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Producing Live Streams for Red Bull Creation

Red Bull Creation was a fun project that I recently had the pleasure of coordinating the live stream production for. The project called for an extensive video live stream production that included 14 live feeds from around the country, over a 72-hour period, non-stop.

Here’s one description of the project:

Think of it as the world’s coolest science fair – Red Bull Creation asked makers, inventors, and hackers to participate in a 72-hour frenzy of innovation, madness and ingenuity as 12 teams from around the USA engineered mind-boggling creations centred around a single theme.

RBC Live Control Center

The theme was ‘a game of games.’ Each of the 12 teams had to design and build their own physical game that could be played and exhibited in a public space. The winning team got $10,000 and a trip to this year’s World Maker Faire in New York. Three other top teams also won slots at Maker Faire.

At the TechShop Annex in San Francisco, we setup a live studio set that would act as the “nerve center” for the RBC project. Over the course of the 72-hour challenge, hosts Mike Senese and Tyler Hanson would go live, talk show style, checking in with the 12 teams to see how their builds were coming along. To accomplish this, we used a combination of Skype and Facetime conversations with team members that we fed into and switched live using our Newtek Tricaster 850.

Here’s the technical rundown.

The 12 competing teams around the country were each sent a kit that contained a Logitech C920 webcam, a Blue Snowball microphone, a tripod and a getting started guide on getting it all set up. The 12 teams each had their own Livestream channel to broadcast their builds over the 72-hour period. We had a dashboard at the nerve center that allowed us to see all 12 streams at any given moment, giving us a bird’s eye view on all teams progress.

Red Bull Creation - 12 teams

The Tricaster 850 sat in the center of our production. It was our live video switcher, graphics source, lower thirds titler, DVR, Apple AirPlay host, encoder, streamer and recorder. All content we were producing locally and remotely ultimately flowed into it before we sent it back out live on the primary Red Bull Creation Livestream feed. Two studio cameras were set up sending us 720p HD video. A Mac Mini and a PC each fed HDMI out into an AJA HDMI to SDI mini-converter, giving us HD-SDI inputs into the Tricaster. Tyler was also able to VJ music videos using his iPad. He’d cue up a YouTube video and send it to the Tricaster as a network input via Apple AirPlay over the wifi network.

When Tyler and Mike were not on set checking in with the teams live, we would pipe in various team feeds and switch them live to the main feed. We did this using the same Mac Mini and PC we used for Skype and Facetime conversations during the live shows.

Here’s a thorough accounting of the technology we used:
– 1 NewTek Tricaster 850
– 2 Sony EX1 video cameras
– 1 TVU Networks TM8100 remote cellular broadcast pack (with 10 cellphone aircards across 4 networks)
– 3 Apple Mac Minis
– 2 modern home built PCs w/Intel i7 processors
– 1 Apple iPad
– 14 Livestream channels on 2 network accounts
– 20Mb/s bi-directional Internet connection by awesome local ISP MonkeyBrains.net
– 2 AJA HA5 HDMI to SDI Mini-Converters
– 8 various LCD and LED monitors
– 1 Mackie Onyx 1620i recording mixer
– 2 Sennheiser ew100 ENG G3 wireless lav mics and 1 handheld mic
– A variety of Kino Flo Diva-Lites and ARRI studio
– 1 Gamelatron Robotic Orchestra
– 3 days of setup and testing

Glenn, mobile broadcaster

Some things we learned:

Livestream’s plugin for Tricaster is buggy. We experienced major audio sync issues when enabling this. Livestream’s premium support was immediately available but unfortunately didn’t have a fix, so we just went with the old fashioned way of using a single bitrate Flash Media Encoder profile. The plugin would have allowed us to offer multiple bitrates to viewers.
– AJA’s HA5 HDMI to SDI Mini-converter doesn’t work with the latest Mac Minis with Intel’s HD Graphics 3000 chipset. AJA’s support was very responsive, but this wasn’t a known issue until we brought it to them. Apparently this model of Mac Mini has an HDMI port that is actually a DVI connection, not true HDMI. This is fine when the port is used for monitors but sucks for applications that actually require true HDMI spec video such as these mini-converters. Apparently, the higher end Mac Minis with the AMD Radeon HD graphics chipset output true HDMI, thus work fine with the AJA HA5.
– We had some serious line noise coming from one of the Mac Minis that we couldn’t readily eliminate. We acquired an inline noise filter device and that pretty much did the trick.
– The TVU Pack is a great product and worked as advertised, though we should have spent a bit more time testing it before we went live with it. We had some issues with 16:9 aspect video being squeezed to 4:3 on the other end.
– Not every YouTube video plays nicely over Apple AirPlay for some reason.
– Skype and Facetime are great ways of patching in remote guests, though quality really varies among locations and networks. Still, it was better than our initial expectations.
– Sleep really is helpful sometimes.
– You won’t explode from drinking too much Red Bull. Really.

Here’s some nice press from Wired.

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The Internet says no to SOPA and PIPA

Yesterday, a large portion of the Internet rose up against two horrible bills making their way through Congress. These bills, SOPA in the House and Protect IP Act or PIPA in the Senate, would fundamentally change the nature of the Internet in misguided attempts at stamping out copyright infringement. Many websites voluntarily went dark for the day to show the public what things could well look like if these bills become law. Wikipedia, Craig’s List, Google, the Internet Archive, Reddit, Tumblr all participated, educating users and encouraging them to contact their congress people. Physical protests happened in San Francisco and New York where many lolcat fans, entrepreneurs, reddit users and first time activists turned out to lodge their opposition.

I grabbed my Z1U and ran down to City Hall here in San Francisco to catch up with the happenings. Several notable Internet people showed and spoke out about SOPA/PIPA including Craig Newmark, Caterina Fake, Ron Conway, MC Hammer, Brewster Kahle, and Elizabeth Stark. I recorded some of the soapbox action and grabbed some interviews asking two questions.

The first question, What is the worst part of SOPA and PIPA to you?

The second question, How will SOPA and PIPA affect your organization?

Interviewees: Jonathan Nelson, Sam Stoller, Caterina Fake, Tantek Çelik, Adina Levine, Seth Schoen, Rick Prelinger, Jen O’Neal, Jessica, Anders Nelson and Kim Dowd.


My voting slate for 2008

Otto Bannard Voting (LOC)

As a San Francisco resident, I’ve got a lot to vote for in this election. Aside from the high profile national election, there’s a ton of state and local propositions as well as a number of San Francisco Board of Supervisor seats up in the air. As an unabashed lefty, here’s who and what I voted for. Much of my selections track the League of Pissed Off Voters’ guide and the SF Bay Guardian’s voter guide.

There are several great people that I know personally who are running for public office in San Francisco this election. Most of whom I met while working to get Matt Gonzalez elected mayor in 2003. A great campaign that ended in a narrow loss to current mayor-for-life Gavin Newsom. Now these great candidates are graduating to positions of trust and authority, ready to carry the progressive torch. Please consider giving them your vote.

San Francisco Board of Supervisors
D1: Eric Mar – Solid progressive voice on SF’s school board.
D5: Ross Mirkarimi – Up for reelection. I worked for Ross on his first campaign when he won Gonzalez’s previously held seat.
D9: Mark Sanchez – Progressive voice of reason and president of SF’s school board. He’d make an awesome supervisor in the Mission.
D11: John Avalos, Randy Knox – I know John from the progressive political scene around City Hall. Hard core committed to helping people. Randy is great too, a lawyer and pal from the Gonzalez campaign.

Community College Board: Bruce Wolfe – Bruce is one of the first people I met on the Gonzalez campaign, we connected easily as he handled all desktop and network operations for him. Bruce is a technology advocate, but does so smartly and ensures that those without access get it. He’s long been involved in City College, a supporter of tenants rights, a social worker and has a great dog named Charlie.

BART Board: Tom Radulovich – Tom is rad and a solid progressive. Supporter of smart urban growth and transportation. Not uncommon to bump into him in Critical Mass. Up for reelection.

Congress, District 8: Cindy Sheehan – While Cindy has a snowball’s chance and has zero political experience, she does provide a good protest vote against Nancy Pelosi, who has strayed from her core San Francisco constituency in recent years. Hearing Pelosi on NPR say she couldn’t debate Sheehan because she was too busy in Washington helping other Democrats’ campaigns clinched this for me. A healthy democracy thrives on alternative viewpoints and debate. If we had instant runoff voting (IRV) for congressional seats, this wouldn’t need to be a protest vote.

President: Barack Obama / Joe Biden – Obama’s hat in the ring has done more to unify and inspire a massive swath of disaffected citizens in this country and around the world. While Obama may not be the perfect candidate, and really who is, his winning the presidency is historic and symbolic on so many levels. I have confidence with Obama’s community organizer roots, that he will do the right thing for the majority of voters. That’s a refreshing turnaround from the last 8 years. While I love Matt Gonzalez and his ideas, there’s no way I can support a Nader/Gonzalez ticket this year.

San Francisco Propositions

A: Yes
B: Yes – Affordable housing bond.
H: Yes – Public power YES. PG&E is waging an all out fud campaign to stop this. Ignore the hype around the fictitious ‘blank check’.
J: Yes
K: Yes – Decriminalizes prostitution.
N: Yes
Q: Yes
R: Yes – Rename SF’s sewage treatment plant after George W. Bush. I can’t think of anything more appropriate.

California propositions

1A: Yes – High speed rail = good.
2: Yes – Happy animals taste better.
4: No – Mandatory parental notification of abortion. Third time this on the ballot.
5: Yes – Rehab and drug treatment for non-violet drug offenders. A no brainer.
6: No
7: No
8: No – Would ban legal gay marriage in California, creating state sanctioned discrimination against many of my friends.
9: No
10: No
11: No – Redistricting plan. Needed but this way isn’t right.
12: Yes – Housing bond for veterans.


The Long Now on the Mechanicrawl

I had the spectacular pleasure of bouncing around with Mr. Telstar Logistics himself, Todd Lappin, to capture for Boing Boing TV interesting stops along the way of The Long Now Foundation‘s Mechanicrawl event. First stop was the Long Now’s own museum of prototypes for its 10,000 year clock. Long Now’s Executive Director Alexander Rose breaks down all the awesomeness in this video. Lots of shiny rotating machinery and geneva mechanisms to ooh and ahh at.


A Cheap Date with Veronica Belmont

The second video I did with pal Veronica for Mahalo Daily is up today. It’s on everyone’s favorite subject, cheap dates. I was lucky enough to be Veronica’s cheap date and run around town to places like the SF Giants ball park, the wine bar (cheap if you sip slowly!) and Alamo Square park for a picnic and some hawt geocache action. Yes, that’s me playing the voice of a dork named Bobbie who V rejects flatly like a square of toilet paper stuck to her shoe. 🙁 I know, keep my day job.


Podcast Hotel

Podcast Hotel

Podcast Hotel, a cool casual conference around independent audio and video podcast making, is happening this weekend in San Francisco. It takes place at the Swedish American Hall, a favorite venue for indie media makers. I’ll be moderating this session on Saturday:

1:30 p.m. – 2:15 p.m.
The State of Vlogging: What’s new?
How is the community evolving? How can artists get into vlogging as a way to promote themselves and their work? We will address how enabling technologies have changed the way we view and create video content online; are broader audiences ready? Will there be increased demand as with online video sites? How will this impact news distribution in the future?

Eddie Codel, PodTech and Geek Entertainment TV

Adriana Gascoigne, bub.blicio.us
Schlomo Rabinowitz, Vloggercon/CNET
Justin Kan, Justin.tv
Josh Wolf, The Revolution will Be Televised

I’m psyched to have such an esteemed panel of online video movers and shakers. Josh Wolf is free now after achieving the status of longest jailed journalist in American history. Justin Kan has made international headlines over the past month for being the first person to “lifecast” himself. Schlomo has his short stubby fingers in more vlog pies that I can name. Adriana reports for party scenesters bub.blicio.us and worked previously at video hosting site Guba. Come on down or watch the action lifecast on justin.tv.

Coalition Demands That San Francisco Reject Google/Earthlink Monopoly Deal

For Release: Contact: Bruce Wolfe (SFPO) 415.867.5995
Thursday, January 25, 2007 Eric Brooks (Our City), 415.756.8844

Coalition Demands That City Reject Google/Earthlink Monopoly Deal
and Instead Give San Franciscans Truly Free, High Speed, Public Internet

Today, Public Net San Francisco, a coalition of various community groups and Internet professionals, insisted that the City of San Francisco cancel the pending Google/Earthlink monopoly WiFi deal, and instead use the City’s existing high speed fiber optic network as the backbone to build a truly modern, fast, and free, public communications system.

Groups releasing the statement included the San Francisco People’s Organization (SFPO), Our City, the community wireless network SFLan, and Internet services provider United Layer.

Their statement follows closely on the heels of a report just released by the San Francisco Budget Analyst’s Office, which makes clear that the Google/Earthlink deal will result in an inferior monopoly franchise that will give San Franciscans much slower access than nearly all other cities providing municipal Internet, and more importantly, will fail to serve the intended core goal of the project – to make certain that all San Franciscans, regardless of their income, get free fast and equal access to the Internet.

The report states that the Department of Telecommunications and Information Services (DTIS) acted far too hastily in adopting the monopoly deal, without seeking sufficient input from the public, and notably failing to include possibilities for using over 35 miles of city owned fiber optic cable to build a much more robust system, that could be owned by the public, and could provide all San Franciscans with free Internet service at least ten times faster access speeds than the Google/Earthlink plan. The City and its residents should not give away its ability to self-determine its destiny. The people deserve a real choice.

Said Bruce Wolfe of the San Francisco People’s Organization, “I don’t get it. DTIS spent over a year coming up with this plan and it doesn’t even serve its primary goal of making sure that everybody in San Francisco, regardless of income, gets free and equal Internet access. Smooth video, and clear phone calls, are becoming basic uses of the Internet. This deal provides neither to nonpaying users, leaving them in the digital dust.”

Eric Brooks with the local grassroots organization Our City stated, “After nearly a century of San Franciscans suffering rip-offs and incredibly bad service under the monopoly control of our public utilities by corporations like PG&E, Comcast, and AT&T, it amazes me that DTIS can stand there with a straight face and try to convince us that we should let a multinational corporate partnership own and control our new public communications system.”

Tim Pozar with United Layer, the Internet services provider that installed a free Internet system for users in San Francisco’s Alice Griffith housing project, stated, “The Budget Analyst’s report shows clearly what we have been saying to the City for over a year now. If we go for municipal ownership of a system that makes use of all the City’s public assets, including the high speed ring of fiber optic cable lying only half used right under our feet, we can get a vastly superior, and 10 to 100 times faster system, than the clunker being offered to us by Earthlink and Google.”

Ralf Muehlen, who already provides free Internet access to hundreds of San Franciscans through the nonprofit community wireless network SFLan concluded, “The big problem with the Earthlink system is that it uses a slow, wireless-only backbone that cannot accommodate even today’s needs let alone the needs of the next 16 years. 300 kilobits per second is so 1997; it’ll be utterly ridiculous in 2023, which is how long Earthlink’s monopoly will last. Earthlink has little incentive to upgrade, and their non-fiber backbone has no spare capacity. A hybrid network, that uses both wireless and existing fiber can support much higher speeds and is more robust. We already paid for the City’s fiber with our taxes, we should now put it to good use.”

Endorsing Organizations (not full list)

San Francisco People’s Organization – 2940 16th St. #314, SF, CA 94103, http://www.sfpeople.org
Press Contact: Bruce Wolfe, brucewolfe@sfpeople.org, Skype: brucew-sf

Our City – 1028-A Howard St., SF, CA 94103, http://our-city.org
Press Contact: Eric Brooks, info@our-city.org

United Layer – 200 Paul Ave. #110, SF, CA 94124, http://www.unitedlayer.com
Contact: Tim Pozar, pozar@barwn.org

SFLan – 116 Sheridan Ave., SF, CA 94129, http://www.sflan.org
Contact: Ralf Muehlen, sflan+press@muehlen.com