It's now April 2014 for those keeping score at home! 2014 all told will have me going to 9 conferences. Good thing I went to the Jos. A. Bank buy one get two free sale!
Time for some time off, with the occasional e-mail or phone call to wrap up preparations for the conference at the tail end of the vacation in South Florida. We happen to manage a conference in Miami Beach, so my wife and I scheduled a vacation to precede this event, with visits to my parents in Delray Beach and my aunt and uncle in Naples.
It happened to be school vacation for a lot of people, so while I normally get a mid-sized car, National was handing out whatever was available. We ended up with a Trailblazer for the week which was actually pretty nice.
First stop was my folks in Delray Beach for 4 days of relaxation, a few meals out, a few meals in, swimming and too much sun.
In Naples we discovered some great Greek food of all things, and some lovely beaches.
Next it was a drive down the historic Tamiami trail to Miami Beach. We arrived just as the AV crew was getting going. This crew has worked this conference for a few years running, so it went smoothly, and was 3 fun filled days of vascular surgery, sushi and swimming - what I would call a workation.
I love the Art Deco and Art Moderne of Miami Beach. It is amazing to see old dilapidated buildings being refurbished, or torn down to be replaced with new buildings in the same style.
And great food of course
And then it was back home again, this time for a good two months. Two months spent kicking off a huge new project, and planning for the next phase.
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Aug 28, 2014 at 10:46:18 pm
Salt Lake City really does feel like two separate places. On the one hand you have a convention center, hotels and restaurants like any other city, not to mention some really unique architecture, spectacular scenery in most directions and a bunch of history.
Then in the center of town you have the Mormon complex, featuring the famous cathedral, visitor's centers, Tabernacle, outdoor mall and the massive conference center. We happened to be there on Conference Weekend (google it - I did) so we got some flavor of a religious pilgrimage the likes of which you really do not see in America.
After the conference ended (not that conference, we were there for a medical one!) I had the chance to walk around the city, saw some interesting sites and finished off at the state capitol building with some great views of the surrounding area.
Oddly there is also this spectacular Gothic cathedral in the outskirts of the downtown area.
This trip also afforded me the chance to reunite with one of my oldest friends (he and I are the same age, I have known him since the Reagan administration, though we had not see each other since 1990!) who lives in Ogden with his lovely family. Joe picked me up after work and took me up to meet his family, took me on a tour of Ogden, the closest town to where the golden spike with struck to join the two branches of the first transcontinental railroad. Ogden has some fascinating architecture as well.
We ate at the Two Bit Street Cafe - a Prohibition-era cafe now owned by a mentalist who bent a spoon with me holding it in my hand, and I can't figure out how he did it.
He was also the former personal assistant of Andy Gibb, so he has some Bee Gees memorabilia in the restaurant and is happy to tell some tales.
Night time view of the Great Salt Lake looked better in person than this grainy cell phone photo:
Another interesting visit to a new city.
Ok, gotta grab a night flight back home so I can wash some clothes.
Stay tuned for Part 6: Workation
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Aug 28, 2014 at 10:44:12 pm
A few weeks to go until our annual diabetes conference in LA. The course director asked about having a live Twitter feed ticker under the main content. This was a technical challenge, solved in part here on the COW: http://forums.creativecow.net/thread/158/857664#857664
As the thread describes, we used a website called Crowd Convergence, which allows social media feeds in a variety of formats and shapes. But since we were not in a broadcast studio, we had to jury rig a solution using 3 video switchers to be able to independently add or remove the ticker, switch I-Mag cameras within a PIP window and switch slide content in another PIP window.
The conference is held in the Ray Dolby Ballroom - the same venue where the post-Oscars Governor's Ball is held. It is kind of cool knowing that the room itself has hosted innumerable filmmakers and actors over the years. Oddly, the space is managed by Wolfgang Puck. Since he caters the Governor's Ball, he decided to build a kitchen and ballroom within walking distance of the Oscar's - or something to that effect.
The ballroom is on the top of Hollywood and Highland, a massive outdoor mall and entertainment complex, next to the Dolby Theater and Chinese Theater. Also adjacent to the Loew's Hollywood Hotel where part of the conference is also held.
And all of this is on Hollywood Blvd, a popular yet seedy part of LA. Most big cities have a Times Square like area, and in LA it is this stretch of Hollywood Blvd at night where you have an odd mix of tourists, costumed characters, homeless teenagers, people cooking sausages and peppers on small gas-fired wagons, lots of traffic and bright lights. Yep, Times Square.
We finished the AV setup about 9pm, and I continued the late night sushi tradition at an awesome place in the complex. Apparently there was a famous actor at the next table, because another patron asked to have a photo taken with him. I quickly turned around to look and it was either Aaron Paul or Dustin Diamond - I have no idea. Why a famous person would go to an outdoor mall for dinner I don't know, although based upon the number of Bentley, Maserati and Porsche cars in front of the Loews, I guess it is a popular spot.
Next 3 days of the event went off without a hitch.
Well there was one potential hitch. One of the presenters, who was to receive an award, was stuck in Europe due to an illness. I was tasked with helping him appear via Skype. Using Skype to talk to a business associate or your parents, computer to computer, or iPad to Android, works ok. But putting this interaction up on a 16 foot screen for an audience of 700, with a total of 15 minutes to test before the main event, is a little dicey.
Luckily we had Rick Disco Duck Dees moderating the session , so we were in good hands! Everything went fine thanks to the use of a mobile hotspot (the wifi provided in the ballroom was dismal, as is often the case in meeting facilities). After the talk, some of the faculty actually posed for photos with the remote presenter on a laptop.
Dinners on this trip included the previously mentioned sushi dinners, a group dinner at Tinhorn Flats (a generally awful Tex-Mex place across from the hotel), and a unique dinner with my old pal from college at Hollywood's historic Musso and Frank's Grill. Google it - interesting place.
My friend, let's call him Lando (he lost that ship to me fair and square) has a variety of entertainment gigs in LA, from play by play during MMA fights, to local tv commercials and gets invited to parties in the Hollywood hills.
Then ol' Lando took me on a walk down Hollywood, past the Scientology building, and down La Breas to Mashti Malone, a unique Persian Ice Cream place. I had coconut, mango and another flavor that escapes me. http://www.mashtimalone.com/default.htm
With this assignment done, it was off to LAX for a red-eye through some city, and back to Hartford.
This left me less than two weeks to get ready for Part 5....
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Aug 28, 2014 at 10:29:31 pm
Last week I made my annual pilgrimage to the American College of Surgeons meeting, this year in Chicago. 4 days of promoting our products and services to surgeons from around the world - lots of talking, walking, and checking out some of the latest medical technology.
Cine-Med's usual duties include supporting the video program, which plays nearly 250 surgical videos over 4 days. My role was quality control - checking each video file before the meeting, and flagging any files which need attention (mostly pixel aspect ratio corrections, some low or hot audio levels and some unusual formats).
The goal is to make everything an MPEG2 file at 720x480.
What!? 720x480? What is this the 90's??
Well, given the limitations of networks used to transfer video files around the massive McCormick Place convention center, the playback computers themselves, and the sub-HD resolution projectors and stock motherboard GPU's, non-HD video remains the lowest common denominator for this particular meeting.
That being said, we received a couple of dozen HD videos, and we'll maintain the original resolution in the online video library that we maintain.
Walking around the show floor I stopped by a booth displaying a new 4K monitor. Not that there are any medical video devices capable of generating a 4k video image, but cool to see anyway.
The last day of the meeting was the 3D video session, featuring 3 10-minute 3D videos - a Pancreaticoduodenectomy, a Colon Resection, and a Gastric Bypass. I'll spare you the images, but take my word for it, the colon resection was the best. As in feature films, you want to use 3D where it is appropriate. A lot of surgery happens in one plane, so the only sense of depth comes from objects in the foreground such as instruments and sutures - kind of neat. But as you know, when doing a laparoscopic sigmoid colon resection you are working deep down in the pelvis, and in that case the sense of depth is profound and really useful for working around nerves and blood vessels. (you mean you didn't know that?)
As for the rest of the time, we setup a booth displaying our book and video products as well as promotional material for upcoming events that we manage. It is cool talking to people from places as diverse as Australia, Japan, China, Korea, Brazil, Mexico, Jamaica, Belgium, Russia, Kuwait, Israel, Qatar, Dubai, Canada and even the 50 states of the US.
In the downtime we usually try to find good places for meals. On this trip we had Vietnamese, Italian, American and a fair share of ready-made sandwiches and pastries during the meeting itself. One of our co-workers took us to the Green Mill, a historic Prohibition Era lounge, to see a jazz quartet play. Although I had never heard of her, Patricia Barber is supposed to be well known and she does not perform very often in the US, so it was a treat. I will say her drummer and guitar player were awesome.
Finally the trip home in the rain got me back home at about 1:30am.
As with most of my travel, I try to find at least an hour to do something related to the city. In Chicago it is photography of the amazing architecture.
Until the next journey, thanks for reading.
PS - In case you are wondering, our new kitten Alfie no longer resembles a kitten. He's over 6 pounds and he is even learning to drive.
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Oct 8, 2012 at 2:51:40 pm
Travel, intensive pre- and post-production and even a vacation have made Summer 2012 memorable.
Here are some photo highlights.
The Summer began with the sad departure of my beloved Tabby Tigger. He was 16 and had a great life with us.
After a few weeks we found a new little bundle of joy.
July 4th - we discovered the fun of legal multi-packs of fireworks. With garden hose standing by we celebrated America's 236th birthday. The Bicentennial seems like yesterday.
A few back to back trips to Washington DC afforded some nice photo ops.
While a recent trip to Colorado presented some visual as well as technical opportunities.
A little bit of fun (it's fake blood I swear):
While in Denver I visited the makeshift memorial to the Aurora theater victims. It made the tragedy seem much more meaningful, as opposed to Anderson Cooper's ramblings. Sad indeed.
This past weekend I celebrated my 15th anniversary wth a fancy fondue dinner:
And as if that wasn't enough fun, the next day I was treated to a surprise birthday party for my entry into middle age:
We are now busy preparing two new web-based educational services, our entry into the multi-touch iBook format and our annual support of a surgical video program consisting of nearly 200 videos over 4 days.
Later in the year we will present close to 30 live surgery cases from all over the world at a one-day meeting. Should be exciting.
So, busy times past, present and future.
Thanks, as always, for reading
PS - Since you are sure to ask, here are some more pictures of our kitten.
Adorable, isn't he!
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Aug 14, 2012 at 9:55:47 pm
Ok, so your client wants you to shoot some interviews and b-roll at their factory in another part of the country. In my case it is likely a medical procedure, but not always. It doesn't matter - getting there and back is the fun part.
This is of course not always possible due to last minute confirmations of participants. But let's say you have 2 weeks or 1 week at a minimum to plan. This is really only an issue as far as booking flights. If possible, book a refundable ticket, meaning you can get your money back or at least a credit with no service charge if plans change. Southwest and Jetblue tickets are almost always refundable, though neither of those airlines flies everywhere in the US. I'm focusing on US travel because that is what I do - feel free to chime in with international travel tips.
I usually use Yahoo Travel to search for flights, because I have always used it and I can actually remember my password! But a handy app is Kayak, in which you enter your destination and you can filter pretty dynamically to find the right combination of times, costs and stops.
For Southwest or Jetblue use their own websites.
For hotels, I have started using Hotels.com, as they have a pretty user friendly interface and some good deals. When booking hotels beware the pre-paid rate. Often the rate is $20+ cheaper than the rack rate, but you pay in advance and the cancellation penalty is the full price of the room, and in some cases more than one night's rate. If your plans have the possibility of changing at the last minute, it is best to pay a bit more for a rate you can cancel.
If traveling with a lot of gear, and the hotel has ground level rooms, see if you can get one. Maneuvering a hand truck on and off hotel sized elevators is one more thing to deal with.
Transportation on the Ground
I usually rent a car or mini-van depending upon the amount of gear and the number of people. However in places like Chicago, DC and Dallas where there is mega traffic, a taxi fits the bill. You may be tempted to say that multiple taxi rides are more expensive than a car rental, but it depends. And convenience can weigh in either direction.
Know your local airports. When I fly out of Hartford, although it is a smallish air[port about the size of Raleigh Durham or San Diego, the security line is super slow. So I plan to get to the airport well in advance of my departure time. Bigger airport, though they have more people and flights also have more efficient security lines.
When you check-in for your flight you'll have to pay for your extra bags. An average trip for me has 3-4 pieces of checked luggage (hand truck, light kit, monitor case, tripod tube) but sometimes more if it is a multiple camera shoot. Southwest gives you 2 free bags. Most other airlines give you 1 or zero free bags. (Delta charged me nearly $800 each way for 5 pieces of luggage last year. On another trip I upgraded to first class for less than the price of the baggage fees, and got my extra bags included in the price. This option was offered by the Delta agent, but these nice people are usually kept away from the public). The check-in clerks always seem to change the tone of their voices when they ask for this kind of money, thinking you are going to flip out. I just say "Ok, no problem" and hand over the card for payment. Back in the pre-2001 days you could convince them to give you a media discount, and the old mainframe computers had a series of keystrokes to get those lower rates. But nowadays you pay or you drive.
Going Through Security (no pictures here)
Always carry your camera on the plane, whether it is a full size, camcorder, DSLR or all of these. A soft sided camera bag, or a generic roll-aboard that does not look like a camera bag are both good choices. If using a traditional roll-aboard, put some padding inside and this helps you look like a regular business traveler, and it saves your shoulder. Now when you have a couple of carry on pieces (camera bag, laptop bag or backpack) you need 2-4 of those slimy plastic bins.
Before I get in line, I place my wallet, phone and other contents of pockets into my backpack. About 2 people before you get to the bins, take off your shoes and belt. The belt, liquids in a zip lock if you have not checked this, and shoes into a bin. Laptop in its own bin. Suit jacket, turned inside out, in a bin (or sweatshirt, hoodie, jacket or whatever). Cameras in a bin. Some airports want you to put your shoes on the belt and they'll get snooty about it. Look for signs to that effect.
Other side of the scanner I expect a pat down, since cargo pants and travel shirts have extra zippers. I actually had a TSA guy tell me to wear different clothes when I travel. As if. Then repack bags, check for laptop, wallet, license, keys, cameras, phone. It is amazing how many announcements I hear that go "will the traveler leaving a 17" Mac Book Pro and a titanium Rolex watch at security please return to claim your items." Not good.
Airport food is traditionally the worst food money can buy. This is changing but slowly. Unless you have a 1 hour wait for a flight, the sit down restaurants are a bad idea. More on these later. For most flights less than 2 hours I'll pack some energy bars and maybe get a coffee and a muffin at the airport. In smaller airports beware of limited food options and long lines. You can buy a 1L bottle of water for roughly $14.95 at the news stand. For long haul flights hydration is vital.
For a cross country flight I know that I am going to be starving somewhere over the Rockies and the salted free snacks just make you thirsty. I'll get a bottle of water, a baked good, and either a prepared salad or sandwich. In any case be prepared to pay through the nose for all of this stuff.
If you have a layover or simply a longish wait for a flight, you can try a sit down restaurant, but be warned, they can be slowish and not very goodish. Recently at ORD I tried the Wolfgang Puck's. I assume they guy licenses his name because the food was just awful and the service worse. Granted the pay is probably pretty bad.
At Manny's, you can get meatloaf and mashed potatoes, turkey and gravy and other traditional diner dishes. The food is hot, tastes like your grandma made it and you won't be hungry for a while. Add a cream soda and life is good. You will almost forget you are in an airport.
Hanging out in Airports
If you have eaten your requisite meal but you still have some time before your flight (ie a red-eye or just a late night connection) you can take a walking tour of the airport. Depending upon the age of the facility you can find some historical points of interest or simply some artistic discoveries.
Midway has a nice historical display about the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier in WWII, including a vintage fighter plane hanging from the ceiling.
If you walk over to the old American Terminal, you will feel like you have gone back in time to the late 1970's.
In O'Hare, the airport is massive. Walk over to the original sections and there are some 1960's architectural elements that you just have to experience for yourself. Same goes for LAX and the old Pan Am terminal now used by Jet Blue at JFK.
Another unique place is the Marine Air Terminal at Laguardia. Originally built in the 1930's as the Pan Am Clipper terminal,
complete with WPA-like murals in the art deco styled terminal,
you feel like you have stepped through time (if you go in the old entrance that is)
this building is now home to the Delta Shuttle, with hourly flights to Boston and Washington. Again, you have to experience it for yourself. The great part is it is separate from the rest of the airport. They have one security line that is never more than 4 people deep. The waiting area for flights has lots of soft leather chairs, power points for devices and a pretty hopping bar and cafe.
Other unique spots include one of the last remaining observation decks at Cleveland airport, an elevated seating area/observation deck at BWI,
and at Denver's massive terminal there is an upper seating area that is devoid of people and seemingly devoid of purpose, and is a nice place to chill out if you have a long wait.
The Flight Itself
When booking I try to choose the type of airplane and the seat location. If possible I go with a 737-800 or an Airbus 320. I like the aisle seat on the right side about 3 rows back from the exit row. But that's just me. Another reason to know your aircraft is because of carry on limitations. The smaller 50 passenger mini jets sometimes will not accommodate full sized roller bags and you may be asked to check these at the jetway. If using a roller bag as a camera bag, be prepared to quickly extract your camera at the last moment and place it under your seat.
Some airlines like to announce that the flight is completely full and you will have to check your bag, but then you get on the plane and there is plenty of space. Not sure what this is about.
If flying in and out of LGA, I will try to get a left side window for the return flight so I can get a good look at the Manhattan skyline on the final approach.
Once airborne, your work is done and you leave it to the professionals to get you to your destination.
Working on a plane depends upon the type of work you want to do, the size of your laptop, battery power, size of your neighbor and your ability to concentrate when dehydrated, tired, unable to move your legs and up since 5am.
Once on the ground, your job is the same as it is at home base. you go to the location, get your shots or make your meeting, then reverse the process and get back home.
Statistically speaking, it's still the safest way to travel. But getting to the actual airplane can be a challenge unless you plan ahead.
Good luck in your own travels.
Thanks for reading.
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 30, 2012 at 10:59:57 am
Getting to the West Coast often includes a stop in O'Hare - this tunnel is a favorite stopping point - I always look for something calm in the middle of the hustle.
San Diego for a convention...
When the exhibits ended a 5 minute walk to the hotel, change into walking shoes, and explore the city and nearby Coronado Island...
Home a few days later...
next stop - Grand Rapids...
This is why they call them Rapids!
They have a pristine Frank Lloyd Wright House in Grand Rapids:
Like Chicago, Detroit has a cool underground tunnel - this one is like a Disney attraction
Onto a plane heading home - for a few days at least...
A few days later off to Chicago for the day
Back home within 18 hours makes for a long day...
...home for 24 hours then back to the airport and off to LA...
One cool aspect of producing is the liberation of flying without camera gear, hiring local crews and getting to see the latest tools in action. Here in Tinseltown we used a new Canon EOS C300 full frame 35mm HD camera.
After the shoot, with no flights home before the next morning, I took a drive up to Burbank to visit ProMax, then worked my way back to Santa Monica for the night, hitting Mulholland Drive for some scenery...
I'm getting more familiar with the manual functions on the Canon 7d - long exposures, bracketing and RAW.
I also like taking behind the scenes pictures of different setups. Another benefit of hiring local folks is getting different nuances of doing the same setup. Where one guy uses a Kino Flo, another uses a Rifa Light or Chimera. One man's Arri 150 fresnel is another's Dedo Light.
My co-workers make fun of me for taking pictures of my dinner - you're supposed to eat it! Well, when I am away from home, and often when I am at home, I'm always snapping photos. Since I got a truly pocket sized and high quality point and shoot camera it is even easier. Usually my dinner shots are with my Droid X.
But overall I try to document my travels and hope to get a few shots that are either artistic, photojournalistic, or both.
Last weekend was spent in the Mile High City shooting some nursing education. I've blogged about these frequent trips before. So I'll just share with you a few of my favorites. I've begun experimenting with HDR - takes some experimentation and likely more than the 3 bracket levels the point and shoot provide.
Thanks for viewing.
View from my hotel room
A different view of EFP
A quick interview at the end of the day
Upon my return it was a full moon with spooky Indian Summer skies
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Nov 10, 2011 at 8:43:08 pm
Every 3 years our Fall medical convention is in San Francisco. The cool things about this city are the abundance of good dining selections, the great combination of old and new architecture, the unique but easy to navigate street layout, the relative safeness of the central city areas for walking back to your hotel at night, the abundance of Walgreens stores every few blocks for bottled water, snacks and cheap fridge magnets, the ability to walk from hotels to the convention center (as opposed to say Chicago where you need to get on a bus and drive mostly underground in Batmobile territory to get to McCormick Place) and the relative small size of the convention center, especially between registration and the exhibit halls.
So Sunday I awoke at 3am for a 5:20 boarding time. Quick hop to Detroit's mile long former Northwest terminal (the one with the monorail) on a E175. Quick layover - enough time to grab a sandwich - and onto a 737-800 for the 4.5 hour crawl to the coast.
Upon arrival, got my bags quickly and a cab to the hotel. Drop the garment bag and tripod tube in my room at the Hotel Nikko, and then walk to convention center. Get my vendor badge and then hit the Speaker Ready room to check on missing videos. A few minutes there to get acquainted, then off to the booth, or what would eventually become the booth. Here's the final result.
In San Fran you have to hire a laborer which was actually helpful since the booth is a bit clunky to assemble solo.
I then dashed off to a committee meeting to discuss plans for 2012's meeting. Meanwhile the rest of my team arrived and finished the setup. We then agreed to meetup later for dinner.
But halfway back to the hotel I got called back to deal with some video issues, which we got sorted out.
Dinner was at a place in the Italian section of town (North Beach - no actual beach nearby but it used to be a beach before the city was expanded with land fill) which was just ok.
Slept like a log until 4am (7 Eastern) when my body clock said "Mike, time to wake up, you're going to be late for work." So I slept a bit longer, got up, took a walk to get some bottled water for the room and a few toiletries, then got dressed and headed to another hotel to help my colleague Jake get setup for a round of interviews. We booked him into a suite for this purpose. I had the tripod and backdrop, he had everything else, and we rented a set of Diva Lights which are beautiful little instruments. We moved the furniture around and got set in about an hour.
I then headed to convention center to start working the booth, while Jake waited for the first interview subject and interviewer to arrive.
At our booth we sell our videos and books and do a lot of networking both with existing contacts and new ones. We try to plant the seeds for future business with people who seek us out as well as with industry elsewhere on the show floor. It is also a time to meet face to face people who you have only corresponded with via email. It is especially interesting to see people I know electronically from places like Kuwait, Dubai, Venezuela, Hong Kong and even Connecticut!
Once the show broke at 4:30 we headed back to our hotels and met up an hour later to do some exploring. We walked up Stockton Street (very steep hill for a couple of blocks but a nice view once you get there),
then down into Chinatown. Chinatown has two areas - the touristy part with the American style Chinese restaurants, and the part where the locals actually live and work, which you walk through on your way to Columbus Street and Broadway - our destination of North Beach for more Italian food. We found a better place tonight, followed by pastries and capuccinos before a walk back to the hotels through the financial district. On the way back we stopped into the famous City Lights Bookstore and Vesuvio Bar, both of which were instrumental in the Beat movement of the 1950s.
While I would never eat there we stopped into the Stinking Rose restaurant where every dish features Garlic. They have a unique decor and it is fun to take a peek.
Next past the Sentinel Building (now known as the home of American Zoetrope) and the contrasting Transamerica Tower, and finally back down the Union Square and the Nikko.
Tomorrow more of the same with a board meeting in the afternoon.
It is always a lot of prep work leading up to these meetings, then we hit the ground running back at the office later in the week.
Well off to bed as it is 2am where I come from and will soon be for a few days before heading back this way next week.
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Oct 24, 2011 at 11:12:49 pm
If in business class and you don't have to tuck your elbows into your armpits to use a computer, maybe. I'm in an aisle seat in coach and once I find a good position it's not so bad.
Friday I rendered our some HDV mpeg files to standard def mpeg2 proxy files with the intention of doing some light editing on the flight out to San Francisco. However in reality, using an external USB hard drive and playing multiple streams of video on battery power has a complication - the battery doesn't last very long. So I did that for an hour, switched batteries, bought my in-flight wifi and here I sit.
Did a few emails, read a few blog posts here on the COW, (seriously, ready Rich Harrington's photoshop posts and watch his videos - I learn something every time).
Next I made sure all the videos being shown this week are accounted for. We have a snazzy MP4 streaming site that even works from 35,000 feet.
Excuse me, that's 36,000 feet. Thanks to FlightWare I no longer wonder if we are lost over the Bermuda Triangle!
Skype appears to be blocked which is ok because I'd have to shout for anyone to hear me.
Well 49 minutes to go now. I have 43 minutes of battery left - I think I can find something else useful to do. Then land, get my luggage, cab to hotel, walk to Moscone Center and then the real fun begins setting up our exhibit booth, meet up with my colleague coming in on a later flight, setup for interviews in a hotel suite, dinner, sleep then wake up at 4am wondering why everyone is still asleep.
Ok COWs, enjoy the rest of your weekend.
Thanks for flying the Cohen skies.
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Oct 23, 2011 at 10:18:33 am
If you have checked off everything on your checklist, the plans should come together.
Thursday afternoon, I uploaded an edit for one client, emailed a few others regarding future planning, packed my gear, loaded my car and hit the road for home. I had wisely gone to the grocery store early that morning to get some provisions for the missus.
Flight from Hartford to Baltimore I tried to sleep - the SkyMall catalog always puts me to sleep on the runway. Then I wake up shortly after takeoff and wonder if we have taken off. I try for an aisle seat so it may be difficult to tell on a 6am flight if we are airborne or not. Last flight before this one was just after the East Coast Quake in August.
On the Baltimore to New Orleans leg - 2.5 hours, I successfully completed the rest of the slide decks for our shoot the next day.
Touchdown promptly at 9:55am local time. Got my luggage (6 pieces), got my rental van, then hit VER for my video gear:
Z1, tripod, mics
Followed by Available Lighting for
Fresnels, stands, sandbags
Then back to airport to pickup my colleague flying in from another shoot. Good thing neither of us had a large suitcase:
Next hit the road for Lafayette, about 2 hours due west. With one stop we got there in good time, toured our location, and got to setting up.
Today we shot from 8am to noon, lunch at a local creole joint in Sunset, LA, and then shot from 1 to 5pm. We shot three cameras and have about 18 hours in the can (3 cams) which should produce about 5 hours of content.
Then strike which is faster, load the van and reverse course to New Orleans. Got to hotel about 10:30pm, unloaded the rental gear into hotel luggage storage for pickup Monday and here I sit tying this instead of sleeping. I'll sleep on the plane since I don't have any homework to do!
That being said, having just been in NOLA in June I think I can live without a walk down Bourbon Street which by this time of night is coated with a film of what used to be bourbon. Yuck.
We'll be repeating this setup several times over the coming months so today was a good first try.
Well that's it for me.
Thanks for coming along for the ride. Next stop Atlanta..again..maybe...
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Oct 1, 2011 at 10:17:29 pm
As project manager / producer of either big projects or simply projects involving lots of puzzle pieces, logistics is a word that always comes to mind. Currently planning a project that involves, in no particular order:
Flights, hotels, van rental.
Depending upon the length of stay I may scope out restaurant choices or simply map the driving routes. The Droid X GPS works quite well, but you never know when a NASA satellite may crash to Earth!
Speaking of food, I may get ridiculed by co-workers, but I like to document meals that are pleasing to the eye and the palate.
For anything involving more than 1 person on-camera, we often need additional lighting, cameras or other gear. While we have a perfectly good LCD monitor we use on-set for numerous projects, transporting that long distances is problematic. Renting a monitor with a stand locally is a better choice. Video camera rental in major cities is usually not a problem. Bexel, VER or MP&E are the usual suspects. Different vendors provide different levels of value. VER is a la carte.
MP&E you rent a camera and it comes with an Arri kit, tripod and audio kit. Luckily I frequent Denver where they have an office. Push comes to shove I can always rent from HB Communications in CT and carry on the plane.
For large productions such as AV at a conference, you need to budget time for load-in, setup and the breakdown at the end. This is not always during normal business hours. If Bob and Daisy don't finish their wedding reception until 11pm, you can be setting up your projectors and mics in the wee hours of the morning. Done that a few times.
Sometimes talent are actual actors. For corporate or training, auditions are usually not required. A headshot with a phone interview and YouTube videos should suffice. The cool ting about paid actors is you send them a script, and they arrive on set able to follow the script without too much prompting. The prompting I offer is usually specific to the setting (ie, hospital).
Other times the talent are the people who actually work in the location, such as a nurse, physician or technologist. In these cases the prompting required is to make the person feel comfortable on-camera (ie, not nervous). We remind the talent in this case that they are the experts. Sometimes the talent is involved in creating the content, sometimes they ad-lib or improvise based upon direction.
We can make good use of a particular setting, such as a patient holding area in a hospital, empty operating room, or a classroom or conference room.
Sometimes you get a great setting where image, sound and heating/cooling are cooperative. Otherwise you need to be prepared for the unexpected.
Although I use an app called TripIt, which collects reservation confirmations from Gmail and builds an itinerary for me, it is a good idea to have a one-sheet Word Doc with flight, car, hotel, driving directions, important contacts and phone numbers and schedules of meetings. This you can leave behind with the office, your spouse or co-workers who you may be meeting at your destination. I email this to my various email aliases for good measure
We have had numerous threads here about carrying vs shipping gear. We always carry things like cameras and video decks on planes. Lately I have been packing small LCD monitors in lots of padding and checking as luggage without incident, or in an Anvil case with more peace of mind. For this project we are shipping via FedEx ground the backdrop for our set as it weighs 75 pounds and would never be accepted by an airline - nor would I want to try.
Bits and Bobs
For this project I need a few pieces of graphic printed for the backdrop. Also need a series of medical images, harvested from a secure VPN provided by the client. Once the images are in hand, these need to be married to other information being created by the talent and then combined into slide sets for use during the shoot. Still working on seating for the talent and the exact schedule, but with a week to go that's plenty of time!
In summary, a little planning goes a long way. A LOT of planning goes even farther. We add a project management fee to our work for hire. This fee covers the time spent, sometimes several whole days, planning the on-location work so that when it actually happens, there are few surprises and we can get the result we are looking for. While the requirements are the same, each time we have a different location, new talent and all of the ramifications of going to a new location each time. It's a lot of fun.
Thanks for reading.
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Sep 22, 2011 at 1:37:35 pm
I happen to have a few free minutes before bed time. It's a Thursday about 10pm. Over the past few weeks we have been finalizing 17 slide decks for a series of courses. This week we added 4 more case studies as well as a deck of 50 or so audience response questions to use with wireless remotes at each course.
Also picked up some rental gear - a Datavideo switcher (having seen these units on the B+H website for years, it is cool to actually use one and see if they are more than toys (they are toys but functional for a certain purpose)) and a scan converter. Also recording the proceedings on a Zoom h4n. My final task is to take stills with the 7d, to be used for marketing of future courses.
This particular gig is actually within driving distance of home base, so I have three round-trips within New England in the past few weeks. I think I have listened to Viva la Vida by Coldplay about 50 times, with ELO's greatest hits as a backup. My musical tastes are not very eclectic, but predictable. Driving home from La Guardia at 2am requires something I can sing along to for two hours!
On the way to my aunt's house for dinner I drove through the town where I grew up and observed that it is either looking more run-down than I remember, or perhaps I just don't remember that it has always looked this way.
All the while during the planning I have also been editing a few ongoing projects and planning some future shooting in Louisiana, Coloraado and Upstate New York (talent, locations, rental gear, flight, car and hotel reservations); hiring a freelance medical writer; working with our on staff medical illustrator to create artwork for in-progress work; working on getting a textbook re-printed with some editorial changes; planning a new set of DVD collections to promote at a conference in October; overseeing the organization of about 150 videos to be shown at a surgical video festival in October, and probably a lot of other tasks.
Meanwhile, on the home front, we've gotten up to Season 3, Part 2 of Entourage; we wish Game of Thrones was coming back sooner; and we survived Hurricane Irene without losing power.
Well, time for schluffy. Will check in again later.
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Sep 15, 2011 at 7:30:34 pm
Since about June 1 I've been in a constant state of activity. Denver, Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Providence, Washington along with the East Coast hurricane-induced partial shutdown and the prep and recovery time associated with each trip, along with the work that actually gets accomplished at home base has made for a busy schedule. I try to find some down time where available, and not always on weekends which tend to become travel days.
So busy in fact that the COW, unfortunately, falls pretty low on the totem pole.
But I have been collecting memories Dumbledore style for future blogging. For now, a brief visual snapshot will have to do. See you all later.
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Sep 6, 2011 at 11:20:48 am
Well I wasn't - I was born in New England. This is about my 7th trip to New Orleans. Usually it is for a medical convention. This time it is a shoot, which means I will be spending as little time as possible looking at this:
And more time looking at this:
That being said, I took my obligatory walk through this (note the emphasis on the sky - low ISO - may go back with a tripod tomorrow night):
Had a good dinner at Red Fish Grill (BBQ oysters - a bit spicy but good), went to a gelato place I like on Rue St Louis, then back to the hotel.
An impromptu downpour reminded me why all the old buildings have those ornate overhangs:
Once the rain stopped I continued my trek back to the hotel, and I realized that Bourbon Street does have some usefulness - you can get cool shots like this:
Flight here was surprisingly fast - 2 hours to Orlando then 1.5 hours into NOLA. I spent the first leg creating some powerpoint designs for an upcoming course, and the 2nd leg working on a video for a surgeon's YouTube page.
Tomorrow call time at 7:15am - 3 interviews, two procedures, B-roll time permitting - dinner at 7pm. This blog will be continued...
Good day today. 8am call time at the hospital.
Scenic drive avoiding the elevated freeway. It is always fascinating observing the local architecture of actual neighborhoods. New Orleans is a combination of classic shotgun shacks, and a mixture of French Colonial and bungalow.
We had breakfast while our primary point of contact did a procedure. Then we scouted out locations, and ended up in an empty delivery room with a nice view of the Mississippi River.
Took about an hour to setup then another 30 minutes tweaking once the talent arrived. We conducted 4 interviews, each about 1.5 hours, plus a quick lunch.
For dinner we ate at the hotel - the concierge floor has a pretty nice spread of finger food, dessert items and all the cheap wine you can drink - turns out you don't need to leave your hotel for cheap drinks!
7am call time tomorrow. We have a local audio guy joining (found on the COW's services section) us as we have some scripted dialogue scenes and a panel discussion with 8 participants.
To be continued.
For now, thanks for reading.
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 22, 2011 at 8:13:56 pm
What gets me out of bed in the morning? This does:
We just wrapped our quarterly weekend shoot in Denver. This time around we hired some professional actors, also got some great performances by professional nurses, and covered a lot of material in two 11 hour days.
6:50am flight out of Hartford on Friday. On the ground by 9am local time.
There is an odd conspiracy theory about the Denver airport.
In a nutshell, some wingnuts believe it was built with a vast network of underground tunnels to serve as a bunker for the elite survivors of nuclear war. Whatever.
This mural seems to contribute to the delusions:
Meet and greet at the hospital. Check out the locations. Then head out to pick up rental gear. For dialogue heavy script we decided to grab an extra camera, lighting and audio kit.
Back to the hotel. Have dinner. Planning meeting - make shooting schedule and approximate diagram for main location:
Saturday we arrived at 7am. Unpacked gear and setup in primary location for 10 pages of dialogue.
3 cameras for each take. 3 monitors, each with a subject matter expert watching.
Sunday we split into two crews to cover more ground.
Lots of fun. Some good behind the scenes video and stills for the bonus round. Stay tuned for that. Celebratory Brazilian feast. Early flight home.
Stand by for Episodes II and III bonus features. Perhaps I can do on the flight back.
For now, thanks for reading.
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 12, 2011 at 9:09:18 pm
Last week I had a one day meeting to review artwork for an upcoming book project. While there I was planning to shoot some interviews with the project's editors to use for web-based video promotions.
Planning for any trip - meeting, convention, video production or any combination of these - of course takes some planning. Get a flight, hotel, think about meals, the event itself, what to bring with you (reduce the load if traveling alone or plan ahead if you can't travel light) and how to get back to where you started.
Luckily there are direct flights betwixt Hartford and Chicago Midway several times per day. The meeting started at 8am, and I wanted to get there at 7am to setup for the interviews, not knowing if they would be done first, last or at lunch. So I flew in Thursday evening, getting to my hotel about 7:30pm.
I took my obligatory walk up and down Michigan Ave, went to the Apple Store, and then to my standby restaurant PF Changs for a big bowl of wonton soup and some green tea.
Next AM, up with the sun, lug the Arri kit, camera bag and backpack a few blocks, up to the top floor and go.
Speaking of backpacks, for the past few years I have alternated between a Swiss Army laptop backpack and a messenger bag. On a trip like this in which I am trying to limit my luggage, I pack the backpack pretty full. Here's a sample of the usual load:
For the interviews, I packed a softbox for the key, multi-surface reflector for the fill and a 150 fresnel for the backlight. You don't always get a good background in a conference room, but better to have an even surface than a wall with lots of reflective glass or a dry-erase board.
The meeting consisted of two surgeons, myself and my fellow project manager in Chicago reviewing about 50 original medical illustrations. We would look at the supplied artwork from the authors then the draft artwork from our illustrator. Our artist works from his home, so we used Adobe Acrobat Connect for screen sharing and Skype for audio (we used a conference speaker phone which calls the artist's number in New York, which forwards to his Skype account which rings a regular phone handset at his bungalow.)
Pretty good workflow given more than 2 participants.
With the meeting concluded and two interviews in the can, I took a nauseating cab ride back to Midway for my 4 hour wait for the flight home. Midway has an interesting display about the Battle of Midway, including a full sized including a full-sized Douglas SBD fighter.
Ate dinner, got some snacks for the plane, attempted to sleep, wrote some notes for the week ahead, touched down in Hartford at 11:55pm, and touched down on my pillow at 1:35am. Luckily this was Friday night, so I slept in the next day and managed to not go to the office for the first weekend in quite a while.
Numerous video clips from this trip are safe and sound on my memory card, but will have to wait for the bonus round.
Over the coming months my time will be broken up thusly:
25% project management...overseeing all multimedia projects
25% editing and producing a video project for one of our longstanding clients
25% planning and traveling around the US for video shoots.
25% managing a web based training program for physicians.
30% starting new projects, writing proposals, doing performance reviews and upgrading to CS5.
Wait a minute...although I was a communication major I'm pretty sure this adds up to more than 100%!
What this means is I'll have to manage my time, stay in good health and try to find 30% more time in 100% of my availability.
Should be fun.
This week was the kickoff...27 hours in Chicago or 33 hours including travel time. I have my Droid X for on the fly pics and videos, Sony point and shoot for better stills and video and usually the 7d for work related imaging.
Stay tuned for Part II "The Chicago Code"
For now thanks for reading.
PS. Figured out I can use Twitpic to add photos to blog posts composed from Droid X.
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 3, 2011 at 5:19:26 pm
Last week I was away for 8 days, and I spent about 9 hours in airports and 6.5 hours flying.
Flying itself is no problem. Commercial air travel is fast and miles safer than driving, statistically speaking of course ;)
It's the airport experience that could use some work. Here are a few outlandish ideas:
Standardize baggage fees. Every airline is different. It used to be you could say "media discount" and the employee would enter a secret code into the mainframe and voila, only $25 per extra bag. But when mainframes went away so too did secret codes.
Provide better seating in waiting areas. And accommodate the fact that people generally do not like sitting next to strangers. I would suggest seat-seat-space-seat-table-repeat. This provides for couples or friends sitting together, lone travelers and a place to put a carry-on bag so as to not take up another empty seat.
Mini movie theaters. Long layover, pay $5 to rent and watch a dvd. Provide an LCD monitor showing departing flight and gate changes.
Free wifi for all. Some airports have it many don't. And those that have it sometimes make it difficult to find the correct signal. Name the free public wifi "XYZ Free Public WiFi" with XYZ being the airport code. I have read of a conspiracy that "free public wifi" is sometimes used by hackers looking to exploit your laptop. Not sure this is true.
Cheaper bottled beverages. Since we have lost the ability to take drinks through security the price of bottled water seems to have increased. Sure they give you a 4oz drink on the plane, but not always on short or bumpy flights. I would pay $1.25 for a 16oz bottle of water, but $2.50 or $3.25 is pushing it.
Mandatory Body scanners. Recently I went through the body scanner and was amazed that it identified a plastic comb in my back pocket. I say send everyone through. Don't make it a choice. No body scan...no fly. No pat downs for elderly or wheelchair confined people.
Expedite security lines. More bins and longer conveyer belts. And wash those bins from time to time - yuck.
Provide a way for experienced travelers to be in their own line. They tried this with Blue in the early 21st Century, but that seems to have fizzled out. How about adding $5 to the price of a plane ticket to get into a faster line. I think Southwest might do this.
Somehow provide enclosed smoking areas outside away from the doors. At some airports you walk outside baggage claim into a cloud of smoke. Add that to humidity or exhaust fumes and it is a poor way to welcome people to a new city.
More tables and chairs near gates. Many people purchase food then eat near the gate. Waiting area seats are squishy and angled. Drinks spill. Grease drips. Onions and pickles and nacho cheese drip. Ketchup packets splurt. Yogurt cups go sploosh. Then someone in dress pants sits on the same seats! Yuck.
Clean the bathrooms. See descriptive words in above paragraph. Also, be consistent with hands-free devices. Hands-free sink is good. But touching the wet lever to dispense a paper towel is gross.
More clocks! Everything at an airport is time sensitive. Yet it is often difficult to find the time of day. I would put up a big clock at every gate, in the security area and in various other high traffic areas.
Deplane the same way you board. Most airlines board by zone or seat rows. We should exit the plane in the same manner. In most cases, as soon as the plane comes to a standstill, people are up out of their seats, even at the back of the plane, and then blocking the aisles for 5 minutes. Unload the plane 10 rows at a time.
Airplane Food - get rid of the salty snacks Salty snacks make you thirsty. An airplane is a bad place to be thirsty. Most of the snacks currently served are high glycemic index foods which in fact make you hungry. Being hungry on a plane is a bad thing. Rather than chips and cookies, how about offering apples, grapes, bananas or perhaps some less salty whole wheat crackers, or mini yogurt cups. Or lobster. Everyone likes lobster!
Some or all of the above will help make the airport experience...a better experience.
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Mar 3, 2011 at 3:45:28 pm
This past week was a perfect example of contrasts in my job duties. I often say that I wear many hats, that every day is different, and that my job entails a wide variety of activities.
What better excuse than to update my blog with a new post (it has been a while) and share some photos from my week. Sorry to my die hard blog fans - grainy cell phone pictures are a thing of the past.
Spent the better part of the day, until about 1:30am Monday, reviewing a 384 page PDF of an upcoming book about Pancreatic Surgery. I am the project manager of the..er..project. We are about to go to press, but first, we need to do the following:
1. Make sure all the images are correctly placed.
2. Make sure the 100+ illustrations are reviewed, revised and updated in inDesign.
3. Make sure the video references are in the correct sequence - there is an accompanying DVD-ROM containing hours and hours of video and narration.
4. Capture additional video stills to populate image-free zones of the book - deinterlace, color correct, add to layout.
4b. Integrate final changes from proofreader.
5. Lock down the cover design.
6. Get approvals.
7. Send to press.
8. Review proofs (formerly called galleys).
10. Receive copies - move to secure underground bunker (I am not making this up).
Marked up a printout, sent some notes to the designer and hit the hay.
Monday - AM
Spent a few hours on e-mail and general housekeeping. 11am, leave for the airport. Made good time, no traffic this time of day. Realized I would miss the CT Primaries for Governor and Chris Dodd's Senate seat - oh bother.
The flight was delayed about 45 minutes - what to do with extra time....
Board Southwest flight for quick 1 hour flight to Baltimore. As the only airline that does not charge for extra luggage, SWA is a pleasure to fly - and the flight attendants are known to sing over the PA. I am surprised this is allowed by the FAA.
We arrived just in time for rush hour on the Beltway, but still made it to K Street in about an hour. Hampton Inns are predictably nice - comfy room, free coffee and tea round the clock and usually conveniently located.
We got settled and then took a brief walk around Chinatown, took pictures of the NPR building
(clearly the money I have donated has not gone into the building! But I'll bet Cory Flintoff has a nice cubicle.), and looked for something to eat.
I live and breathe by my black berry phone - and lately I eat by it too. Google maps is not fast, but handy for figuring out where you are and what is nearby. We wound up at a unique Japanese eatery, Kushi Izakaya. It has a sushi bar as well as wood fired grills for skewered meats, fishes and vegetables.
Incidentally, I recently upgraded my pont and shoot still camera to a Sony DSC-H55 - it even has settings for food and pets - custom made for this blog!!!
We ate at the robata bar (presumably the location on K St means that all the tables and booths were occupied by lobbyists)...
...the menu resembles Tapas and so did the check. But the variety of foods resembled the variety of job duties I'm supposed to be blogging about :)
Up at 7am - breakfast buffet - carbs and more carbs - long day ahead (potentially).
We met our surgeon client at his office, changed into scrubs and made our way to the OR. This surgeon is one of the first I worked with early in my career. The case started at 9:30am and went until about 5pm. While I cannot discuss the medical aspects, it was, supposedly, the first time such a procedure has been videotaped.
The case could have gone on until late at night, but what was able to be done was done, and we hit the road around 6:30 for a 9:30pm flight home. A quick stop at Panera for predictably good food, guaranteed to be better than most airport selections - I particularly like their chicken noodle soup.
Boarded flight on time, arrived in Hartford around 10:30, luggage by 11, car by 11:15, home by 12:15am, quick shower to wash off hospital and airport (sorry forgot to take pictures), and bed by 1am.
Returned to office around 10am, spent most of the day on odds and ends. I bought a pack of 100 to-go cups to go with my single serve coffee maker. Today was a two-to-go-cup day.
Odds and Ends
Reviewed a printout of the next catalog we will distribute.
Reviewed a new DVD series we are selling - best sellers in our nursing series.
Collected, scanned and emailed some release forms for a competed project - one can never be too organized when keeping track of such important documents. We also sometimes collect tax forms for consultants, so a locked cabinet for sensitive documents is important.
Reviewed some stills from Tuesday's shoot - since we are making both a DVD and book, some high res stills will be important.
Confirmed with the surgeon our next shoot - one down, six to go. Our illustrator will join us next time.
Back to the Pancreas project - already discussed items on the to do list.
Also worked with our web designer on some updates to our website. Our site is both an e-commerce site where we sell our books and videos, as well as a newly expanded Services area to help generate new business, a video gallery and improved layout for product display. Launching sometime soon.
I had a client scheduled for an edit session at 9:30am. I made a coffee to go and actually got to the office at 6:30 - tweaked some initial edits and did some further refining to prepare for the client. This is a promo video to be shown at a corporate event in the Fall.
Worked with client until about 1pm, then continued working on audio levels and color correction.
Afternoon conference call and some more Pancreas work.
Spent most of the day refining the video, adding supers and a snappy opening, and rendered a WMV for client review.
Did some more work on website redesign and some more odds and ends.
At the end of the day, packed up my editing computer for some weekend work - you guessed it, Pancreas! Sat in the wonderful daily traffic jam in Waterbury. Got home and discovered that some devilish creature had eaten my 6 beautiful eggplants growing in my patio garden. Blasted!
Well, they were looking good, as were the other plants.
Ode to a Lost Soul
Once you were young, but a seedling from Lowe's,
Then as you grew with your siblings beside you,
I knew you would make me a meal worth enjoying,
And would perhaps be worthy of prose.
As the weeks went by I fell deeper for you,
With your tender skin, your supple feel, your color,
I yearned for the day my lips would embrace,
The taste of your body in salad or stew.
Yet at last came the day my imagination had framed,
The breading prepared, the pasta al dente,
I opened the door to harvest your soul,
And all that I found was all that remained.
But if you leave town for a couple of days during a heat wave, not much you can do about it. Next year - bigger pots and perhaps a trickle watering system.
So to summarize, this week I was a project manager, a road warrior, a food connoisseur, a tourist, a surgical videographer, an editor, a client relationship manager, a still photographer, a poet and a coffee barista. What did you do today?!
Thanks for reading.
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Aug 13, 2010 at 6:07:48 pm
Yep, another travel-related blog, complete with signature bad cell phone pics and a few DSLR images for good measure. Hey, everyone has to have a signature!
What can I say - I spend a day, a week or more preparing (on and off) for a big trip. Sometimes a big trip is a weekend, a few weekdays or likely just an overnight.
This entry will give the highlights on the past two trips, and attempt to give some tips and tricks for a successful shooting / travel experience.
Planning Ahead - Locations
The first trip was actually to a familiar location - a hospital where we had worked in 2008. So we knew where we were going, but it is still a mystery until you are actually inside if it will work out as planned. This is why we have a pre-production meeting the day we arrive. We sit in an office and go shot by shot through our extensive shot lists, making sure the equipment is available and there are people who know how to do what we need them to do.
Another important location is the hotel. In Denver we tend to stay near the airport, right off the highway. A little planning as to travel routes can pay off - on this most recent trip the Denver Marathon happened to be passing right by the hospital on day 2 of our shoot.
At the conclusion of the 2-day shoot, we had a few hours to kill before the red-eye home, so we went to another cool location, the Red Rocks amphitheater - very cool place.
Planning ahead - Equipment
Given the every-increasing fees for checked luggage and overweight items, we have started weighing our gear before leaving. We just borrow the scale from the shipping desk.
Lately we have had a shoot almost every week. As of this writing, we have four shoots in one week. Thus it is important to test the function of everything before every trip. Wear and tear is inevitable. And we keep everything packed and ready to go. The kit at the moment includes an Anvil case containing HD field monitor, 50' HDMI cable, wireless mic, wired lav mic, blank HDV tapes,small makeup kit, AC extension cord, XLR cables and a couple of pieces of grip gear for our various surgery tripod systems.
Next is the Arri kit - a 150w, 300w, 650w and a Lowel Omni for good measure. Last most important item is the mini-rock-n-roller cart. These things are relatively indestructible compact and sturdy. I never leave home without it!
Seeing these items come down the belt is always a good feeling. We always fly out early enough in the day that if the airlines manage to lose something(they will try), they have time to manage to find it. Last flight of the day is a bad idea unless everything is a carry-on.
First thing to do in a new location is to test the wireless mic. Sometimes, especially in older hospital buildings, the steel construction causes too much interference for the signal to transmit clearly. Assuming you have a clear signal, extra batteries should always be nearby.
As with any shooting situation, you should have some idea as to the content you will be shooting. In the case of surgery, the best thing to do is talk to the surgeon about positioning and key steps. Experience with the subject matter also helps, so you can anticipate what comes next - as in cooking, sports or DIY shows.
The second trip, this past week, took me back to Pittsburgh, home of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.
They have a cool display at the airport terminal. I watched Mr. Rogers every day from about age 2 to 6 and a number of times as a young adult. The man was very wise and a good influence. And I think Picture Picture was an early influence on my career choice.
Actually, this trip I was out in Monroeville shooting some joint replacements. Fascinating to watch, as there are dozens of specialty jigs and tools used including saws, drills, hammers, pulse lavage and what looks like a large caulk gun.
Not so far removed from shooting a home improvement show, however instead of replacing the crown moldings or HVAC system, the patella and femoral head are replaced.
During some down-time after arrival on Sunday, I visited the Monroeville Mall - legendary shooting location of George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead." By today's standards, the mall is rather tired, but once upon a time this was a mecca of indoor shopping - and zombies! Nearby I went to an electronics store to try out the new tablet computer from Apple - perhaps you have heard about it (not much press coverage). Always good to check out one's own website to make sure it works.
And I pulled up my favorite YouTube video for good measure. Miss you Grandma!
With activities done for the day, I dropped my colleagues off at the terminal, fueled up the rental van, "enjoyed" a gas station hot dog, returned the vehicle, checked the cases and waited for my own flight home.
Stopover in Dulles - very busy for 10:30pm on a Monday.
Upon landing in Hartford, got my checked items, loaded the wagon queen family truckster and made the familiar drive home.
Sometimes something simple is the best image of all:
Next morning, up at at 'em early for some morning meetings a short drive down the road in, of all places, Connecticut!
So in summary - plan ahead, know what you are doing before you have to do it, check your gear, allow time to actually get your gear at the other end, say please and thank you to everyone you meet at the airport especially if they are having a bad day. Basically, follow the advice of the man in the zippered cardigan.
Thanks, as always, for reading.
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 8, 2010 at 7:50:40 pm
Likewise I certainly make a checklist for a week long trip:
- 2 pair knakis
- 6 pair black socks
- 2 polo shirts
- 4 dress shirts (white, grey, blue, pinstripe)
- 4 favorite ties
- dress shoes
- bathing suit, flip flops (assuming they have a pool)
So why wouldn't you have a checklist for a non-shoot, non-convention trip out of the office?
The particular meeting described below was for an important project we are working on. The editor of the project and I have been meeting at his office on and off since November. In each meeting, we review the script and current images and video, look for new images and video, keep a tally of images and video we need to acquire, and then revise or re-write portions of the script (narration and on-screen text). Sounds easy enough. There are over 400 screens in the Flash program, 100 videos and at least 150 photographs. We also have a list of illustrations or animations to create.
The experience is taxing on the brain, and educational. I am not a surgeon, yet over the course of such a project, I learn much of what the target audience of surgeons will be expected to learn.
A few years ago I picked up one of these Swiss Army laptop backbacks. I don't know if these are affiliated with the Swiss army knife, or if the actual Swiss army uses these in the field (doubtful) but what I do know is that it is the best backpack I have ever owned. The only negative is that it holds a lot of stuff (heavy) which is good and bad. It is good because I can take whatever I need with me. It is bad because I have a spine and back muscles!
Below is a representation of the major components needed for this trek. Not shown are such essentials as blank DVD's, thumb drives, power supplies, phone charger, herbal tea bags, mints and a small flashlight.
Obviously the computer is the essential business tool. While this laptop, as described in earlier posts, has the full CS4 suite installed, useful for long plane trips and the occasional on-site edit session, in this case it is simply a web browser and word processor, perhaps a few Photoshop manipulations for good measure. It is essential to have an organized set of scripts, images, videos and other assets, and make sure this is backed up in multiple locations. Whenever a major script revision is completed, I e-mail myself a copy for safe keeping. Google and Yahoo share this task.
A fairly new acquisition is the Zoom H4N recorder. This little gizmo is great for recording temp narration tracks, or in some cases final narration with either a video's author or myself. Another handy gadget is a Canon HD camcorder, recording to SD cards. While not broadcast quality, what if I am sitting in an office and someone says "hey, you want to come see someone with a knife in their skull?" - a little camera that shoots video and decent stills is great to have for these occasions, or more likely if we need a quick shot of an instrument, piece of equipment or even just to photograph a thumbnail sketch as reference for an illustrator or designer. You never know.
While bus powered USB hard drives are cheap and getting cheaper, we have a library of eSATA drives ranging from 350GB to 1.5TB. While I may not use it, having it with me along with a portable USB interface is handy.
A USB mouse is much easier to work with for long periods of time than the laptop's touchpad. And sometimes the best technology of all is a sheet of lined paper.
And finally, do not discount the importance of reliable writing implements.
So, to summarize, any time you are going anywhere, whether for a video shoot, editing session, tradeshow or simply the all-important sit-down meeting, know what you need to do and have what you know you need in order to do what you know you need to do. Whew.
Thanks for reading.
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Feb 21, 2010 at 4:52:03 pm
On this week's journey, I think I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. Well, perhaps a bit of commentary to tie it all together.
The title card is from the Philly Airport. I had just enough time between flights to grab a bag full of food for the 4 hour trip out to Denver. I ate it all, and got a lot of work done on the plane. Sometimes I think I should install an airplane seat at my desk!
Let's backup a bit. The planning for this trip was interspersed with another time consuming project. I suspected there might be some last minute work to do before leaving town, so I packed my bag days in advance.
As predicted, the night before the flight, I had a request to help create a powerpoint presentation matching the design of the video graphics, and including some video clips from the edit. To avoid a late night in the office I decided to take the computer home and do the rendering at night while I did some other chores to prepare my wife for a few days alone:
Clean dishes to eat...
...a pasta casserole with vodka sauce, sun dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and Kalamata olives.
Media Encoder seems to move slowly when a deadline is looming. The files finished at 11pm. I set the FTP upload going and went to bed. When I woke up at 3am, the files were ready and i could email my client.
No time for breakfast, gotta hit the road.
One nice thing about such an early flight is I can get to the airport in less than 45 minutes, security is a breeze and the terminal is deserted.
I have to admit I was a bit bleary eyed.
You know it is an early flight when the sun is just rising while making your connection.
I spent the flight primarily reviewing the detailed shot lists prepared by my colleague. being familiar with the shots and formulating questions for our contacts on the ground would be helpful in the meeting scheduled a few hours after landing.
Back in the Denver airport, underground to the choo-choo, luggage, pickup curbside by another co-worker already in town, and to the hospital for pre-production.
After a long flight, airport food, car ride, meeting and running on vapors, we all decided to get grocery store food and dine in our rooms. But we were not done yet. After getting the gear charging and self-nourishing, it was time for a final planning session, going shot by shot, deciding upon the schedule and division of labor. Teamwork is vital.
Next morning, get to hospital, change into scrub attire and get setup. Specifics of the shoot are, as in many cases, proprietary and not able to be discussed in detail. However it is the teamwork and the process that is important to talk about here.
Lunch break arrived around 1:30pm for me. The break room had one of those automated coffee machines - you select decaf or diesel, mocha or regular, small or large and hit GO!
Back to work. The afternoon was spent getting a lot of stills with the 7d and various action shots in and around the OR. Follow the shot list, work the system, get your shots, think on the fly, stay motivated, think creatively, give directions, explain things, show peole what you need and make your moves.
Finally at 5pm it is a wrap for the day. It's a weekend, people have plans. Our plans are to find a restaurant, eat, maybe see some daylight, and have another planning session to make sure we get what we need on the final day.
Here are a few interesting shots from the day.
Overall, despite the earlier hours, cheap coffee and dry air, a satisfying way to spend the weekend. The material captured over two days will help to complete several important projects over the coming weeks. For now, thanks for reading.
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Feb 6, 2010 at 9:09:21 pm
I know I tell a lot of stories about the old days, but this doesn't mean I'm 100 years old.
Just wanted to get that cleared up for those of you keeping a tally of how many times I mention 1" tape and CMX edit controllers.
Now back to our regularly scheduled program, already in progress...
For those of you just joining us, welcome to the Mike Cohen Creative COW 100th Blogiversary.
"100 blog posts? So what," you might be saying.
Well I try to put a little bit of my personality and philosophy into every post. For me it's a big deal. It's a big deal not that I have composed and published 100 entries about my job and my life, but that in doing so I have gotten involved in other aspects of the Creative COW community. As a result of blog entries, I have had the opportunity to write magazine articles, to be interviewed in podcasts, to make friends and business associates and even to obtain potential clients for my company's services. Something that is good for the soul and good for business is, well, a good thing!
And from what I hear, the blogs in general are good for the Creative COW's business. Google searches often lead people to the forums. If I Google myself or certain keywords I have used in my blogs, these blog entries come up in results. Presumably I can't be the only one searching for "CMX edit controllers" or more likely "AVCHD editing in Premiere. If new first-time visitors to the COW get in via the forums, the blogs, the services or the video reels - that too is a good thing.
And speaking of good things, have you seen the wide selection and amazing displays of creativity in the video reels section? You could spend hours there getting free inspiration for your own projects. I've actually started taking notes as I browse the reels. Go ahead, click "VIDEO REELS" in the main menu..I'll save your seat.
So back to the 100 blog retrospective. The best thing to do is to browse back issues going back to 2007. It is educational for me to see what I was thinking at the time. So rather than regurgitating my favorite posts, I think I will regurgitate my favorite images as used in past posts. I get a kick out of grabbing a quick picture with my phone when inspiration strikes. I send the picture to myself with a note and then, often on a long airplane ride, fill in the gaps to try to tell my story.
This first one takes me back to my first position as a professional editor. The Ampex ACE 25 edit controller. For those of you who have only used digital nonlinear editing, lucky you. Back in the day, you had to have some engineering know-how in order to perform basic editing, assuming you were in a facility without in-house engineering expertise. For more on the subject check out this link:
This image brings back some memories. A surgeon I work with on a regular basis needed to do a live powerpoint presentation to a medical conference. He was in Vegas, the conference was in Portugal. Thus, he was scheduled to go on at about 4am Vegas time on a weekend. At that time of day, we couldn't get a local video conferencing suite, so we had to think way outside the box. WebEx is advertised and used as a great tool for corporate meetings, but using it in multiple locations including in front of a live audience can be a bit dicey. So we came up with a stop gap solution. This picture depicts our audio transmission system which included VOIP and two telephones.
Speaking of medical conventions, back in early 2009 we managed a conference on obesity surgery. Our company arranged the venue, the audiovisual and catering, invited the faculty, reserved hotel rooms and managed registration for about 500 attendees. Think of it as a mini-NAB for surgery. One of my roles was managing a day of live surgery. We streamed 9 surgical cases from NY, San Francisco, Miami, Michigan, Brazil, Chile and two other locations. Some signals came down ISDN, others via the internet. Everything went through a skybridge, and there was audio and video from our location going back to each location. To be even more clever, I created roll-ins for each surgeon and location, run off DV tape. This acted not only as a nice transition but also as a place holder in case of technical difficulties. It was a fun fast day with lots of audience participation.
My other jobs at this meeting were to document the proceedings for posterity (ie, transcription, publishing articles about the proceedings and possible future on-demand webcasting)...
And drinking a lot of coffee and tea.
2009 was the year I finally traded up to a smartphone. I went with the blackberry because most of the clients and doctors I work with use this device. It has made a huge difference in productivity while traveling and even while in the office. For example, if I have a hot and heavy editing session planned, I may not even boot up the laptop (e-mail computer) and just check the berry periodically. This can save an hour or more per day. You'll note around April 2009 the quality of my blog pictures improved significantly. Still underexposed and grainy, but certainly bigger!
Sometimes (a lot) I add pictures and anecdotes about food, restaurants and eating or cooking to my blogs. What the heck does this have to do with the multimedia business? Everything. If I am fed I have energy to do my job, or I have rewarded myself for a busy productive day.
Sometimes I take my pictures to the next level and make them into useful illustrations. Here for example I was talking about preparing for a trip. Charged batteries, extra tape stock and tightened wingnuts on your equipment make a big difference.
As mentioned, several posts talk exclusively about travel. I don't go to the ends of the earth or to exotic locations (with the possible exception of Cleveland) but I have been known to go to the ends of the airport terminal for a Mocha Chip Latte!
I also used the blog to follow our entry into high definition production. What better venue for HD imaging than surgery? Of course you can get plenty of discussion about formats, editing workflow and playback issues in dozens of forums, so I'll just wow you with some imagery:
Sorry if that was gross, but this is my business!
Just thought I'd take this opportunity to mention 1" tape, for those of you keeping track at home.
All that travel also affords the opportunity to snap some quality pictures with a real camera, and sometimes I like to share those images as well - and if you're lucky, a story to go along with it.
This was a unique venue for a meeting - Jackson Hole, WY - in August.
In 2008 I attended a convention in Toronto. Since my hotel was about a mile from the convention location, I got to see some of the sights morning and night.
This week I took the train down to Philadelphia for a meeting, took the train home, then two days later went back to Philly with the gang for a meeting. Sometimes conventions are in cities with things to see and a wealth of good places to eat.
Vegas is a weird town. The Strip is full of amazing sights and some shady characters - sort of an odd mix of themes. NAB and the Bellagio fountains are two of the highlights.
Post-Katrina, New Orleans remains a popular destination for meetings and the occasional video shoot. Just stay on the main roads.
Think I'll hang this one in my office.
How many times do you find yourself in Moline, IL with a few hours to kill? Those tractors are huge.
Another good reason to carry around a proper camera. And with that, we'll let the sun set on the first 100 blogs of my blogging activities.
I appreciate all the feedback and the readers. If this is your first time on the COW, welcome. For my old friends, thanks for coming back. I look forward to coming up with new stories, anecdotes, learning experiences, recollections and images in the next 100.
As always, thanks for reading.
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jan 27, 2010 at 3:58:10 pm
Back in the late 90's I was always the guy to take a stills camera on a shoot, or to various travel destinations. The result was usually a few snapshots, such as of our exhibit booth setup or a group shot after we wrapped.
As the 21st century took hold I continued the tradition with a range of semi-pocket sized digital still cameras. Our first one was a Kodak 1 megapixel unit - for video resolution it was actually pretty good. I got the camera suggested by a colleague who did a doc about the Shroud of Turin.
While the resolution and size of digital cameras has increased, the ease of taking snapshots in everyday situations has not.
Enter the camera phone. Now it is commonplace to grab your phone and take a pic of anything and everything. Since the phone is always with me, I find myself taking pictures of the mundane to the interesting to the merely useful. A phone that takes stills is certainly more useful than a DV camcorder that takes stills. Although a still camera that takes video is another story for another blog. Although the videos from the phone, while low res, are high on convenience and add to the magic of easy access image collection.
Thus, over the past few years, my phone cam has become an extension of my own short term memory. Indeed, I find myself snapping pictures of things that seem interesting at the time, but which I will A not remember and B not have time or inclination to take with a better more obvious camera. And sometimes C you get something just by happenstance that becomes an unexpected treasure.
So take my hand, walk with me, down the road of days gone by.
The places I know, the dates I don't, the phone it does not lie.
I barely knew 2006 the time it really flies.
2007 was the year we had to say goodbyes.
But through it all my trusty phone,
Recorded calls and friends I've known.
And always will I cherish what my brain has not remembered.
Chicago - 2006. Our big medical convention of the year. Love the architecture.
One last visit to Boca Raton - where we spent 20 years of school vacations.
Happy times spent with those we now miss.
Childhood memories embraced by adults!
I always send my wife an action pose before my next trip.
Who could possibly remember a parking garage location a week later?
Making good use of time away.
Unknown, but worthy of admiration...
Good meals (this is fondue before the fondue)
Not so good meals.
No explanation needed - but seriously folks, who wouldn't want a hot Kosher snack at any time of the day?
One of my old 2 megapixel images wound up on this book cover!
More Action Shots
So long VPR-80 - I hardly knew ya!
This would have been nice at higher quality, but I just don't carry a camera everywhere I go, such as to the Costco parking lot where this was taken!
And of course, everyone takes lots of pictures of their pets. Right? Anyone? Oh well.
Now with the memory clear (on the phone and in my cerebral cortex) I can head off into the sunset knowing that my future memories will be captured for safekeeping.
Thanks for sharing.
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Sep 1, 2009 at 4:33:08 pm
Lately, for some unknown reason (caffeine) I have been staying up late. Too late. Oddly, after stumbling to bed around 1am I manage to wake at 6am, hit the snooze bar exactly 4 times, allowing my body to wake up on its own schedule, and still get to work at a reasonable time. A cup of extra bold from the K-Cup machine, a bowl of bran flakes (watch enough colon cancer videos and you'll tolerate the woody texture), and hit the road to the office.
Usually the last thing I do before bed, after my continuing search for the "end of the internet" is to check my work e-mail. This way I offload any of the unknown unknown worries until morning. Sometimes this check-in shows someone else's pending emergency, so I can be ready in the AM, or even fire off a quick note saying "no worries, we'll get it done" or whatever.
This particular evening, there were no such emergencies. Rather, just the knowledge that Friday was an easy few hours in the office then out on the road for a quick narration session.
Friday - The Wee Hours
Rusty, the Abyssinian, does laps around the pillows. Occasionally he puts his nose to mine, and gently taps my cheek with his paw. Cute. Meanwhile my dreams progress in the usual fashion. Namely, totally bizarro. I'm in high school, no wait, that's college...now I'm at the hospital for a shoot...but it's the wrong hospital, I was given the wrong address...I go into the OR and it is my wife having surgery...but she's not sick...I turn the corner and there is my beloved Grandma Hilda...she doesn't seem to know that she is not alive, but that's okay, it is always good to run into her in my dreams...we chat often, it brings me peace and restful sleep.
And then, just past the lucky charms tree...BEEEP BEEEP BEEEP...THWACK! as I hit the snooze bar.
Friday - Wakey Time
I drift back to sleep, sometimes dreaming about whatever random thought was in my head, sometimes just tossing and turning...my body knows when it is ready to move into a non-prone position, and that time is not here yet....BEEEP BEEEP BEEEP - damn, another 9 minutes has gone by...KERTHUNK, take that snooze bar. Amazingly the GE clock radio I got for high school graduation is still ticking. That alarm has helped me get to dozens of classes, lectures, exams, shoots, weddings and funerals on time....more pseudo-sleep passes. BEEEP, you get the idea...Was that 3 snooze cycles or only two. To tell you the truth in all the tossing and turning I've lost track myself. It's either 6:18 or 6:27.
"All I ever wanted, all I ever needed, is here..in my arms. Words are very, unnecessary, they can only do harm..." My wife's ring tone circa 1985 tells me it is 6:30, followed by "Mike, it's 6:30, you have...wait...menu, calendar, view week...a shoot in the Bronx. Oh and when you get a chance, can you make me a coffee, and toast me a muffin, and feed the cats, and slice me an apple and mail that package by the door."
Yes, of course. Amazingly, I do all of these tasks, and get out of the house by 8am - no coffee today for me.
Usually, the first thing I do when I go downstairs to feed the boys (cats - you take what you can get) I grab the Blackberry and check for messages. This is a slippery slope, because like this particular day, things can get complicated. Before bed, I was content to know that the next morning I had only to do some quick edits to a video then get on the road. After the cursory message check, "not so" became the order of the day.
Emergency 1 - we need a location contract for a shoot in a few weeks. No worries, I will simply modify the last such document we had to create, get it approved by legal and off it goes - hopefully. But that is an additional task to complete before 10:30.
Emergency 2 - the CD-ROM interface sent out for approval is no right. Again, no worries, that's why you send out mockups before moving to programming.
Emergency 3 - help our intern finish a draft of a DVD, to hopefully send out. This is not really an emergency, but just something else to do. Give him a template for DVD case slipart, a label and show him how to troubleshoot the Encore DVD project and then burn an ISO.
With these things done, I still had to do those edits. Well, I know the material pretty well, and I can easily differentiate a gastrojejunostomy from a jejunojejunostomy, so all is good in the world again.
10:35 - 5 minutes behind schedule - damn.
Hit the camera room, make a quick mental checklist, then grab each item and place on the floor outside the door:
Sony Lav mic
2 25'XLR cables
small tripod with camera plate
orange extension cord and power strip (you never know what kind of room you are going to be in)
Laptop, mouse, power supply mousepad
Pen and paper
hmm, that seems like everythi....TAPES!
Ok, grab a small luggage cart, carry everything to the ION and get on the road. No time for gas, coffee or lunch, gotta be in NYC at 12:45.
Stopped in Danbury for gas, gas station coffee (I love that whipped hot chocolate/capuccino machine) and a couple of donuts form the drive-through donut kiosk, then back on the road.
84 to 684 to the Saw Mill. Windy road, hairpin turns, and the lady in front of me was either on the phone, doing her makeup or drinking coffee, because she kept hitting the curb and very nearly drove into the Saw Mill River in Chappaqua.
Got to my destination just in the nick of time. Get the gear, leave the keys with a man who claims to work in the garage, get the elevator and head inside.
Went to the conference room, setup my makeshift recording studio/editing suite (a laptop and microphone - but that sounds so lame!).
Shotgun mic gets the best sound in a noise room (uncontrollable HVAC, shut off plasma screen and any fans I can locate), plus a lav for backup. My job is to monitor what is being spoken, and make suggestions for re-reads, knowing what material I will need for the edit. Sorry I can't get into more detail on the content.
Once setup, got the material I needed, packed up, and reversed the process.
Only problem is, Friday + 5pm + Greater NY = Gridlock. After the split to the Hutch it cleared up a bit, but then the 684 interchange was busy. Smoother sailing until Brewster, then the Danbury gridlock from the NY border up to Newtown was a nightmare. I stopped at Trader Joe's(good food cheap) and Stew Leonard's(animatronic animals + groceries)
for some quality food, and to get out of the car for an hour.
Home finally around 7pm. Cook dinner (spicy orange chicken with stir fry veg and rice noodles), then sit down at the computer, not to relax yet, but to do two more tasks that didn't so much creep up earlier in the day, but that would never have fit into the schedule. Download 7 videos edited by a colleague, review them before sending the client a download link. Then download another video from another project, review that and send to the client.
Finally at 10:05 I can relax. Watch some HD videos on Vimeo (check out Philip Bloom's videos) then remember that I wanted to write a blog post before bed. And now it is 1:34am and I was wondering what I could possibly have to do late at night on the internet. Maybe I'll search for a video about fitting a round peg into a square hole. In other words, fitting more into a short period of time than there is actually time to do. Or at least trying.
Seems there are 217 results. None very interesting or relevant.
So now I will brush the pearly whites, hit the hay, and close my eyes, touch noses with Rusty, then see where my dreams take me, as this strange journey continues.
Thanks for reading.
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 19, 2009 at 10:00:33 pm
When preparing for a shoot, a trip or a trip to a shoot, one must visualize the known knows and anticipate the known unknowns. A little bit of planning plus confidence in your abilities and you are off to a good start.
Recently I have discovered Live Maps - a more detailed online mapping service - excellent when planning a driving route in unfamiliar territory. Normally Google maps with and without the satellite view is adequate. But sometimes it is hard to tell where highway exit and entrance ramps are - fairly important to have nailed down before getting in your rental car in a strange town. See the following examples of the same location to see the difference:
This week was a quick 24 hour trip to Toronto - just as much traffic as New York but more spread out. I flew out of LaGuardia in NY - a trip I can do with my eyes closed. No sign of any geese so that's a good start. An Air Canada mini jet makes for a quick 1 hour jaunt across Lake Ontario - wait for the tripod tube, and hit Canadian customs. When carrying commercial goods, even if they are not for sale, you need to declare your items to customs. There are two ways to do this: 1. Purchase and properly use a ATA Carnet, or 2. Get an invitation letter from your client and hope that is enough. I went with option 2 since all I had with me was my operating room tripod - I rented the rest of my gear locally. If carrying my own camera I would go to customs in the US before departing, get the Carnet stamped or whatever, and do the same in my destination country, then reverse the process for the return trip. Next time you have an international trip here you go: http://www.atacarnet.com/
Speaking of customs, I get a bit paranoid about losing my passport, so a trip like this calls for my travel pants. The Zippered pocket is roomy enough for wallet, passport, phone, pen and plane ticket.
Now for the exciting part. 1 hour of flying + 3 hours of driving = not much fun.
First stop, downtown Toronto to Vistek, the Bexel equivalent of Canada. Picked up a HVR-V1U and a JVC 9" monitor.
Next stop hotel about 15 miles North of downtown. The maps made it look pretty easy. The maps did not however depict the wall-to-wall traffic in all directions. Oh well, good thing I left plenty of time in the schedule. One advantage of traffic congestion is the opportunity to drive around neighborhoods and check out the local architecture. Toronto as it turns out has some pretty classy areas, with lots of brick.
As usual, I choose a hotel with free coffee in the lobby, and within walking or short driving distance of shopping/dining. Since it was only 6pm, I had some time to kill and no laptop. I found a bookstore and then a wine bar/restaurant. Drumroll please...and here as expected, is one the famous Mike Cohen camera phone food pictures:
Now to the hospital for the shoot. 6:30am - a late start! Three patients on the schedule, huge operating room, helpful nurses - we like nurses! - life is good.
This I can do with my eyes closed - the "known knowns." Change into scrubs, setup the camera and monitor, get the right angle, ask questions, follow the action, drink coffee. This particular institution offered complimentary coffee, snacks and lunch for not only the staff but for the patients. Nice!
I reversed course - gear in car, drive back to Vistek, return the gear, browse the 3-levels of photography heaven...Turns out the EX1 and EX3 are a lot bigger in person, and very poorly balanced for hand held use.
I don't get too much time to visit B+H in NY, so any time I can browse such a showroom I'm a happy camper.
...then gas up the rental car, find the rental facility, van to the airport, and check-in. I generally book late flights home, not knowing the actual schedule until a few days before the shoot - too late to book tickets a reasonable rate. No worries. Air Canada has a pretty fair pricing system - $50 to change to an earlier flight to the same destination.
You actually go through US Customs at the Toronto airport - presumably there is such a volume of US bound passengers the NY airports would be overwhelmed. Thanks Canada, always thinking of us!
With an hour to wait I spent my remaining Monopoly money on food, got on my plane - this time an Airbus - read a little, slept a little - landed 3 hours earlier than originally planned - luggage, car, yadda, yadda yadda...
Home by 9:10pm as opposed to 12:30am. Very nice indeed.
Having had a shoot on Friday before Memorial Day Weekend, I shall now return to the office after a week to capture and edit and then continue planning the next shoots wherever that may be - one thing's for sure, it won't be anywhere near home!
In summary, adequate planning combined with actual feet on the ground experience makes the knowns confirmed and the unknowns into known knowns. You know what I'm saying?
Thanks for reading.
Posted by: Mike Cohen on May 27, 2009 at 8:24:47 pm
Mother's Day weekend 2009 - sorry Mom, I will see you soon! Duty calls.
Two weeks ago, or whenever my last blog post was, er, posted, I did a site survey and client meeting in advance of this past weekend's trip. After months of editing on a new crop of videos, we made a detailed list of pickup shots needed to complete these videos, and shots to cover some new scripts recently green-lit for production.
As usual, the locations for our projects are far from home. But thanks to modern air travel, it is mostly easy. i say mostly because modern air travel has a few problems:
Airplanes. Faster than driving, probably safer. But I like to know what I am flying before I book my ticket. Airbus A320 or 737 - good. MD80 or Turboprop commuter plane - not so good. Mini-Jet such as the Dash 8 or Embraer 90 are good choices for short flights. Preferentially I pick an aisle seat behind the trailing edge of the wing on the right side - supposed to be the safest spot on the plane.
I listen to the safety lecture and reach under my seat to see if there really is a life vest. You never know.
Lost luggage. Lost luggage is ok if all you are missing is your electric razor and iPod charger. Lost luggage is a big problem when it includes tripods and DVCPRO tapes. Last time I checked, my neighborhood big box store was out of stock on DVCPRO tapes. Thus, it is a good idea to arrive early enough in the day to give your airline time to locate and deliver your luggage.
Luckily on this trip, we all got all of our bags.
Carry On Luggage. A shoot like this has a lot of luggage. There have been debates on the Business and Marketing forum about Shipping vs Checking gear. We always check our gear, but sometimes I think otherwise. Checked bags cost a lot each way, meanwhile carry-on restrictions are getting...restrictive.
Hotels. While I have stayed in many spectacular hotels over the years (Fontainebleau Miami, Ritz Carlton New Orleans, Sir Francis Drake San Francisco, and of course the grandiose Washington Hospital Center Guesthouse) the more you pay, the less you get. Let me explain. Luxury hotels give you plush bedding and nice toiletries, but you also get the privilege of buying a cup of coffee whenever you feel like it and the $19.95 breakfast buffet in the morning. Oddly, table service at fancy hotels is especially slow.
On the flip side, budget hotels designed around business travelers, such as Hampton Inns and Holiday Inn Express, the less you pay the more you get.
Free coffee and tea 'round the clock in the lobby and in many cases a free breakfast buffet for all guests.
Free in-room and in-lobby wi-fi is a rarity in a fancy hotel(wired/expensive), but at the previously mentioned variety of hotel, it is expected. A nice business center featuring comfy chairs, computers and free printing is another bonus of the budget hotel. Certainly there are super-budget hotels like La Quinta or Super 8, but I have seen free buffets and wi-fi and pretty low prices.
Dining Options. When booking a hotel, with or without a car, it is important to scope out restaurant choices ahead of time. In an effort to save costs, finding decent dining within walking distance of your hotel is a good idea. A nice meal plus round trip cab fare is less nice. On this particular trip, we picked a Hampton Inn on the edge of downtown Denver, just a few blocks from the 16th St Promenade, similar to the 3rd St Promenade in Santa Monica.
In other words, closed to traffic, decent selection of restaurants, and a smattering of street performers and homeless guys begging for coin. We actually saw a robbery in progress at a 7-Eleven with police in hot pursuit. Better than Southland, that's for sure. Only problem with walking to dinner, after a 12 hour shooting day on your feet, is walking BACK from dinner. Well, the beer helps you fall asleep in advance of the next day's 6:30am call time!
On the flip side, some downtown areas are pretty scant when it comes to restaurants. A recent trip to Phoenix for a convention produced limited options for dining without a cab ride. In all fairness to Phoenix, I have had some very good meals east and west of downtown - no offense. Sometimes after a day standing up at a convention center, the last thing you want to do is travel far to get some grub. Room service, hotel dining, or a local dive is sometimes a better choice.
People make fun of me, but if I get a good looking meal (hopefully good tasting) I snap a photo on my handy phone cam.
The Shoot Itself. We have a unique location - a hospital.
Depending upon the shotlist, we may be in the OR, patient holding areas or central supply. A helpful crew of volunteers, use of supplies and the ability to start and stop with the exception of surgery (I have occasionally asked a surgeon to pause what he is doing for a tape change) are all important elements. Also important is of course knowledge of your capabilities. Look at a setup, know where to park the cameras, and know if when you stop tape you have what you need.
Another part of being prepared is being prepared for anything. It is a long walk back to the office for a missing piece of kit, so on these trips we take everything. Thus the trusty blue Porta Brace bag is packed to the gills with extra mics, XLR cables, AC cords, camera power supplies, blank tapes, a portable mixer and the trusty wireless kit. Just make sure you keep track of the wireless transmitter before someone goes to the bathroom or worse - home.
Safety is also important when you have smooth tile floors, lots of cables and lots of people wearing floppy shoe covers and face shields.
Monitoring what you get and occasionally checking playback is good peace of mind.
With the shoot complete, a celebratory meal, and a brief night of sleep, it is time to wake up early for the flight home. I am well past the age of taking a red-eye home. Although LAX at midnight is a nice trip back to 1960. Sometimes my eyes play tricks on me.
Return the rental car, check luggage and stock up on pre-packaged sandwiches and bottled water for the flight home.
Call the valet parking hotline, take the shuttle bus, pack my gear in the car and drive home.
Next day return to the office, fire up the Falcon and check voicemail.
After a shoot like this, we have a lot of tapes to digitize.
But before that, just like looking at your double prints after a pre-digital vacation, you check the tapes and see if you actually got anything on tape.
Good stuff. The AJ-D700 is still a great camera after all these years. And the V1U speaks for itself.
In summary, as discussed ad infinitum on this blog, travel is wrought with details and potential problems. But with careful planning, teamwork and a little bit of luck - and a good night's sleep, free coffee and good meals - you can look back and smile. Thanks for looking back with me on this one. It was fun.
Posted by: Mike Cohen on May 13, 2009 at 5:57:57 pm
The usual edit bay (we used to call them edit bays back when an online editing suite resembled the bridge of the Enterprise. Today an edit bay resembles a computer desk - results may vary - consult your pharmacist)…The usual edit bay may or may not have a window. Very often the only light is dimmable track lighting, perhaps a lava lamp and the soothing red glow of the mouse.
My particular office is just that - an office - in which we happen to do editing.
Office Half of my Office
Edit Bay Half of my Edit Bay
Lately my colleagues have been using my editing station for their HDV projects, since I seem to be caught up in non-editing work and the computer seems pretty stable. To clarify, much of my non-editing work is planning for future projects in which I may or may not do the editing, as well as all the other stuff that goes into a multimedia project besides the actual production work - this is called Project Management and is in fact my primary job function. Thus an office with a window, task lighting, an overhead fluorescent that is never used, a potted plant or two and a generous drawer full of snack products makes for a more productive work environment.
As also described in almost every post, one thing my job does include is not being in my office very much! While my days away, excluding excessive amounts of travel time, are scheduled pretty tightly, the travel time itself, hotel time and time spent in a fuel tank with wings suspended seemingly by magic 7 miles up afford the opportunity to actually be productive…maybe.
The ability to use a laptop for anything more than watching a movie depends upon several factors:
1. Leg room - this may sound trivial, but the ability to extend one’s legs fully makes the experience much more comfortable.
2. Seat reclinability - along the same lines as leg room, the more you can recline your seat, the better. Even an extra inch or two frees up your elbow joints so that your hands rest in the proper position on the keyboard. This is where keyboard shortcuts in your editing app are really important.
3. Tray table extendability - some seatback tray tables extend away from the seat on rails, some don’t. Although your elbows need to be crammed into your neaghbor’s kidney, the extending tray allow you to extend the laptop screen to a viewable angle. Given the high reflectivity of my Dell’s screen, viewability is key.
4. Timing with cabin service. You must be skilled in handling a hot drink with one hand while protecting your electronics with the other. A good strategy is to boot up the computer as soon as the bell dings, then when you see the drink lady(or guy) coming, close the laptop and place it, get this, on our lap, then lower the tray table to protect the computer. When your drink arrives, grab the cup not with your hand in the usual cup-holding position. Rather, place your pinky and ring finger under the cup, your middle finger and thumb on the sides of the cup, and your index finger on the rim of the cup. This affords the most stability against spillage for a cup filled to an unknown level with any beverage.
Once you have the drink in hand, drink it as fast as possible then stash the empty cup in the seat pocket, and retrieve your computer from its protective zone.
5. Extra battery - if it is a long flight, or if it is a short flight and you are doing something that is battery intensive, such as editing or rendering, extra juice is important. My Dell Vostro came with a small battery. I added a 2nd larger battery and try to keep both topped off at all times. Make sure you set your battery alarm so you know when you have about 10% left, giving you time to shut down and change bricks.
Once you are situated, hydrated and ready to work, aside from the T-Rex arm syndrome, you can go about your business. While I usually choose an aisle seat for easy access to the snack counter (what, you don’t fly Emirates Air?) a window seat lets you occasionally have a look out at the heavens above and the clouds below. You can indeed be both productive and relaxed in your edit suite with a view.
Thanks for reading. It is time to turn off my portable electronic device. Good thing I fully charged my
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Apr 20, 2009 at 7:10:47 pm
"Don't they do these surgeries in Connecticut," my wife used to ask me. Well now she and I have accepted the fact that video shoots and conventions tend to happen everywhere but Connecticut.
Inevitably, this travel has everything to do with airports, airlines, middle seats, tray tables, lighted signs and placards and free cups of ice with a splash of soda! Here are some anecdotes that might help you should your job take you to the friendly skies:
Back in the pre-9/11 days, you would check-in at the counter and be asked two security questions: Did you pack your bags yourself? Have your bags been in your control the whole time?
These were kind of silly questions. Yes I packed my bags. No I did not maintain control of my bags while they were in the valet parking bus cargo hold. As it turned out on that fateful day, packing your own bags could in fact be a bad thing, depending upon what you put in them.
Today of course we are not asked who packed our bags. Rather, we take off our shoes and donate untold tons of multi-tools and nail clippers to the government. Hey, better to be safe that sorry. Anyway, depending upon the airport, this process can take anywhere from 10 minutes to half an hour. They should have a line for people who have never been to an airport, and a line for folks who do it all the time. I actually take off my belt and deposit my phone and wallet in my laptop bag while I am still at the check-in counter. It is actually amusing to see other male and female travelers getting their kit back on just past the security checkpoint.
If you travel with video cameras, laptops or other difficult to identify electronic goods, prepare to easily place them into the plastic bins and wait while they are x-rayed multiple times. "Nice video camera" I hear almost every time. How shall I respond? "It does the job" usually...er..does the job. While the posted signs only tell you to remove video cameras an laptops, I tend to remove video decks, portable hard drives, and anything that looks like a radio frequency transmitter, such as a wireless mic radio frequency transmitter. Again, better to put everything out in the open than to raise suspicion and delay the line. Courtesy for your fellow travelers is a priority of frequent fliers. I have been known to advise elderly patrons to remove their metal wallet chains and oxygen tanks before entering the magnet!
Excess Baggage Fees
If you travel with more than a carry on, a personal item (another word for a 2nd carry on) and 1 checked wheely bag, you should be prepared to pay for it. Here is a typical conversation on most non-Southwest airlines:
Debbie: How many bags will you be checking sir?
Debbie: Just you traveling?
Debbie: I am going to have to charge you $175 extra. Is that ok?
Me: What choice do I have? It's cheaper than taking another person.
Debbie: How would you like to pay for that?
Me: Nickels and dimes.
Debbie: Is that a joke?
Me: Yes. Here's my credit card.
Debbie: Thank you. Now sign here, here, here, here, here and here.
Me: Here also?
Me: Here as well?
Me: Where else?
Me: Oh, I see. Here?
Me: Ok, thanks for your help. Have a pleasant day.
Back in the day airlines sometimes offered a media discount. The conversation would continue:
Me: Do you have a media discount?
Debbie: Are you in the media?
Debbie: Who do you work for? Fox News?
Me: No, a private company.
Debbie: Oh, do you have a business card?
Me: Here you go.
Debbie: Hmm, let me get my supervisor. David, can you come here please?
David: Media discount eh? Do you work for the news?
David: Well then I can't do this.
Me: I got the discount yesterday in Hartford.
David: Is that so? Well maybe you'd like to come back here and do my job for me.
Me: Great idea. I haven't earned minimum wage since high school.
David: Why you!
Seriously, there was some obscure secret code only accessible on green CRT mainframe computers. I had about a 50-50 chance of getting the discount, and usually only in one direction, which made my expense report look even less organized.
"What's in this heavy case?"
"Camera equipment," I reply.
"Ooh, do you film the Hills?"
"Yep, I'm going drinking with Spencer and Brody later. You wanna come?"
"OMG - I love those guys!"
"How about this large metal tube? What's in there?"
I am not making this up - before 9/11 I actually had pilots make that joke about my heavy stainless steel operating room tripod.
It's all business these days. Be nice, be honest and be patient.
Emmanuel Lewis and Scott Baio in unison: "Now that's what I call flying the friendly skies!"
Smiles all around, cue theme music.
We know that you have many choices for internet blogs. Thank you for choosing Creative COW. Enjoy your stay wherever your final destination may be.
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Apr 14, 2009 at 7:57:11 pm
This old adage is often repeated by the likes of Norm Abrahm and my dear departed Uncle Ted (you know they named a school after him - no joke). It is wise advice indeed. Just as relevant to production as it is to carpentry and limb amputation.
Planning for a video shoot can range from client meetings, detailed SOW's or as simple as basic preparations the night before - usually a combination of long-term and short-term tasks.
The night before a shoot, whether in a hotel room or my living room, follows a typical ritual for me:
1. Eat a healthy, hearty, bland meal. The last thing I want to be doing mid-shoot is wanting to leave the room. Pasta with a little butter and grated cheese often fits the bill for me. Fish or poultry sans a rich sauce is another good choice. Carbs and protein is a good combination in advance of hours of standing in one place.
2. Top off the camera batteries. Thankfully, Sony Lithium Ion batteries last for many hours and have little memory effect. Thus I use every available plug in my living room and kitchen to top off both cameras, the clam shell deck and the still camera battery.
3. Lately I have gotten into the habit of pre-labeling blank tapes. You never know when you are going to be rushed in the morning. The worst thing you can do is stick an unmarked tape into a camera and start rolling. Inevitably you will quickly change tapes and forget to label the first load - not good. I take more than enough tapes on a typical shoot. You never know, aliens could invade and wouldn't you know it, we would have yet another UFO landing shot with a cell phone camera. Well that will never happen to me.
For the typical surgery shoot, knowing the type of surgery I can anticipate how many tapes I will need, and then pre-label a few extra as well.
Another reason to pre-label tapes is the mini-DV tapes we use have two inserts in the tape case - a label sheet and a "precautions for use" sheet, both of which tend to be stuck to the back of the tape via static cling - most inconvenient when changing tapes in an austere environment such as the OR. Thus, these annoyances are safely left behind along with the cellophane wrappers.
I lay out the blanks in symmetrical pattern, remove the tapes and label them with the date, camera name and tape number. There is a 99.9% chance that this will be the only shoot on this particular date, so no further naming convention is needed:
Location, Location, Location
If I am driving to my location, chances are I have been there before. However believe it or not, there are a few hospitals that even I have not been to - yet. Back in the day, circa 1997, I would print out directions from Mapquest or Yahoo Maps. The only problem with these services, and to some degree with Google, is the preponderance for silly directions, just to save distance, not taking into account logic or actual driving experience. For example:
Take Left on Main St. South for 1.5 miles.
Take Right onto I-84 West for 18.5 miles.
Exit right onto Mill Plain Rd. for .02 miles.
Enter I-84 West and continue 100 feet to Exit 23a, NY City.
Take Slight right onto 684 South for 1 mile.
Exit right onto Middle Road Turnpike for 1.2 miles.
Enter 684 South for 152.5 miles to Philadelphia.
See what I mean.
Enter the 21st Century and Google Maps(or GPS). Now it is ever so easy to find your own directions, print out your own maps in as much detail as you like, and of course you can not only see satellite images that would make Jake Ryan jealous:
But you can in many cases get a street-level view of your exact destination.
Amazingly this exact hot dog cart was right where it was supposed to be. I was disappointed to see that the price of a pretzel has gone up $1.50. Must be the economy!
With my batteries charged, my maps printed and my ghrelin levels satisfied(look it up), it is off to bed for a few restful hours dreaming about what I always dream about the night before a shoot - going to the wrong location!
It's only a dream. I planned ahead!
Thanks for reading.
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Apr 13, 2009 at 7:25:18 pm
Stress is a natural part of life. Even happy events like a wedding cause a lot of stress. As discussed at length in this blog, air travel and travel in general causes plenty of stress. Planning a video shoot and dealing with clients of different levels of detail-orientedness are more ways to lose one's hair. Luckily, I haven't got much hair left to lose. This means I need to find other ways to decompress. Here are some ways:
1. After an especially stressful phone call with an angry mob, get up, walk outside and walk around. Even in the dead of winter I have bundled up in my ski jacket, hat, scarf and gloves just to get some air. If it is warm, go for a longer walk. In the Spring and Summer I try to walk half a mile every day during my lunch break, or whenever I need a break.
2. Get a massage. We have the advantage of having a great massage and acupuncture studio right next door, so at least every couple of months a deep tissue massage really gets me relaxed. Sitting in a poor position at the computer for days on end is not good for the neck, the back, the eyes or the hands.
3. Keep healthy snacks at work. You are what you eat - it is an overused expression, but true. If you keep your desk drawer stocked with candy bars and soda cans, you will feel even worse after your 5 minute sugar high. I need to work on this area of my own life, however i recently switched from high carb granola bars to flavored rice cakes. They take some getting used to, but are filling but low in calories. This Summer I plan to keep some fresh fruit at work as well.
4. Drink. I'm not talking about what you do after work - I mean hydration during the day. A narrator once told me that every time he takes a sip from a bottle of water he tries to drink at least 1/4 of the bottle. That's a lot of bottles of water, but we have a well and the water is pretty good. Do you need 8 8oz glasses per day? Who cares about specific quantities. Drink so you don't feel thirsty. I can tell you at the end of a well hydrated day I am a lot more relaxed when I get home. Alternately, when I get home and snap at my wife, she instantly knows I haven't had enough to drink that day. Know thyself, because your spouse surely does.
Keep a nice selection of teas at hand also. I especially like green tea, but flavored teas can be a nice breath of fresh air too. If you can find tea in a silk bag you know it's going to be good.
5. Exercise. For a while I was going to the gym before work. It took discipline to wake up early, make lunch, make a protein shake for after the workout, grab clothes and a clean towel and get out of the house by 6:30am. I did it for a couple of months last year. This year I think I'll do my workouts at home to save some coin, but still need to get disciplined. A good workout before work, for me anyway, does wonders for my energy and concentration. Last Summer I kept my bike in the car but did not use it enough. Lots of resolutions this year. I'm not getting any younger!
In hotels where I am staying for more than one night, I try to take a swimsuit and a t-shirt. Last October in San Fran I actually went for a swim after a long travel day - it really helps. In airports, you can pay for a bad airport massage, but the best thing to do is just walk around. After sitting in steerage for hours, why sit down in the boarding area if you have some time to kill. Walking around a big terminal like DFW or BWI with a camera bag over your shoulder is a pretty good workout. Again, stay hydrated. Don't rely upon the free cup of ice they give you on a plane. Buy the biggest bottle of water you can find, once through security of course, and drink it. And get the free cup of ice.
6. Stay healthy. This is always a challenge. Stress makes you more likely to get sick. Airplanes, hotels and gyms are full of germs. Despite your best intentions, you will eventually get sick. As I write this I am recovering from a nasty virus, no doubt picked up somewhere between FLL and BDL.
Not much to do except let it run its course and eat lots of chicken soup. Here's my recipe:
1 Pre-cooked rotisserie chicken (I like Costco) - you're sick, this is much easier than cooking a chicken.
Let the bird cool in the fridge a bit, then tear off all the meat.
Take the bones (not the body, just the wings, legs, thighs) and sear them in an empty pot.
After a few minutes, scrape the bottom of the pan and add enough water to cover the bones. Let this simmer for an hour. Skim off any flotsam that comes to the surface.
Meanwhile, in a larger soup pot, add finely diced celery, onion and carrots. I use a lot of all three. Over medium heat, sautee with some butter or butter substitute and some olive oil. Cover and let it go until soft. Then I add some sliced mushrooms and all the chicken meat, give it a good stir, then add a little water, and stir it again.
By now the broth should be ready. Place a fine strainer over the large pot of veg and meat, and pour the broth through the strainer so you just get the broth. You can either pull any remaining meat off the bones or throw them away - they have done their job.
Now you can add some salt and pepper, parsley and thyme if you like, and simmer for half an hour. Then dig in.
My wife likes dumplings - they are dead easy.
1 cup flour sifted. 2tsp double acting baking powder. Enough dry parsley so when you mix it all together you can see the parsley.
Make a well in the bowl of dry ingredients, crack an egg and beat it gently with a fork. Now fold in the dry stuff and then add just enough milk so the mixture is combined but as dry as you can keep it. You're not making bread here.
Get your soup up to a simmer then with wet fingers, drop dollops of dumpling mix into the soup. About the size of the OK sign you make with your fingers. Once all the dumplings are in, cover the pot and simmer for 11 minutes and 11 seconds. It's the steam the cooks them, not the boiling liquid (it should not be boiling anyway).
When the time is up, dinner is ready. Enjoy, and shake that cold.
Thanks for reading. I'm gonna get me a bowl of that soup.
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Apr 5, 2009 at 3:02:00 pm
I have blogged before about the fun and not so fun parts of travel for business. Over the past few weeks I have combined business travel with some mini-vacations.
Standup comics like to make fun of the airplane safety lectures and airplane food (airplane food, what is this 1973?). I won't try to match the clever punchlines of Ray Romano or Jerry Seinfeld, but last week in Ft Lauderdale I had my own Seinfeld moment. My wife and I were visiting Miami for a conference at the historic Fontainebleau resort, to be followed by a few days with my parents in Del Boca Vista. We got our luggage at the airport (2 rolling suitcases, Lowel lighting kit, blue Porta-Brace gear bag, tripod tube and the trusty Rock-n-Roller hand truck, not to mention carry on bag containing two Sony cameras, digital still cameras and laptop. Went to the rental counter. I made a reservation weeks in advance to rent the car at the airport and return it in Miami. Sounds simple enough.
Apparently a reservation need not mean "reserved car." There were no cars available, and no idea given as to when there might be cars available. "It's Spring Break, sir, and people do not return cars on time." Mmm, hmm.
After about 35 minutes of waiting, along with about 20 other disgruntled renters, I approached a local non-national-chain counter. Royal Rent-a-car had cars available. Lots of them. Weird. I took one, a Dodge Charger, and we were off.
Later in the week I thought about writing an e-mail to the rental company, but many times, these customer service e-mails are dead letters. The company's website had no phone numbers listed aside from the reservation line, and no mailing address. I found it hard to believe that this international rental agency could not be contacted. Fear not, we now have a service, freely available, for finding the kind of information that does not want to be found – the internet! Too bad Tommy Lee Jones didn't have access to the internet back in 1993 – he would have found Harrison Ford in a heartbeat!
A quick search on my favorite search engine revealed the phone number for the executive offices of the elusive rental company. I called, left a message, and within 24 hours received a call. I explained my situation, and rather than a heartless apology, I received a $75 credit towards a future rental and a number to call before I rent a car with them in the future, to ensure there are cars available. This is great customer service. Or perhaps the executive office understands that customers need to be treated with respect. You never know when one of your customers might blog about a bad experience on the so-called internet!
The conference went great and my wife and I had some time to get to know each other again. We then proceeded to Del Boca Vista, slept not on an old sofa bed but on a new pillow-top mattress, enjoyed some early bird specials and had some good conversations with my folks.
When reservations work well, life is good. When things go in another direction, you need to have a backup plan, and don't let bad experiences deter you from future travel. Indeed, inefficiencies seem to be part and parcel with air travel. Things are getting better, as you will read in a future post entitled "Welcome to St. Louis Spaceport. Please maintain control of your gravity boots."
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Mar 29, 2009 at 3:07:36 pm
Many of my blog posts include mentions of food. Alas, a good hearty meal before and after a shoot is a good idea, especially since you are on your feet for 8-14 hours a day. If you are one of the 5 people who have read my blog from the beginning, you may see some repetition, but in the great tradition of "the man who made lists", I shall make a list.
I have had a few conferences and numerous shoots in Bean Town. There are enough hospitals in Boston to care for millions of people. One of my favorite restaurants is in the North End and is called Limoncello. Rumor has it the owner won Powerball and opened this restaurant with his winnings. Good move. The butternut squash ravioli are worth the trip. Next time I'm in town my gluten-aversion will be placed in my hotel room safe and I'm there. The owner treats every guest like family. A trip to the North End would not be complete without a trip to Mike's bakery for the best Italian pastries this side of the Atlantic.
Although I have lived in CT since 1990, I rarely eat out. My wife and I prefer to cook at home. When we do go out, it is usually a special occasion. For fancy schmancy eating, we have a few great steakhouses. However steakhouses tend to be pricey, so these are not frequent destinations. Carmen Anthony's Steakhouse in my hometown of Waterbury, CT is supposed to be pretty good. Don't tell Carmen, but we like the Outback!
Speaking of steak, what better place to sink your teeth into some dead cow than Texas (sorry Bessie). I have been to Dallas the most number of times. There are some great restaurants there. Most recently I was there for a conference, so that meant 4 nights of fine dining. Ok, so I didn't have a big steak dinner on this trip, but bear with me. Il Sole, arestaurant and wine bar had a prix fixe chef's menu featuring 3 mini entree items, including braised short ribs and a dessert, each accompanied by a glass of wine. The food was astoundingly good. As for my ability to walk straight, luckily I had taken a cab from the hotel! Another great place is Uncle Julio, a Mexican restaurant serving a combination of classic dishes and dishes you would never expect to see at a Mexican joint. As for the classic steak place, there are a few good choices in the West End, just a stone's throw from the grassy knoll. Oddly, I usually find myself having Cajun at Pappadeaux at least every other visit. Overall, there is no shortage of good eats in Dallas.
Now if you want a great steak, travel downriver to San Antonio. The famous Riverwalk, as depicted in film classics like Cloak and Dagger with Dabney Coleman, is a mecca for tourists, and mediocre restaurants. Here's a tip - ask a local for a good restaurant. And by "local" I mean someone who does not work at your hotel. Kids working at the hotel desk making $8 an hour don't go out to eat. I asked my local colorectal surgeon for a recommendation, and he led me to Little Rhein Steakhouse. Housed in the first two-story structure in San Antonio, it was here that I had the reigning Mike Cohen Best Steak of All Time World Champion. I can't explain it, but this tenderloin remains the tastiest hunk of cattle I've ever eaten. I recently experienced #2 (see San Francisco below).
We can skip Houston since that was another wannabe steakhouse, and move on to greener pastures.
In LA, and any other city with a PF Chang's, I choose a meal there if I have the time and the choice. Other good meals have included Gladstone's right on the beach in Malibu, where you can see the odd movie star knocking back raw seafood if you keep your eyes peeled, but a nice sourdough bread filled with clam chowder makes a nice early dinner, if you happen to be catching a red-eye and have the afternoon to kill. On my most recent trip, pre-red-eye, I had a bowl of hearty Guiness Stew and a pint of the main ingredient at you guessed it, an Irish Pub. Could have been Finn McCool's. I have enjoyed this same hearty meal at pubs in San Diego (The Field in the Gaslamp area) and Toronto (Irish Embassy on Yongue St).
You can throw a dart at a map and likely find a good restaurant. There are too many to name them all. My dad always asks if I am going to Scoma's down around Fisherman's Wharf. I have been there once, but the wait was not worth it in my opinion, although I was by myself. More recently I have discovered the E and O Trading Company, a trendy fusion restaurant and Ideale, a simple wholesome intimate Italian eatery in North Beach. The list goes on...
Seattle deserves a quick mention for the odd 13 Coins - again, if you have time for dinner before hitting the airport, this place is in fact, across from the airport. The decor is unique and the menu is roughly the size of the Yellow Pages.
Other unique eating experiences have included:
Phoenix - Haus Murphy's in Glendale. Glendale is a little village with lots of "antique shops" if you take "antique" to mean "tag sale." Hey the place was packed.
St. Louis - The trendy Central West End has a few good restaurants, an historic old art deco hotel and a surprisingly gourmet supermarket called Straub's. From the outside it looks like Big Bob's Beer and Groceries. On the inside it is Zabar's. Look it up.
Omaha - Aside from the great zoo (Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom ring any bells?) the town has a "warehouse district" filled with shops and restaurants. If you are ever stuck there with no earlier flights home available, you won't go hungry.
Philadelphia - Another town with an abundance of great dining options. You have to try Geno's or Pat's for cheese steaks. If you are looking for a nice dinner, head over to Rittenhouse Square and you will find a number of cool places.
Ok this is getting old, let me finish up. Hey, can I please get another soda. Thanks
Cities one might not equate with fine dining
This is a misleading statement, because most cities large or small have a few local eateries that are both well-known and good, even to a non-local.
Bern's Steakhouse. Here I go with the steakhouses again. Oh well. I saw this one on the Food Network. You walk in and the 1960's velvet wallpaper hits you and you wonder when the scantily clad ladies will begin to parade into the room. But I was with a female co-worker, so I knew there would be no shenanigans. The main dining room is low-key, dimly lit but the real magic happens after the meal. The food was typical steak house - a bit pricey, but good. I had the filet mignon and the onion soup. When you order your dinner, you need to make reservations for dessert and the tour. Let me explain. Betwixt dinner and dessert, you get a guided tour of the kitchen, the salad station, the indoor live fish tanks and the wine cellar featuring a $10,000 bottle of something dusty and old. Apparently there are more fish tanks on the roof. Perhaps the proximity to Busch Gardens and Sea World got the better of the owners, but no worries. After dinner you are taken upstairs to the dessert dining room. The seating consists of cozy booths made out of disused wine barrels. In each booth is a Jetson's control panel that lets you pick your mood music, select the live piano music or even use an intercom to send requests to the pianist. I don't know if this is still the case as it has been a while since I was there. Definitely a memorable meal. On a more recent trip to Tampa I discovered the Fly Bar in the up and coming yet not quite there yet downtown area. They have a nice selection of small plates, including Boneless Kobe Beef Shortribs. Youch!
Ok, so Orlando is known for a lot of restaurants, however many of them involve costumed characters. That being said, if I happen to be in town for a few nights, I cannot help but visit my favorite Disney Resort, the Polynesian, and have dinner at O'Hana. The grilled meats on skewers may be similar to Brazilian restaurants, but the view of the Magic Kingdom fireworks show makes it extra special. No admission required. Plus you can take a free monorail ride after dinner.
I could continue with a list of cities and restaurants, but these are the memorable ones. Then there are the cities I never see in the daylight - arrive, get a car rental, find the hotel, find a meal (Olive Garden (blech), Macaroni Grill (glauch), Bertucci's (hmm, sometimes ok) don't get me wrong, chain restaurants can be ok but we have those at home. What we don't have at home is a Duo of Elk Filets or Buffalo Prime Rib. Nice.), go to bed, wake up at 5am, go to work, get out get to airport fly home, get home at 1am, eat beans on toast.
In the end, we need to eat. A hearty, healthy alcohol free meal the night before a shoot is a great idea. A hearty meal with a celebratory drink after a successful shoot is a nice reward.
May I interest you in one of our locally made desserts or a cup of coffee? Perhaps you'd like to try the cheese plate? No, ok then let me get your check. Please tip generously, waiters often make minimum wage.
Thanks for reading.
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Dec 28, 2008 at 6:09:56 pm
Attention ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for choosing Creative Cow Airlines. We have a few important safety reminders for you. Please stow your belongings in the overhead compartments and keep the aisles clear. Please observe the lighted signs and placards to the left and right of this blog...
Last week I had to go to New Orleans for some pickup interviews and b-roll. I booked a reasonably priced ticket to fly out on Sunday, got to the airport early, paid my $140 for luggage. Let me stop there. In an effort to keep ticket prices down, US Air now charges $15 for the first bag checked, and it goes up from there. Excess baggage fees have always been a staple of travel. Back in the 90's when I was flying with my herniacam and sciaticapod, 3 to 5 checked bags was the norm. These days with DV and HDV cameras, we check a golf club case (tripod, cables etc) and in this case a light kit and small luggage cart. I stuffed my change of clothes and toothbruch in the tripod tube. But $15 for the first bag? This will only dissuade people from flying.
Next to security. Place laptop and DV camera in a bin, place shoes on belt, place belt in shoe, place laptop bag on belt, place camera bag on belt, walk through magnet, wait for items from belt, carry all to seating area, get recombobulated. No worries. I had to chuckle that the old lady in a wheelchair was made to take off her shoes and walk under her own power through the magnet. I feel safer already!
Next to board the plane. You would think 50% of the passengers had never been on a plane before. Certainly there are some first time flyers, but the guy who took my camera bag from its spot in the compartment over my seat and shoved it forcibly into a smaller spot elsewhere so he could shove his own bag into my original spot had clearly done this before. In a highway driving situation, this is like cutting someone off or passing on the right. Oh bother.
Next comes the drinks. Coffee is now $1, soda is $2. Still cheaper than the prices in the terminal, and possibly incredibly profitable for the airline. I got the coffee, and was actually offered a refill for free.
My connection was in Charlotte, America's Front Porch. I don't know if that is the actual slogan, but this airport has weary travelers in mind with its free wi-fi and abundance of rocking chairs. I had a 2.5 hour layover, so this was a nice benefit.
As you can see, I used my time wisely:
Arrival in NOLA was uneventful, albeit muggy. Rental car pickup no problems and the ride to the dreaded French Quarter an easy drive. I say dreaded not to be mean, just because first impressions go a long way. Even before Katrina, the approach into downtown New Orleans has been a bit rough. These days with the abundance of boarded-up buildings and dilapidation, Canal Street has looked better.
That night I ventured up Bourbon Street, and remembered why I hate Bourbon Street.
Good dinner at the Redfish Grill then back to the suite. Next morning after a $27 room service breakfast I tried to follow the directions to the hospital, but got a tad lost. I did get to see some of the Garden District, including some nice homes, some smaller homes and a few piles of debris that were once homes.
The shoot itself went as planned, although it was Monday morning in a busy medical office, so there was a fair amount of waiting. I simply setup in a doctor's office and waited for him or her to become available.
After a full day at the hospital, and some giggles with the residents, we headed to the Park across from Tulane to get some shots of the doctors hanging out with their kids.
Next back to the hotel, dinner at Bayonna - an excellent restaurant away from the madness, and then back to the hotel once more. This was something called hanger steak - I'll have to look that up. It was goood.
Tuesday AM I got to the airport, got on an earlier flight for only $50 (the US Air telephone system wanted to charge $150 plus an unknown fare difference). A visit to Starbucks for an overpriced coffee I can make at home for 30 cents and back home in CT by 6:30pm.
The drive back through Hartford reaches its apex with the view of a skyline I have called home (not really home per se, but more figurative as representing my home region) since 1990.
Impressive, isn't it!
Overall, no hassles and some good food along the way is always a plus. Indeed, regardless of the destination, and with appropriate expectations, business travel can be the big easy.
Thanks for reading, and happy flying, wherever your final destination may be.
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Sep 28, 2008 at 1:33:06 pm
Not all travel is by aeroplane. No sometimes we need to drive. If you do mostly local production, you are always driving. If you are like me, your gigs are anywhere and everywhere, although we do have a lot of shoots in Boston, NY and Philadelphia.
A big concern at the moment of course is the high price of fuel. I can't take a long car trip without adequate fuel in my tank, and one must make this a priority, or you might not get to your destination. I am of course talking about coffee and the very best gas station sandwiches money can buy.
A decent (or at least luke warm) cup of coffee, an iPod full of the latest podcasts and the occasional highway rest stop make for a tolerable journey. Given adequate fuel for the body, of course fuel for the vehicle is essential, and regardless of the price at the pump, you have to transport yourself to the job.
I have to laugh when politicians and the media announce "gas has hit $4 a gallon." Obviously these folks have not visited Connecticut.
I was behind another car from out of state and noticed a kid lean out the window to take a picture of this gas station's prices. They thought it was a novelty, I took a picture because I needed one for this article!
Given the increased price of everything, I am amazed that tolls on the Mass Pike have been the same since I started driving. Another disparity exists in hospital parking lots. I realize that everyone needs to pay their lease and property taxes, but prices range from free to $40 per 8 hours. At least most hospitals take credit cards, but a few demand cash, and have an ATM located elsewhere in the hospital for your convenience.
All of this is the cost of doing business, although I'm not sure the egg salad sandwiches were part of my budget!
As the sun sets ahead of me, I approach Hartford and the lovely traffic jams ahead of me. Another journey at its end, and another pile of tapes to digitize.
Thanks for reading.
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 28, 2008 at 12:06:10 pm
Memorial Day weekend arrived in the US, indicating my 4th annual trip to Cape Cod for a much needed vacation. The weather was pleasant, the roads were relatively empty and my brain appreciated the chance to recharge.
I set out this year to take fewer pictures than usual, but make them more interesting as a result, and I left my video camera at home, forcing myself to relax a bit more. I also rented a bike and took some nice rides along the Cape Cod National Seashore.
The lobsters were sweet, and I tried some new recipes in the kitchen, watched some DVDs (Gone Baby Gone - thankfully Ben Affleck is a better director than actor; Revolver - Guy Ritchie has lost his mind, although kudos to the editors) and one theatrical movie (Indy IV - Speilberg did the best he could do with the story and George Lucas' proclivity for over use of green screens - the New Haven scenes were fun).
Although I took my laptop, to keep up with e-mails regarding the next few weeks' shoots, the cottage's wi-fi failed after two days. I did ride my bike to the town library to check e-mail on two occasions. This is what I enjoy most about vacations in Wellfleet, MA - I can ride a bike or walk into town.
Cool ocean breezes.
Apollo 11 had the right idea: Tranquility base here, the Eagle has landed.
Next post, back to work...
Thanks for reading.
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 3, 2008 at 4:28:40 pm
Over the past two weeks I attended several medical conventions as an exhibitor.
First was a meeting for laparoscopic surgeons. Last week was a combined meeting of surgical program directors and coordinators, held in Toronto. The unique aspect of the exhibits at this meeting were the uses of multimedia technology aimed at surgical education.
First, of course, the Cine-Med display featured our latest books and our online video libraries, and a demo of our forthcoming Multimedia Atlas of Surgery. At this meeting, the most popular items were the books. Particularly a book about improving communication techniques for surgeons. The ACGME has mandated that surgical education serve one or more of six core competencies, including communication and professionalism. This book covers these two competencies. Click here if you want to see more:
Other interesting displays included virtual reality for surgical skills training. Cine-Med incidentally was one of the pioneers in medical VR, back in the early to mid 1990s. Our simulations required SGI computers costing more than your average family SUV of today. One memorable experience had me at a pay phone at the Atlanta Convention Center talking to our engineer, writing UNIX commands on the back of a cocktail napkin, then running back to our booth, climbing inside the wooden enclosure, typing the commands into the UNIX shell, jiggling some wires and then repeating until things were working. Cell phones in 1995 were not quite something your average person carried around, so payphones and running shoes fit the bill.
Today obviously the simulations run off laptops or similarly equipped desktop computers, sometimes cleverly hidden inside streamlined plastic enclosures. Input devices take the shape of actual or simulated surgical instruments, attached to any number of sensors, force feedback mechanisms or simply viewed with a video camera, as in actual surgery
Perhaps the most impressive use of multimedia and computers is the virtual patient simulator, known as Stan, seen in the lower left. This 200 pound android, developed for the military, has all the vital signs of a real person. You can listen to his breathing and heartbeat with a stethoscope, listen to bowel sounds, feel for a pulse in the neck and wrist, intubate his airway and even administer drugs and fluids. Wirelessly controlled by a Mac, and attached to a DVR with 5000 hours of recording time, the setup is used to train medical students in dealing with a variety of medical scenarios, and then review the exercises in real time. Very cool.
As usual, I spent my off hours exploring the city and seeking out new dining experiences. Unfortuantely I was also dealing with either Spring allergies, a head cold, or both. The first night I went to the Pickle Barrel, an odd restaurant serving deli food, Asian dishes, steaks and everything in between. The next night, exhausted from 8+ hours of standing and sneezing and coughing, I ate at the supposedly well regarded Chinese Dim Sum restaurant at my hotel, Lai Wah Heen. The Duck soup was very good, the roasted walnut beef dish was ok except for the walnuts and the beef, and the service was extremely slow. However watching the parade of roasted ducks (beaks included) and other unique presentations passed the time. The final night I went to the Irish Embassy Pub for a much deserved Irish Stew and a pint of Guiness. You can't go wrong with this combination. Finally Friday's events included a complimentary sit-down lunch at the hotel, then a quick break down and load out, cab to the airport, US customs while still in Canada (?) and an earlier flight back to New York for a drive home.
Thanks for reading.
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Apr 21, 2008 at 2:14:36 pm
No, that's not the name of a new company - but it sounds good actually.
I actually was thinking of the term "go fast boats" as used in the Miami Vice movie(it has been on HBO in a loop). Basically fast racing boats used for smuggling.
This week was a go fast production week.
Monday - Pack my gear, print Google maps of two hospitals and a client's offices in Massachusetts. Fuel up the Wagon Queen Family Truckster (Saturn ION) for a mere $30, and hit the road. I also hit the library to stock up on books for my wife and hit the supermarket to get her some provisions.
Lately my best friend has been a thermos bottle. I brew some coffee using a French Press, add a few spoonfulls of hot cocoa powder and little milk to the thermos bottle, then fill it up with the brew. This stays hot and comforting all day long. I pull over at every rest stop, or about every half hour, and have a small cup using the screw on lid from the bottle. By doing so, I guarantee that I need to stop at every rest stop for obvious reasons.
First stop Brockton Hospital to visit my dear Grandpa Izzy. After an hour or so of visiting, I hit the road for Burlington, MA. Checked into my hotel, a Candlewood Suites. I specifically chose this hotel because it offers a microwave, fridge, stove and even a dishwasher. Although only staying for two days, it is much more enjoyable to me to have breakfast in my room. The hotel has a little food pantry with non-hotel prices for cold cereal, milk, muffins, cookies, cans of soup, juices and the like.
Tuesday - Meet client at a local hospital at 7:30am, get changed into scrubs, get to the OR, setup my gear, plug my DV recorder into the video laparoscope, test the recording, then go to the cafeteria for some toast and mediocre coffee, then back to the OR for the case. Lately I have been shooting surgery with 2 cameras - one overhead, one on sticks.
After the case, I packed up my gear and went back to my hotel to check e-mail, make some phone calls and grab a sandwich. Then I headed back to Brockton to see Izzy for a few more hours and help move him to a nursing home for a (hopefully) temporary stay.
Next day was up to the client's offices for some tabletop product shots, lunch, and some more shooting and brainstorming.
Wed evening I drove back to CT, with a few stops for bad gas station coffee (I may need to start traveling with my French Press and a 12 volt water kettle for the car) and a stop at Trader Joe's for some raspberry jam and gluten free pasta. Got home, not really hungry, I watched this week's episode of New Amsterdam and part 3 of the fantastic John Adams miniseries. Check it out.
Thursday AM - Fire up the trusty laptop, plug in a USB hard drive with 300 gigs free, and capture all my raw footage from this week. While the tapes were loading, I did some more e-mails and did the dishes. Got to the office around 12:45pm and spent the rest of the day on correspondence for other projects, and started chopping up my video from this week. Oh, I also had a conference call at 7:30am!
Thursday evening at home, with the rough narration and script in hand, i cut the first edit of the promo, finishing around 11pm. I rendered an AVI out of Premiere, then used Squeeze to make a WMV file(scaled down slightly from native size - this project is 16:9 SD), uploaded that to our web server for the client to download and shut off the computer around 12:45am.
Friday AM - got to office around 10:30am - more correspondence and followup on other projects, reviewed some DVDs from a colleague, checked the progress on a 2500 DVD in-house duplication project (slow going) and then started preparing some digital stills and graphics for the next edit of the promo. Got home at 5:30pm, watched 2 episodes of Gene Simmon's Family Jewels then fired up the computer for hopefully the final edit of the promo. Final narration from the narrator arrived, new music requested, and some new graphics. Finished at midnight, plus the WMV render got me to bed around 1am.
Now it is Saturday at 9:50am, and I write this blog post while awaiting final edits, so I can make a DVD loop and get to FedEx by 4pm. It is about a 20 minute drive based upon prevailing traffic conditions and weather, so I need to burn the DVD no later than 2:30pm. Presumably i could take the laptop to go and finish burning as I drive, but that's pushing it.
Tonight, as mentioned in my previous post, is the 15 year reunion for my college tv station. Then the rest of this week I get to not drive anywhere besides the office. Joy!
Thanks for reading.
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Mar 29, 2008 at 7:10:14 am
Twice a year we face "Convention Season." I doubt this would make an interesting documentary, such as Bee Season, but it defines work schedules, deadlines and Yahoo Travel's bottom line.
Every October I attend the American College of Surgeons Clinical Congress, as an exhibitor, along with my boss and other colleagues. Our goal at this NAB of Surgery, if you will, is to exhibit our medical education products, to network with clients, future clients and to support the AV needs of still other clients.
Every 3 years this meeting is in either San Francisco, Chicago or New Orleans.
I have a favorite activity in each of these three cities:
San Francisco - discover new restaurants.
Chicago - Discover new restaurants
New Orleans - Discover new restaurants
In San Fran, I usually head to the North Beach section, which has some great Italian restaurants. However right around the Sir Francis Drake Hotel on Union Square there are a few good restaurants as well.
In Chicago, I try to go to McCormick and Schmick's for seafood. Granted there are branches elsewhere. Nearly any place in town is good. The last time there we tried brazilian and Greek food.
In New Orleans we usually head for the French Quarter, however even before Katrina as well as now, there are some seedy streets just off the main drag. One must be cautious. The last time there, we discovered a decent seafood place right near our Loew's hotel, and we also visited Emeril's restaurant, which was a fantastic meal. At this restaurant, regardless of how many people are in your party, they have enough servers come to your table so everyone is served at the same moment. Nice touch.
One year, 1998, the convention was in Orlando. The Orlando Convention Center, on I-Drive, is much like all convention centers - sprawling and isolated from civilization. This one is especially so - you have to take the chartered convention bus to get there. The hotels booked for the attendees were all on the Disney property. While the hotels are nice, they too are isolated. For example, if one is staying at the Caribbean Beach Resort, and one has a shoot at the Dolphin hotel convention center, and there are no cabs around, one has to take the Disney bus to MGM studios, then take a water taxi to the Boardwalk hotel, then walk to the Dolphin. I could be mistaken, but it was a hassle. i took a taxi back.
This year is San Fran, so good times to come.
As of this writing we are approaching the Spring Conference season. First up is the SAGES (society of american gastrointestinal and endoscopic surgeons) in Philadelphia. I know there are some good eateries surrounding Rittenhous Square. The next week I'm off to Toronto for the Association of Program Directors in Surgery. I have only spent 2 nights in Toronto previously so this will be like the first time there.
All of these trips except Philly guarantee hours sitting in airports, airplanes and hotels. I have blogged about the enjoyment of all three experiences, and I try to ignore these aspects of travel. My sweet Dell Vostro laptop allows me to work or watch movies in any or all of these situations.
Philadelphia will be my first foray into train travel. I have taken the choo choo into New York a few times, but usually I drive to Philadelphia. During the week in question, I need to go on a Monday, have a day of meetings on Tuesday, come home, then return on Thursday until Saturday evening. I'll let you know how it goes.
The final mode of transport is of course the car. Much of my work is in New York, Boston and of course Connecticut. The best thing that ever happened as far as car travel is the iPod. Any MP3 player will do, and I have previously used the MiniDisc and a USB memory stick music player. but the iPod in my case makes a 2-4 hour solo car trip so much more enjoyable. Note to Apple's developers - please invent some sort of thought controlled iPod navigation - trying to use the thumb wheel while driving is actually more dangerous than using a phone. I know modern cars now have voice activated iPod navigation, but most people do not have new cars.
Well, I have to go burn 26 CDs to mail out Monday, so I can drive up to Burlington, MA for a few fun filled days of production.
PS - if you spend a lot of time listening to your music player, either in the car, plane, jogging track or at work, here are some of my favorite podcasts you may find interesting:
Hardcore History - the host, Dan Carlin, while slightly annoying to listen to for long periods of time, speaks with a passion about historical events.
Common Sense - also with Dan Carlin. In this show the gloves come off and he espouses his centrist political views. I can take about 10 minutes at a time.
Creative Screenwriting Magazine - the editor Jeff Goldsmith interviews the writers of the latest independent and mainstream films. Makes me want to dust off my half-written screenplay and get writing again.
Harvard Business Review podcasts - The title sounds synonymous with the Watching Paint Dry podcast, but there are some interesting topics, especially those featuring interviews with or lectures by entrepreneurs in the technology industries.
Physics for Future Presidents - basically an entire semester of lectures by UC Berkeley professor Richard A Muller - the professor puts complex concepts into terms even a President could understand (pick a President if you like). I have sampled many recorded lectures from Berkeley, MIT and Stanford. Many are poorly recorded and not edited for content, so you get lots of silence as the professor is trying to get his PowerPoint slides to work. but this one is fantastic.
Ok, now I'm done. Thanks for reading.
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Mar 21, 2008 at 4:26:39 pm
My job entails the following types of trips. I will describe each one in brief and include some memorable experiences.
These are generally trips somewhere to shoot one or more surgical procedures. I leave Hartford or LGA mid-morning, or at the crack of dawn if it is a cross country flight. We used to travel later in the day, possibly doing some work on the ground before leaving. However,lately the airlines seem to have improved their baggage losing capabilities, probably due to some new bar code software, so I like to allow extra time should a bag become lost.
Feet on the ground, rent a car, find hotel (thankfully Google Maps have made it much easier to not get lost. Back in the Mapquest or Yahoo Maps days, I found myself getting off the highway for .2 miles then back on the highway, then a slight left onto the same highway, then exit onto Main St for .2 miles, left on Spitbrook, right on Daniel Webster (someone in the Boston area will get that one). Now I just print out several Google map views especially in downtown areas with lots of one-way streets (Seattle, for example).
The rental car maps are usually useless, and way too small to read while driving.
Find the hotel, check in, immediately plug in camera batteries, laptop, iPod, cell phone. Most hotel rooms do not have enough plugs. Short of carrying a powerstrip, I sometimes unplug the TV, a lamp or plug something in in the bathroom.
If I am lucky enough to be in a major city, finding a decent restaurant for dinner is not a problem. If in a secondary city, the mall is sometimes the best bet. Olive Garden is better than nothing...and those breadsticks!
Inevitably I cannot sleep in hotel rooms. I avoid hotels advertising Sleep Number beds - I find those the most uncomfortable beds ever. A trend lately has been pillow top beds, lots of different pillows and high threadcount sheets.
On a recent trip, the hotel was doing construction, and the hotel smelled a bit odd. I complained, but the clerk did not offer any consolation. One night my room really stank. I do not like the smell of aerosol air freshener, so I made a pot of coffee using the free in-room apparatus and coffe grounds. I let this simmer for an hour then shut it off. The smell of freshly brewed coffee was a big improvement.
The next morning is usually up at 4:30 or 5am, get to the hospital by 6 or 6:30, then wait until the first case starts. Assuming the city is east of the Mississippi, I schedule a flight home around 8pm, and land in Hartford around midnight. Feet on ground, get bags, shuttle to valet parking, 45 minute drive home, sleep.
LGA at midnight is not so fun, so first coffee, then 2 hour drive home.
Multiple days on a shoot is usually something besides surgery, such as interviews, documenting a meeting or on-site editing. All of the same principles apply, however it is less rushed, and there is more time to discover multiple restaurants.
Conventions mean we have a booth at a trade show, such as the American College of Surgeons convention, held in San Francisco, New Orleans or Chicago, repeating each city every three years. Convenient, as I know the dates I will next be in each city years in advance.
The travel day usually gets us there on booth setup day. We take a taxi straight to the convention center and proceed to our empty booth. 50% of the time, the freight shipper is either late or held up in the off-site labor yard, or some such thing. If this is the case, and we do not have our crates, we can grab lunch or see if the hotel rooms are ready.
Assuming the crates have arrived, and there is carpeting and electric service installed, we setup the booth. This takes about an hour to setup the folding displays and signs, and another hour to set out our products, catalogs, brochures and setup our video kiosks.
Once the booth is ready we can check into hotel. However at some meetings I also provide AV support to various clients, deliver DVD loops to other booths, or attend educational committee meetings to discuss ongoing projects and new work.
Conventions usually have one or more hotels associated with special room rates. These tend to be nice hotels, such as the Paris in Vegas, the Sir Francis Drake in San Fran and the Hyatt in Chicago. At the Paris, for whatever reason, I got a free upgrade to a nice room.
On this same trip, I also stayed at the Flamingo for a few nights, as the Paris was sold-out. Here, for whatever reason, the only room they had for me was a suite. It was a shame I had to switch to the Paris, although the rest of the Flamingo was kind of dated.
An advantage of arriving in Vegas a day early was the ability to attend NAB.
Cool lights too.
As described above, finding a good restaurant is a key component of preparing for the next day, which is spent standing in dress shoes wearing a tie. Luckily, convention cities are teeming with restaurants.
Obviously, many people who visit the COW visit Vegas for NAB frequently. If you want a unique dining experience, check out Sensi at the Bellagio. It is a bit hidden, but worth the walk. The kitchen is encased in glass and stuck in the middle of the restaurant. If eating by yourself, or with others, you can sit at the counter, and make googly-eyes at the sous chef throughout your meal, and possibly see your own food being prepared.
In his book Heat, Bill Buford advises:
If Short Ribs are on the menu, get them. Short Ribs cook for hours ahead of time and are usually well worth it.
Another memorable convention was the year New Orleans was secretly replaced with Orlando. The Orlando Convention center on International Drive is actually quite a long bus ride from the Caribbean Beach Resort on the Disney property. Walking back to the hotel mid-day to pick up a package is out of the question, unlike in New Orleans or San Francisco. So that aspect was not so good.
However I did discover Ohana, a unique restaurant at the Polynesian Resort. Check it out, especially if you are there with your kids or significant other.
A final memory was a small meeting we held in Jackson Hole, WY. This was a continuing education course for vascular surgeons, consisting of 2 full days of lectures and panel discussion. My job was to videotape the proceedings and to provide AV support to the speakers.
Held at the Teton Mountain Lodge, this was quite a nice venue. My room, as it turned out was in the Best Western next door, luckily on the ground floor of this elevator-free hotel. The room was your basic hotel room. Luckily it included a free sample of an adhesive blister bandage, which I required after taking a hike in inappropriate shoes!
Dinner (here I go again) the first night was at the hotel with the faculty, and was a buffet of various cuts of Elk and other four and two legged creatures. The next night we were guests of the course's chairman, who lived on a ranch nearby. If this is how the other half lives, sign me up! The final night we ate in downtown Jackson, and once again Elk was on the menu. Not quite as tasty as buffalo but still a treat.
In summary, travel can be a hassle, especially with airline procedures, long security lines and delayed flights, not to mention sleeping in imperfect beds. Once on the ground, a carefully planned shoot or meeting can proceed with success.
However there are also opportunities to make the most of your personal time while away. Exploring new cities, taking in local attractions if time permits and enjoying new and familiar cuisines can make the time away enjoyable.
Thanks for reading.
PS - If you ever have the chance, check out the Omaha Zoo, the Des Moines Botanical Garden, Bern's Steakhouse in Tampa and the Little Rhine Steakhouse in San Antonio - the best steak ever!
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Feb 9, 2008 at 5:30:08 pm
While I have never traveled as much as I did in 2000, my job continues to send me on a few different kinds of trips.
Recently I received a new laptop, with the hope that time spent locked in a metal tube 5 miles up could be a bit more productive than reading the latest Harry Potter book. Oh yeah, we are out of new Harry Potter books, which is a good thing because those things are heavy.
We selected the Dell Vostro. For the price it is a good value. Core 2 Duo, 2gigs ram, 160gig 7200rpm hard drive and thankfully, Windows XP Pro. Loaded up with Premiere 2.0, Photoshop CS3, Encore 1.5 and other useful software, this thing has paid for itself already.
Here are a few other useful programs I have installed.
Audacity - this is an open source sound editor. Very useful for recording temporary narration (scratch tracks).
Bulk Rename Utility - just google that to find it. A handy little app which does just what it says. I primarily use this when dealing with PowerPoint files. Inevitably we are sent long Powerpoint presentations to integrate into a video. Time permitting I redo the slides in Photoshop or Premiere, however sometimes with some tweaking the slides can be used straight out of Powerpoint. Powerpoint exports slides as slide1.bmp, slide2.bmp etc. So open the handy program, set it to change "slide" to "projectname" and in one keystroke it is all set. Then you can import the files into your project.
Another useful application is for digital camera stills, which always seem to be named DSC10034.jpg. Same thing, change "DSC100" to "projectname_" and you suddenly are much more organized.
Video Inspector - this little program will open just about any video file and attempt to tell you what it is. For example, the extension .MPG can be any number of formats. If you just open a MPG file in Windows Media Player, it may play but you get no useful information about it. Video Inspector (there surely are other useful similar programs, probably 100's) tells you the dimensions, the bit rate, the audio format and the codec, if known.
Filezilla - If I am on the road, or just in my living room, I need access to various servers. While Firefox has a FTP plugin, I like using FileZilla. Self explanatory. It tends to time out on the display, even while a transfer continues.
Pidgin - If you must use IM, this is a much less obtrusive app than AIM, which tries to install un-needed stuff and makes noises from embedded ads.
The best feature of this computer is its long battery life. Two batteries gets me cross country, or very nearly.
Most important software is of course Premiere Pro. My first trip with this computer, back in early December '07, was in the midst of editing a job for a client, who was anxious to see the results of the shoot we did a few days earlier. On the flight down to Tampa I managed to get most of the first edit cut, with some further tweaking at the hotel, and then each day for the next few days. I render a medium res WMV file out of Premiere and post it to our password protected client website for easy download.
Given the generous internal hard drive, I was able to use Premiere's Project Manager to create a manageable version of a long-form project and shove it on the laptop also. On my Tampa to Phoenix flight (5.5 hrs) I worked on this video. Granted, my arms are normal length and American Airlines' seats are designed for tiny people, so doing anything besides simple cuts and static titles gets a bit carpal tunnelly. However the 10 minutes of edited content allowed me to make up some lost time on this project.
Finally, while it is sweet to be able to cut video on a plane, or in my hotel room, the laptop also allows me to take work home when necessary. Prior to the new machine, I would take a portable hard drive home and work on my home computer. However, when you move a Premiere Project from one machine to another, it has a hard time finding files.
So here I am, sitting on my sofa, finishing up a project. Much better than sitting in the office on a Saturday evening!
Yes, it's Saturday evening. We're having lamb chops. Stop by if you're in the neighborhood.
Thanks for reading.
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Feb 9, 2008 at 4:25:57 pm
Hi. My name is Mike. It has been 3 months since my last blog post.
All: Hi Mike.
I have missed all aspects of the COW. I receive my Business and Marketing forum e-mails, but frankly have had little time to read these, or browse the forums or the blogs.
Well, dammit, I pledge to find the time. Here is a little review of what has happened these past 3 months, and why I have strayed from the COW's fertile pastures.
Ooh, that last sentence may have come from a Mike Huckabee speech!
Early October 2007
With the looming medical convention in New Orleans I have these key projects to finish:
1. Planning for live surgery event Oct 25. Drive to NY to check out the Florence Henderson Theater. Actually it is the Florence Gould Hall, although sometimes it is referred to as the Elliot Gould Theater. Contract with a prominent video conferencing service for lots of clams as Fred Flintstone would say.
2. Wrap up DVD on colon surgery. A hand drawn flowchart saves the day. Encore 2.0 lets you view the project like a flowchart, however I have never gotten Encore 2.0 to successfully build a project without an error, and in some cases the project file becomes corrupt altogether. So using Encore 1.5, a roadmap is the key to avoiding confusion.
It is at this point that I start wearing a hat to work every day, due to the incongrous patches of baldness thanks to the above project.
Oh well, it was a learning experience.
2. Next project is, get this, a DVD on colon surgery. This one is a bit more complicated, as each of 25 surgeons has his or her own chapter, including a Flash interface, video, narration, illustrations and a companion printed book.
Mid-October - Medical Convention, New Orleans
I had not been to NOLA since 2004. The convention center and tourist district are largely unchanged. During the taxi ride form the airport we see a lot of homes with tarps on the roof, and the French Quarter has many many abandoned homes and businesses.
The Loew's hotel however is quite nice, with one of the nicest indoor pools I have seen in a hotel.
A Few Representative Pics from this trip:
My last day there while walking around the French quarter, I called to check on my grandma Hilda. News is, she isn't going to make it. Her first words upon learning this, "Mike is going to miss talking to me." 36 hours later she was gone.
Over the New Year's holiday I started going through my home video collection, cataloguing all my videos of my Grandma Hilda. I feel so lucky that she permitted me to interview her on camera several times over the past 10 years. I recommend doing this with anyone you care about and will miss when they are gone.
Late October, 2007
Time for our big live surgery event. Four hospitals in NY transmitting live cases to the Florence Griffiths Joyner-Kersee Gould Henderson Hall. I find this funny. Two hospitals had full iSDN connections, two had only marginal IP bandwidth available. The ISDN feeds looked good, the IP not so good. We filled the time with some pre-recorded HD surgery. We rented a Panasonic PT-DW10000U HD projector and some XDCAM decks. Of course playing HD surgery after IP surgery is like viewing the Mona Lisa in person compared to using a ViewMaster. Actually, ViewMasters usually look pretty good, so make up your own metaphor.
The next day we rented out the historic Hudson Theater adjacent to the Millenium Broadway hotel. This day consisted of about 40 PowerPoint lectures, panel discussion and a presentation over ISDN from London (cha-ching$).
I couldn't resist taking this shot:
With this big event over with one could focus on the coming tasks for the rest of the year.
Early December, 2007
Fly to Tampa, FL. I have not been here since 2000. Little has changed, although I never actually visited downtown. While the Courtyard is a nice hotel, it is centrally located in a ghost town. Walking at night just a few blocks to a great cafe was like a Twilight Zone episode. You know, the one where a salesman finds himself alone in a strange town...like every episode! Next day I was to shoot 3 surgeries, however the patients were put to sleep before consenting, so I was stuck with the 3rd case of the day, which turned out to be a bad case to videotape.
Next day fly to Phoenix to shoot 4 new videos. This shoot went great. Word of caution, if someone recommends going to a little town with lots of cute antique shops, run the other way and don't look back. Aside from the dozens of what I would call junk shops, Glendale, AZ actually has a great German beergarden and restaurant called Haus Murphy's which made the trip worthwhile. It was also the winter festival, which was a lot like a New England winter festival without the snow.
Well, here we are in 2008 and looking forward to wrapping up some lingering projects and starting some new ones. Now if I could just shake this cold...ACHOO!
Posted by: Mike Cohen on Feb 1, 2008 at 10:00:40 pm
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