Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Finding Nimo

It began like any other Saturday except this one had that anticipation of Christmas. You know the feeling you had when you were a kid and you knew that Santa was on his way with his bag of toys. This toy was an 65 inch HDTV. And it was being delivered in just a few hours. My plan was to tune in the satellite, run my new cabling and have everything set up and ready for my HD Jumbotron. I would be watching the hockey game in HD splendor before the end of the day and wait a minute, there was a full day of HD racing tomorrow, oh boy this would be good.
I felt I deserved this reward as I had just completed re seeding my lawn 2 weeks before. It had been the hottest day of the year and I moved 14.5 yards of soil in one day, rolled it, raked it and planted seed. It gave me the worst sunburn of my life and a back ache not seen since I donned the "Back Breaker" Steady Cam rig several weeks ago.
By now I was looking with pride at my new lawn, still too short to give it it's first cut and yet so green. Yes, a mind numbing 65 inches of HD heaven was just what would make any TV junky happy.
I have had an ExpressVu dish for several years and being somewhat familiar with finding Satellites in the "Clark Belt", acquisition should not pose any problem for my timeline. When I bought my new HD dish I of course declined the 70 dollar installation fee. Yes, I am a TV guy why would I spend the 70 when I can do it myself. Hell I can read a manual.
So on that morning of anticipation, I gathered my tools and went about my quest for HD. I replace my existing dish with the new fangled gymbled wonder dish. This baby can tune in both Satellites at the same time. I followed the manual, things were looking good. I had my little TV monitor hooked into my old tuner out by the ladder with me. As the neighbours went out for their walks on that morning, they would comment about the lawn and ask about what I was up to. "Well you must know what you are doing, I wouldn't even begin to try" one neighbour said. They see me in the CTV truck on occasion. "Yes, the satellite is right there" as I point to the southern horizon. "I should have it in a couple of minutes"
I found Nimiq "91" in about 2 minutes. I still had it, I thought. Another walking neighbour: "hey Mur, do you install these things?"
"Not usually, I'm a Camera guy, but I have worked in the SAT Truck"
I had already adjusted the "skew" angle according to the manual so as to "acquire" the second satellite, so it must be all good right?
Just then a truck pulls up and it's here. Oh boy, this would be good. I would be the envy of the free world. Murman, his new Multiplex HD and he saved 70 bucks by doing the install work himself. Is there anything he can't do???

When I hook up the new wonder box to the wires, I figure I am moments away from calling that toll free number to get my HD package. I am giddy with excitement.
"hmm, this doesn't look good." I double check my cables. It turns out I have a switch that needs 4 input wires not the 2 I have installed. Damn, I'll have to go to the Depot and grab another spool of R Cable. I was there earlier to pick up 50 feet and some connectors. I drill more holes, I run more cable. "Switch Test Complete" the screen reads. OK we're in business.
"Nimiq 82 No Signal"
What the %&*!
OK back up the ladder, re read the compass, re acquire Nimiq 91, this time with a 92% signal. Ok this has to be good.
By now the first Neighbours are returning from their walk, I'm still up on a ladder, playing with the dish.
"No luck?" she asks.
It's there, I'm just fine tuning I say.

Back down the ladder, still no luck with Nimiq 82. Nimiq 82 has all of the HD programming. This is not good.
The hockey game is starting. I'm still up the ladder. I call my buddy Dave. He's like the CTV Satellite YODA, he'll know what to do. But wait, he's the guy that told me I should only have to wire two inputs to the switch, remember, the switch that needs four wires. "Have you got 91?"
"Then 82 is just to the left and about 4 degrees lower in the sky."
I look, I scan, I fail.
Call tech support. They basically tell me the same thing.
Back up the ladder. It's getting dark now. The walkers are out now for their evening walk. I'm still up the ladder.
I am sure they are thinking that this guy is an idiot. He must just "play" a guy who's in TV.
I finally come down, feeling defeated. I am reduced to, watching a DVD on my new colossus. It's not HD, and it leaves me feeling cheated. I miss the hockey game.

Sunday: I am again up the ladder. Bob and Jane are out walking. They again complement me on my new grass. I think that they are either too afraid or too polite to ask about my current project.
They return later to find me now hacking down branches from my front tree. My new lawn now with a worn path from the garage to the ladder, tree branches, leaves everywhere. All this to save 70 bucks. Goddamn, now I am pissed.
This has got to be it, the branches must have been hiding the look angle to the that HD beacon in the sky.
I return to my second home, up on my ladder. I curse at the dish. Again, no Nimiq 82. Did the Russians shoot the goddamn thing out of the sky. Has it been hit by some sort of space junk?
Again day turns to night, Nimiq still has it's cloaking device on. Bob and Jane are again out walking. I am sure that they are expecting to see me hanging from my Sat dish, lifeless. Now they are avoiding eye contact. Just as well. Better not talk to the crazy man trying to save 70 bucks.

New TV: 5000 dollars.
Cost of Installation of Sat System: 70 dollars
Cost of Wiring that would have been included in 70 dollar installation :110 dollars

Finding Nimiq: PRICELESS

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Manic Saturday

The phone rang yesterday at around one in the afternoon. It was just after Team Canada had just got beaten by Team Sweden at the world championships and since I was on call for Air Operations, it was a call I must answer.
"Murman, we've got a body found and we need you to fly!"
Normally I would be ecstatic about a: flying and b: overtime call in,,, but flying. But I was hoping that this "on call" day would yield no calls as this was the day my little girl would be going to her Sr. Prom.
After calling our pilot and making arrangements to meet up with him, my next call was to my daughter who was getting her hair done. "Hello, Sarah? I just got called in to work, what time are you planning to leave?" I could tell there was disappointment in her voice, "Four, Dad" she said.
Ok, I think I might be able to make this work at it was just One, now.

The original mission was to go to a scene in Aldergrove where a body had been found and a large area had been taped off. As we took to the air control directed us to another scene where Police were on the hunt for a fugitive in the Metrotown area. I had just seen the RCMP helo just take off, so the chase was on. A few minutes later we are over the Metrotown area with the "Air One" (the RCMP helicopter) locked into my frame. Control calls us again. "Chopper 9, we have a multi car crash, 152 in Surrey, Air Ambulance is on the way, break off and head to 152"
"Roger, 152"
When we arrive, we see the carnage on the ground. Rescuers are just transporting a victim to the air ambulance. We orbit. I shoot. My pilot Brian says "hold on, we have a small plane coming right at us!" We are in the area between Vancouver tower and Langley Tower. Its a nice sunny day and the weekend warriors are out flying. Commercial pilots loath them. They don't listen to their radios and it appeared that this ultra light fellow has his attention on what was going on the ground below.
Brian climbed the machine and turned. I don't think Ultraman knew we were even in the sky. Looking at the tape, you don't even notice that we had to take a sudden change of course.
We spent several orbits gathering and feeding tape back of the scene and the lift off of the Air Ambulance.
Then on to our original call, remember the body in Aldergrove. God I'll never make it back to see Sarah come down the stairs in her dress.
"Tango Hotel Uniform, Langley Tower, There is a NOTAM,,,,,,,,"
Basically there is a restricted air space over the potential crime scene. So we request an altitude above the restricted ceiling and Abbottsford tower approves that request.
Just as we go into our second orbit of the scene below, my cell rings. It's our reporter on the ground. "Murman, you can stand down, we don't need you anymore."
OK, "Brian, we can head for home."
I look at my watch. God I thought, I'll never make it.
For all of our advanced news gathering equipment aboard Chopper 9, it makes the 206L heavy. The long and the short of it is, we sacrifice speed and fuel (range) to accommodate the extra weight all of the TV equipment. But as fate would have it, the good Lord provided a tail wind for the old girl and we made it back to base just after 3.

Now all I need it the traffic gods to be smiling on me so I can make that 45 minute commute back to my house. But it's the long weekend so traffic is like most weekdays.
Just as I come over the final hill toward my home, my cell rings. It's my wife. "How far away are you, she is ready".
"Tell her to hold on, I am two minutes away"

The moment that I raced home for, my little girl, all grown up

Murman's Daughter, Sarah

Well, I cannot tell you how much that moment, of seeing my little girl, all grown up now, come down our stairs in her prom dress, meant to me. I am so proud of her. It just seemed like the day before yesterday that I held her hand, walking her to the school bus stop, back in New Brunswick for her first day of school. Now she is graduating and getting ready to go to university, a confident young women.

I feel so old.

Sarah and her friends just before they loaded up into thier limo for the big night

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Tape Rips Your Heart Out

The last four days there have been 9 fatalities that news crews in Vancouver have had to cover. Fatals are unfortunately a fact of the News game. They are never pleasant and often emotionally draining. It is especially bad when the fatal is a child. That is what we had to face on Friday night in Surrey and this morning in east Vancouver.

The call came in sometime after four on Friday afternoon that there had been a child pedestrian struck in Surrey. I was at the time assigned to another story, but as I was working evenings I somehow knew that is where I would end up. I will give full credit to our Surrey shooters when they arrived on the scene. A scene which I am sure was chaotic and charged with raw emotion. I have been to many in my career. Too many. But when the call comes and you know it's fatal, you have the time during the drive to the scene to mentally prepare yourself for the task at hand. You can never fully prepare as you don't know what you are potentially getting into. For those of you who have not experienced this sort of thing, read carefully. Then close your eyes and imagine yourself trying to function during all of this grief.
The guys in Surrey, Shawn and Scotty, both family guys, and believe me they are hurting like everybody else, went about the grim business of collecting video of the scene. Police tape, a truck, distraught neighbours, and police and fire members who are all in a state of shock. REMEMBER, they have families too and most are parents, so quite understandably everybody and I mean everybody is upset.
Covered on the road is the clothing that the little victim had been wearing. The boy had been transported to hospital where he had been pronounced dead on arrival. The boy was 5. The driver had been taken into custody and was allegedly impaired.

When I arrived there, and I fully expected to be there for the rest of my shift, most of the work had been done for me. Both Scotty and Shawn had shot the scene and along with reporter Michelle, had gathered many of the elements that would make up our item for the 11:30. Michelle was quite shaken, she being a mother herself of children of about that age, soldiered on. Remarkable, as I know she was quite torn up inside.
As the day slipped away into evening and the light faded, the Police became more forthcoming and available. Earlier they would not give us anything in the way of clips or information and were quite curt about it, deferring to "official" sources back at HQ, which of course being a Friday night were not available. This was their emotional defense mechanism at work. I don't know how Police, Fire and Ambulance do this on a daily basis, but they do and be glad you don't have too, the emotional toll on them is humbling.
We cut a story and did a Live hit into the 11:30 show. The accident investigators were still there. We packed up and went home and I know each of us gave our kids and extra big hug when we got home.

There was of course going to be a follow up story. That was left up to our weekend crews that went back to the scene, the dead boy's neighbourhood, and faced a daunting emotional challenge.
A little memorial of flowers and toys had begun to grow on that ordinary neighbourhood street. Little cards made by his little friends. Other parents, people from all over stopping by, trying to make sense of it all.
I have been to many similar scenes. It is perhaps tougher than the original calls, because now the victim has a name, friends and family share stories of their loved one. Some even speak to cameras assembled. They give the victim a voice, they give the victim a personality. It's gut wrenching stuff. You would have to be a machine not to have feelings in these situations. Saturday was no different for the crews at this makeshift memorial except the friends were the dead boy's little playmates. Their thoughts and comments to my colleagues were from the heart, brutally honest and had an innocence to them that was particularly profound. "From the mouths of babes"

Later in the day the little boy's parents wanted to speak of their loss. I was not there, but words cannot discribe Mom and Dad's pain. The tape rips your heart out.

This morning another fatal call. This time a fire. This time a mother and her four children. Again crews went to work balancing their own emotional well being and focusing in on telling a story.
Some days I don't know how we do it or get through it.

Here's hoping tomorrow's a better day.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Momma Murman

You're never too old to give your Mom a Hug

This is the weekend that we are all supposed to call our Moms or take them out for that special dinner. Yes it's Mother's Day.

I want to tell all of you about my Mom. She is the coolest, funkiest lady I know. It wasn't always like that, but as I grew and aged I began to appreciate all of the things that my mother has done for me in life. I know I wouldn't be the person I am today or enjoy the life I lead if it hadn't been for my Mom. But where to begin,

Well I suppose, since she carried me for 9 tough months and bore me that might be a good place for me to start. You see that very thing alone, birth, binds mothers for life, whether you like it or not, to you, her child. And so it has been with my Mom. She has always supported me and enabled me to explore the world. As a child, the world is full of wonder, danger and discovery. Mom was there to comfort me when I was afraid, encourage me when I was timid and to share the joy and sorrow of life's little speed bumps. I know that she did the same for both my brother and sister as we grew into adults.

Murman, Starr-my Mother, Carrie-my Sister, Dan-my Brother

As a teenager we discover our Moms are not perfect. It comes as a bit of a shock that we discover that she is a human being with all of the faults and flaws that the rest of us have. It is a time when being a Mom must be the toughest. Yet with all of the bullshit you dish out as a teen, Mom loves you with out condition. Amazing.

My mother has always supported me even if she feared what I might be getting myself into. She was there supporting me when I accepted an assignment to war torn Bosnia. She worried like hell when I was there, and she was a listening ear when I returned with some terrible baggage.
My mom loves adventure and she loves to learn new things. She enjoys meeting new people. When she enters a room full of strangers and before she leaves she has met or engaged most in conversation. She looks at life with the wonder of a young child. She loves all of her grand children and has a special relationship with each of them.

Just this week, my mom always wanting to experience new things and meet new people, did something she had always wanted to do, she performed on stage.
Wow, that's my mom, cool eh?

Happy Mothers Day, Mom and thanks for everything.

Here is an email she sent me about her time on the stage:

Thought you might enjoy my lastest escapade. Debute in Theatre here in Vancouver. Just last night. I'm signing all my written work according to Starr. My book has only a few pages left after a three year struggle. My dream of coming here was a dream come true and I listened to myself and went for it. That's what life is all about.
Murder Mystery Theatre.

Last night was so much fun as I took a bit part in a Murder Mystery which had me dress up (I used my on intrepretion) as a millionaire mature wife to a 30 yr young handsome dud who was only after my money. It began with a body missing and no one (audience) was quite sure how to unfold this mystery. The introduction/audience participation was handled by the brilliant author of this short but fascinating murder mystery ... meet Trevor Jenkins.

I played the missing body, the wife, Melina. I had to appear for my three lines important script for it was a clue to the twist at the end.

I prepared for this like the optimistic person I sometimes can be. Since I had to be part of the audience and trying not to give them any clue what I was doing in the show, I dressed all in black with my hair pinned back (my hair would have given it all away) and made myself be just a part of the spectators at the event. Acting is in all of us.

As the public began to come I would mingle introducing myself as Starr and of course the reaction to the name certainly conjured up some interesting comments. Don’t you love people? One woman thought I said I’m a star. And she was going to reply, who the hell cares. Which broke me right up. She was hard of hearing and the more interaction the more fun it became. My funny bone is always present.

Meanwhile the two who were the Stars – Nick (my husband) Emmanuel and Ardith (my partner in business) Lee Anne

Bold real names.

These two very accomplished actors were so terrific and there were 5 acts. Meanwhile I’m in the dressing room changing my attire. Pulling down my black skirt until it touched my ankles - you see I had to have it long as I had to fall and I wore my knee brace to brace the fall. Immediately I proceeded to pull my hair down messed it up to the fullest, of what is usually is, but looking terribly villanious. Add a bit of twigs, green leaves etc in my hair as well as in the long black sweater coat I had brought for effect, which was pommelled with lots of greenery (from the garden where I had been? Or wasn’t, shot in? )

In the main stage, the audience is wondering, is there a body or not? If there is a body is she dead or not? Etc.

Meanwhile the seasoned actors are rehearsing their lines (which were many) while helping me look like the deranged wife I had to be after being shot for my shares in the business that Ardith and I were partners.

I even took my shoes off as there were a pair of red (and they didn’t even know red’s my favourite color lol lol) and a few other clues, suggesting there may be a body, on the table with a mother’s day cake.

So when the fourth act was approaching. I had to crawl up the side wall of the hallway and come in with a gun shout “Eat and Die” fire the gun up in the air twice and then crumble while Ardith shot me twice and I died right there for all to see.

Well my cue man forgot to tap for me and I waited and all of a sudden from a room with the door closed I heard my panic husband (being the great actor he is) holler Melina at top of his voice in such panic and repetition I raced up the hall like the wounded body I represented, with a certain amount of validity,as I had blood running from my head and corners of my mouth with my large (as you know) amount of hair flying around and a gun menacing in my hand. I pulled it off and repeated my lines twice before I shot the gun twice in the air. The audience was in total surprise and shouted and yelled and couldn’t hear me even though I was hollering my lines at the top of my voice.

Anyway Ardith was quick to grab my gun and shot me dead. I fell down and rolled over and rolled over on my stomach and died. Nick bent over, touched my laughing body heaving up and down, pretending to be in somewhat grieving happiness stare.

Shortly thereafter this act ended. I was in hysterics and forgot this was not the end of the play. I promptly pulled up my long skirt and showed the Audience my knee brace, hugged the writer, director and professional leader, Trevor Jenkins, who has been doing these kinds of entertainment for a very long time, as I continued laughing. Trevor shouted this isn’t the finale. I’m not sure he was telling me or them. I quickly departed back to my room.

I’ve not had some fun since I did the musical video when I first came here in 2000.

Meanwhile I am getting rid of the debris on my clothing, when Trevor came and got me as the audience had so much fun wanted me back to repeat my line as they weren’t quite sure what I had said with all the commotion they had made.

So out I went with the villainous venom of the shot victim and stared at the audience as if Nice and Ardith were still there and pointed the gun to the ceiling and shot the gun. However it only fired one shot. I told Trevor when he asked me to do it again; I would not be falling as I had taken my brace off. (After all I only got $10 and a bottle of wine for all of this and I had somewhat injured my knee at the previous night’s rehearsal) Oh we actors really get into our part. Lol lol lol

When the finale came I’m still in my room not knowing when to come out. However I did open the door and hear the applause and screaming for Melina. It was tremendously rewarding. All of us were given a very wonderful feeling of fun and it showed in the Audience’s faces. When the pros take on the amateur they certainly go out of their way to be helpful and supporting.

We paid our tribute to our talented creative writer, director, Trevor Jenkins who gave all of us this wonderful night of entertainment. What a guy he is.

After the show I continued to meet many of the audience. They went home happy and Trevor wants me to return for a serious drama in the summer. I will have many more lines. I left my number and went home with blood in my face and a smile.

Trevor met me in Starbuck’s my favourite haunt with a view on Wednesday. He was sitting right next to me and I was contemplating life drinking coffee and looking out at the wonderful Vancouver view when he turned to me and said “Are you busy Friday night?” I was outraged and shouted like the maritimer I am, “I don’t even know you.” Thinking he was trying to pick me up. Like so many before him. lol lol lol

Then in his professional voice he said “No, no, are you busy Friday night?” With suspicion, inquisitiveness and my need to know (the Irish descendent? Perhaps), I replied firmly; “No. Why?”

Then he went on to explain he needed an actress for the one who promised him to show didn’t and he continued non stop to recite the entire play, who he was with all the details, of where, when, why, who and what. He offered me $10 and a bottle of wine. I said.
“Make it red and I’ll be there.”According to Starr.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Working with the King

Night Shift. God I hate night shift. That has been my lot in life for this week. The shift itself involves usually a whole lot of running around for little or no show value. Time tends to move very slowly on the night shift as well. I also find that I feel very detatched from the day side and the stories tend to be boring public meetings or local council. Don't get me wrong, there is a lot of important stuff that happens at these type of meetings, but they are as boring as bat shit when it comes to TV.

This week though has been filled with lots of fire and other sorts of calamities that have made the time pass quickly. The scanners have been busy with fire calls (now I smell like smoke), Meth lab take downs and fatal sky train entrapments. Oh and I should not forget the gas and dash in Surrey on Monday night. That call has had some legs this week as a fellow who had been involved in one a year ago was to be sentenced today for dragging a young night gas jockey to his death.

Today the shift began with a call to the scene of a crash involving several police cars, a stolen van and a bad guy hopped up on meth. Just another day in paradise. I was expecting more tonight, but it seems the night shift gods believe I have been working hard this rotation and gave me a quiet evening.

I have been working this shift with another veteran camera op. Ted H.
Teddy has been in this business longer than anybody I know. He had done two tours in Viet Nam. When I arrived here in Vancouver, he was the Chief Photog at the station. This guy has seen it all. I am surprised that he can still stand up considering he has been humping camera gear for more years than any of us can count. But he is as healthy as they get and is pretty fit. Ted found some old pics from back in the seventies when he used to hang with "Colombo" and "Starsky and Hutch".

Ted -back in the day-

Funny thing, this is the first night shift that I have had the pleasure to work with Ted. We double teamed the Meth lab the other night. Fortunately, Ted has traded that camera for one that is much lighter then the one shown.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Shock and Awe

Mike Thorneycroft getting himself ready for the rebuild of a lifetime

It was an average week at the hangar. Lots of little flight added up. Eleven point four hours for the week. Not bad. Certainly not low flight hours found in the winter months.
There was a buzz in the hangar this week. It was a kinda like a calm before a storm. Not for the pilots or flight crew, but for the flight engineering staff at the hangar.
A couple of weeks ago one of the flying machines was taken apart for some structural work. The work would have to be done at airframe shop. The preparation took 6 days of pain staking disassembly. In aviation, every screw, every part has to be labeled and inspected. It takes time. But it keeps us all safe when we fly.
Friday the structural work was completed and the airframe was delivered back to the hangar. Now the real work begins and to complicate things, the machine is needed to fly by the middle of the week. Can it be done? Anything is possible I suppose.

The body of the flying machine arrives back for assembly

As I write this a team of skilled aircraft engineers are assembling the machine. Every screw, every part inspected and approved for flight. Fuel cells that need to be plumbed. Rotors that need to be balanced, flight controls that have to be finely tuned and electronics that need to be wired and tested. It is an around the clock endeavor.
It is a complete rebuild and it will be done in four days.
But this project is what has consumed Mike and his team of tool welding warriors this week. They have had that "thousand yard stare" this week. They knew that the parts waited for them and their skillful assembly. Can they make it fly on such a tight timeline? I am sure they can and you cannot help but be in awe of that kind of accomplishment.

Flight reporter David Kincaid checking for leaks as all of the flight engineers are tied up with the rebuild----- well that's what we were going for in this picture---he had to taste it to make sure it was aviation oil