globe.

With just Rob and myself as the crew, I had familiar and expanded duties. I copied the data and charged the batteries every night, but also did most of the sound tech work and a fair amount of video shooting.

I used the rolling setup shown below to cart both cameras, 2 tripods, the GoPro Omni rig, and all the audio gear around on foot. You can see the tripods in the front, and the gray bag in back held most of the audio gear. The Omni is in front, in its bag, hanging from the handle. worked great and had the added bonus of providing us with a wheeled cart for the airports.


And I took a lot of 360 stills. Here is one of our 3 person US crew and our Spanish "fixer" at the Plaza Espana. It can be viewed with the GoPro VR Player 360. The link will let you download a Mac or Windows version of it.

Rob shooting with Ryan in the Plaza de Espana in Seville.

Me (Tom) shooting a 360 from the tippy-top of the Toro del Oro in Seville.

Rachelli, our Israeli producer and 3rd camera, shooting with Ryan in the National Library.

Rob shooting Ryan looking at actual books from Alfonso's time.

Monday, 10 September 2018


Zafos at UMMA 9/2018

I helped plan and set up an installation designed by the recent Witt Visiting Artist at Stamps, Zafos Xagoraris.  It was a one-day-only event, during the first home game of the season.  That would be on a Saturday.

His plan was to recreate, somewhat, the fell of early 60's free speech rallies on campus.  He found a 1967 Thunderbird to set up out front of UMMA, and I worked with the UMMA staff and Chrisstina Hamilton from Stamps to arrange the tech.

The whole point of this was to have people inside the gallery stand in front of the green screen so I could mix the3m into the other camera that was shooting the car out front.  They would be watching a monitor that showed them standing on the car, and their real voice would come out the speakers I put together.

Here is what the setup looked like out in front.

Here is what it looked like inside.

Here is the speaker stand I built.  Please note the sandbag for stability and the safely covered speaker wire.

 I got a large flat panel from UMMA and set it up just inside the window so passers-by could see the composited image.  Zafos had not originally planned this, but without it the only person who would see the complete image would be the person talking inside.

 We had to put up the black 'screen' in front of the window to block out the reflections from outside, so that the screen could actually be seen from outside.

Below is Ryan being composited onto the car, seen in the monitor pictured above.

I left for Spain the next day, so Ryan was kind enough to tear it all down at the end of the day.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

2018: The new WCBN Transmitter Antenna site

NEW UPDATE:  WCBN is broadcasting at 1.6 KW as of July 20th!  

We have been getting great reports about the improved coverage.


UPDATE:  Successful testing completed on Friday July 13th.  Yeah!  

Jim Campbell said:

"Last Friday night, working with Manos in the Studio, I sat at the new transmitter and ran it over the air for about an hour at half power.

Results were very good with the reflected power so low it barely budged the SWR meter on the FM2000 (1:1.04 at 350 Watts).  We are now awaiting the final license from the FCC to commence full power operation.  This could take several more months."

So now we wait...again...


The new transmitter and antenna for WCBN are finally installed on the UM's North Campus microwave tower.  It only took....how many years?

The tower is located off Dean Rd., between Hubbard and Baxter, and between Green Rd. and Huron Parkway.  Our new transmitter rack here, too.  It holds the entire chain of electronics that make our FM transmission possible.  It s in located in the small hut at the base of the microwave tower there.
there is also another antenna on that tower, and it is because of that antenna that we need to locate our antenna array a low on the tower as it is.  That height does not affect our transmission footprint, so don't worry!

The audio from the studio in the SAB first hits a signal processor that makes sure it is at  good level and keeps it from over-modulating our transmitter.
It then goes into the low power exciter that takes our audio signal and modulates a low power FM carrier at 88.3 MHz.
This is about the same power as our current transmitter, and can be used as out transmitter in an emergency, or if we need to do maintenance or repair on the main transmitter.  We are also going to keep our current transmitter system located at the top of the Weiser Building on central campus in case we need it to fill in when we have to take the whole new transmitter system off the air for any reason.
Then it goes into the 3000 watt transmitter that actually feeds the new antenna array. While we are allowed to broadcast at up to 3000 watts, the optimal pattern to reach our allowed area ends up having us transmit at 1600 watts.

Location of the new antenna and transmitter

We have 2 parts to the new antenna, and they are designed to be placed just so in order to shape our transmitter "footprint" to accommodate other radio stations around us.  And then they are put into protective plastic covers to keep them safe from the elements.  The covers have no effect on the RF transmission.

Here is what the antennas look like before they are enclosed.
Half of one of the covers is in the background.

Here is a close-ish view of what they look like on the antenna tower, with the workers on the tower:

Below are 2 sets of before and after shots of the tower. from far away and closer  Our new antennas are the lowest objects you see in the second set of photos.  They are enclosed in weather proof covers and so look like big black objects.

BEFORE, from the UMTRI building.
BEFORE, from the tower parking lot.

AFTER, from the UMTRI building.

AFTER, from the tower parking lot.
This one is annotated to show what's what.  The existing antennas are for other uses, and also determined where ours could be located on the antenna tower.  That's why ours are the lowest.  But they are just fine for our need.

Here are some photos of the new rack in the tower hut at the base of the microwave tower.


And a movie of going in to the shed:

Note how big the new line is compared to our temporary line.
The old RF cable is at the top of this photo.

The big hole in the middle is the
connection for the transmission line.
Here are some photos of how we have to keep the new transmission line (it's no longer just a cable) dry, using nitrogen gas under pressure in the line.


That's all for now.  Happy listening!


Tuesday, 8 May 2018

2018: CRLT China Event Tour of the DMC

Erping Zhu of CRLT, the Center for Reserach on Learning and Teaching at the University of Michigan, brought a group of 8 (6 Chinese visitors and 2 UM students, just graduated) for a short tour of the Duderstadt Center.  They are attending the CRLT program dealing with innovative pedagogy and so were very interested to learn about the very open access to our facilities.

At the end, after I showed them the Personal Studio and told them about all the Nursing students that go through there with their practice patient presentations, they wanted a group photo with me before they left.  Here it is.


Thursday, 3 May 2018

2018: A2RU Workshop on Promotion & Tenure

This is what the website said about the workshop:

I thought it sounded interesting, so I asked Deb Mexicotte (Managing Director of ArtsEngine) if I could sit in a corner and watch. She replied: "That's definitely not an option for *this* workshop - but I think you would be a great addition, so just sign up!"

I did.  Laurie Baefsky (Executive Director) later told Linda Kendall Knox that she should also attend, so we both went.  And what a time we had!

Gabe (A2RU, right) explains what to expect. 
Nina, our amazing facilitator, is to his left.
Missy Bay (U Minn.) & Linda Knox (UM) work on our first task.

The kinds of supplies we had.  We were asked to use screens only for quick lookups.
Linda's team at work.
Valerie Stanich (UM), Deb Mexicotte (UM), Keisha Love (UC), Stephen Beck (LSU).
My team. 

Add Joe Geigel (RIT, left) and Stephanie Vasko (MSU, right).

The names of the 4 games we produced.  I explain each one (badly!) with a photo.

Policy Mosaic

A card based game that helps you change policy to better support your institutional/school/unit values, and verify that they align with and support core values.

Triple the Ripple

This is a role playing approach to understanding the impact of Tenure policy on the institutional ecosystem, including Admins, Faculty, and Students.


Mentoring Portal

A web based set of tools to help groups of 1, 3, 5 and tenured faculty help each other, organized at the A2RU annual meetings.  This is meant to group faculty from different institutions with the idea that discussion would be more open.  But it would also work within a single institution.  The favorite game piece of any game is from this game:  The Discussion Spinner!  Like the spinner in a game of Twister, but it has general areas, each of which has pile of Topic Cards.

What's Next

This is a tool to help you forge a *real* plan for your research based on your Passions & Skills, the Artifacts created, and the Needs you have.  the idea is that when yo actaully see all these things laid out in front of you, it makes more sense.

At the End

All 4 of the games were really good, but at the end we all had to vote for our favorite.  Nina, our facilitator, said that usually one of the games wins by a clear margin, but our group didn't do that.  the votes were 4, 4, 5, and 5 (see photo).  Nina said that was unusual, but given the high engagement factors for each of our games she was not surprised.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

2018 Uganda: Scanning Idi Amin

Update from the 2017 trip: the video digitizing project has stalled due to financial woes at the UBC.   I'll provide updates as this changes.

Uganda 2018 - Scanning the Film Negatives of 

Idi Amin’s Official Photographer

If you have read my other blog entries, you will remember that I first visited the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) in Kampala, Uganda in June of 2017 with Dr. Derek Peterson to consult with them about their aging library of U-Matic videotapes.  It was during this trip that we found the filing cabinet contining the film negatives.

In January 2018 I went back to the UBC.  I went to set up a scanning operation with the goal of scanning the (mostly medium format) film negatives taken by ID Amin’s official photographer.  

When we first found them in a metal filing cabinet during that 2017 visit, they looked like this:

Dr. Derek Peterson investigating the negative cabinet with Jacob Noowe.
First I have to let you know who made this possible.  At the UBC there was Managing Director Winston Agaba, Administrator Madame Elizabeth Bigirimana, Records Assistant Malachi Kabaale, and Librarian Jacob Noowe. The two Makerere graduate students that will be doing the work are Jimmy Kikwata and Edmund Mulinda.  Dr. Edgar Taylor of the US is supervising the work locally as well as prioritizing the work based on his evaluation of each image's importance.  Finally, Dr. Derek Peterson acquired the funding from the UM African Studies Center African Heritage & Humanities Initiative and is generally supervising the project from the USA.

Here is a photo of the team in Uganda.

Jimmy, Edmond, Jacob, Edgar, and Malachi.  You can see our setup on the right.

Before traveling to Uganda, I had spec’ed out, purchased, tested, and labeled all the parts for this operation.  These included a new MacBook Air, an Epson V800 flatbed scanner, 2 external hard drives (one for data, one for daily backup) and various archival cotton gloves and cleaning supplies.  Derek was able to safely pack all this into his suitcases and took it to Kampala in January 2018 to await my arrival.

A quick aside:  I researched various ways to do this scanning, including using a wet scanning process.  I decided that for this project that taking care to keep the scanner and film holders clean and
making sure the negatives were clean would be the most sustainable workflow.

Getting Started - Our working space

We were expecting to be given a small desk in the room in which we found the filing cabinet (photos below).  It would have been difficult to make it work, but a space is always at a premium in institutions like the UBC in a building like this we were ready to deal with it.

Imagine my surprise when I found out we were to get an entire room - a room that we had never been in before, but that was right next door to the storage room with the negatives.  UM had provided the funding for the gear, my travel, and wages for the 2 Makerere University grad students that were to do the work, so it was great to see the UBC supporting this project so strongly.

This was the room when we first saw it.  That carpet was once red.
The problem was that it had not been used in many years, and apparently had not been cleaned much during that time.  It needed some serious work:

- The remaining gear needed to be removed
- The windows and walls needed to be cleaned and sealed
- The excess wire had to be put out of the way
- Dangerous gaps in the sections of the wall needed to be covered
- The unscreened air vents from the atrium had to be covered and made airtight
- And that all needed to happen before general cleaning of the room
- And cleaning or covering of the existing carpet

But as long as we were asking, would it be possible to also:
     - replace the carpet
     - add window blinds
     - and get one of the AC units working to protect the negatives?

And we only had 4 days before I was to leave Uganda.

While work started on that room, we set up the gear in a different room in a different building where a group of PCs recorded the UBC radio broadcasts all day.  It was air conditioned to keep the machines happy, and that worked well for our needs.  Hot & humid are the enemies of film.

Training started on Tuesday (using some film negatives I had brought from home) and would continue through Wednesday.  We had to set up in our permanent space on Thursday - no matter what shape it was in - so we could move in the negative cabinet, sort it out and start staging the real workflow, and start doing this work for real: the Makerere students had to understand how to do this work before I left at the end of the day Friday.

Let me be clear: I had very tempered expectations about what could be accomplished with regard to cleaning up this room given the time and other constraints.

           But in only three days the room was transformed! 

It was completely cleaned, had new carpet & window blinds, a working AC unit, and furniture!  All we had to do was move the negative cabinet and set up shop.

I arranged the furniture in what seemed to be a good layout, putting two corner desks side by side,  and set everything up.  We had a working area to load the scanner’s film holders, an area for the scanner, and an area for the MacBook & drives.  Other furniture and that existing shelving unit provided staging areas for sorting through negatives.  And the photos.

Did I mention the photos yet?  

Several boxes of old prints had been found just before we arrived, and they had to be sorted through to pull out any the might actually be of historical importance.  Over half were stock shots from somewhere else and of no interest, but there were plenty of local origination photos worth capturing.

Sorting and organizing the photos.

Working out the Details 

- Channeling my Inner MacGyver

Once we started trying to really work with the process we had defined, some flaws became apparent.  The most pressing of these was that it was difficult to quickly and precisely load the film holders.  

“We need a light table!” I thought, and then began figuring out how to make one.  

I finally hit on the idea of a desktop letter tray, and once I was able to convey what I was looking for, one appeared.  It was too wide to directly support the film holder, so I had to come up with a fix using what was on hand - which happened to be cardboard bank storage boxes and packing tape.  We had been using the boxes to sort various assets as needed. 

So I cut up some cardboard and taped it together to make blocks that fit into the letter tray and held up the film holders.

This shows the bottom of one of my homemade light table blocks, ready to be inserted
into the white-paper-lined letter tray in the background that I used for the light table.
The pink paper below that covered the desktop so we could keep the work area clean.
All that was needed was a light, so that night Edgar took me to one of his favorite “has everything” stores and we found 2 small rechargeable LED lights.  Perfect.  You can see both the the blocks and the light in place in the photo below.  

Note how well the LED light illuminates the white paper lining the tray!
Once the workflow was humming, I started documentation for the process so that we would be consistent, and for training future crews.  The current version is here.

The next problem was the negative cabinet itself.  The drawers are too short for the negative envelopes, so they were sort of crammed in.  Every time a drawer had been opened, the envelopes had been slightly damaged.  And several of the drawers were somewhat off their tracks and would not open or close very easily.  

Below are a couple of shots of the original state of the cabinet and negatives.

We moved the 35mm negatives from the bottom 2 drawers and put them into cardboard bank boxes, to be dealt with later.

A drawer full of 35mm negatives.
This gave us some empty drawers we could now use to alleviate the crowding.  We took out the drawers one by one, cleaned the inside of the cabinet, cleaned each drawer, and reloaded them with fewer negatives.

But before we did that, I did several things.

First, I made cardboard ramps for the back of each row in the drawers so the envelopes could be put in at a slant. yet still be fully supported. This was to avoid curling or otherwise damaging the negatives.  

My ramps at the rear, and cardboard dividers.
Then I made and inserted cardboard row separators where they were needed.  There was at least one metal divider in each drawer but more dividers were needed to help protect the negatives.  

Before and after versions of the drawers holding the negative envelopes.
Finally I unfolded some of the oversize file folders we had used to cover the desk work areas and taped them to the front edge of each drawer, like a hinge. This would prevent any more damage to the envelopes as drawers were opened or closed.

Once that was all in place, Edgar was able to go through and clean the various negative envelopes and choose which ones to start with - ones that were important in his opinion, or representative of a group.

 Edgar cleaning dirty build-up from the envelopes.
NOTE: that can of cleaner on top was only used for cleaning the cabinet!
Ultimately, all the negatives will be represented in the database, and most of them will be scanned. But it was decided to start with an iterative approach, with Edgar setting priorities.

The last problem was what to do about the photo prints that had been added to the collection.  

I first tried to use an old scanner they had at the UBC but it was not producing good results.  I asked if there was a digital camera somewhere that we could use, and Jacob said he would bring in and use his personal camera.  

Now all we needed was some kind of copy stand…..

Edgar & I figured we could use a metal shelf and some magnets to hold up the photos - if we could find a metal shelf and some magnets.  Jacob found and cleaned a small metal shelf from somewhere in the UBC (Jacob is a miracle worker!), and I managed to find some small magnets in a bookstore.

I taped a still-folded box to the wall to support the shelf’s weight, then taped the shelf to the wall so it would not fall over.  This way, all the weight was supported vertically and the tape just had to keep it from falling forward.

You can see the tape on the sides of the box and metal shelf.
I found some decorative magnets at a bookstore and, once we removed the magnets from their decorative plastic covers, we had what we needed.

I got out a small c-clamp ‘tripod’ I had with me, clamped it to a chair, and voila - instant copy stand!  

Me giving you a "users-eye view" of our copy setup.
We had great natural light from the window, but the last thing that was needed was a way to diffuse any sunbeams that might slip in through openings in the vertical window blinds.  

Again, what did we have that I could use?  Cardboard, packing tape, and - paper towels.  After a bit of "cardboard carpentry" we had a lovely diffusion screen between the photo wall and the window.

Top view of cardboard attachment showing how it was cut out and attached.
View of the finished "Diffusion Wall".
Finally everything was done. Even the power strip was labeled and secured.

The one labelled "NO" goes to another power strip.  I know, you're not supposed to do that...

We are Up and Running

This last photo is a panoramic view of the new workspace with everyone hard at work!

Clockwise from lower left: Scanner loading, Light table, Scanner, MacBook, Photocopy stand, Negative processing, Storage.

One final tweak I made to the workflow was to institute a verbal notice between the Scan Loader and the Scan Operator.  This was to minimize the downtime in case the scan operator was deep in the database and did not notice the scanner was ready.  

With a project of this scale, where a single scan takes 3 minutes, all those seconds start to add up!  We needed a good way to provide a clear "Ready!" signal.  
But just saying "Ready" seemed so...uninteresting...

So I told them what NASA does in the USA, when preparing to launch a rocket.
(the obvious go-to, right?)

The Flight Director will go around the room one last time and ask for a "Go / No-Go" from each of his unit heads. And if things were good they would say "Go Flight!"

So I asked Jimmy & Edmund to use that as a notification. They loved it, and in early April left me a voice message saying they were still using it.  You can listen to it here.

I have to say that this project really exercised my abilities.  We had no idea what resources we would find locally.  We had a starting place but the path forward was to be forged on site.  We didn’t even know what sort of space we would have before I got there.  I simply had to rely on my many years of experience - and it was really fun!  

One challenge after another came up, and we managed to find a way to make it work.  I have to thank my friends (it was great to see you again Jacob & Malachi!) and colleagues at the UBC for making it all happen so spectacularly well!  And it continues to work under the gentle guidance of Edgar.

Reports back from the field say that great progress is being made, and I would like to be able to visit again and see for myself.  No plans yet, but hope springs eternal...