James and Gordon

Dave making sure we're all good to go for James's 32 seconds of fame.

Dave making sure we’re all good to go for James’s 32 seconds of fame.

Someone thought it would be a great idea for Gordon Ramsay to do a live segment with a conversation with the South Pole on his Christmas Show, Cookalong Live. There are a few interesting technical hurdles in that idea. For one thing, we don’t allow Skype. For another, we rarely have good bandwidth. No matter. It fell to IT — and mostly Dave — to implement this crazy plan. Dave has done TV work before, so he was in a familiar element.

The stars aligned well for us, or rather the satellites. The show would be on the air when we would be connected via the TDRS satellite, our best bandwidth by far. Satellite-rise would be about 11pm; we asked for an early slot in the show so that we had a chance to sleep after. And we are after all the IT department; on the day of the show we could cut off a lot of the other services and give the broadcast all the bandwidth available. Super-powers are useful.

About a week ago we did a dry run with Pete, the guy in England who was a production assistant or assistant producer or something with One Potato Two Potato, the production company. We didn’t pull out all the stops in terms of cutting off other people and being hogs, and it went pretty well. We had a conversations without the delay feeling dreadful, and even the video was clear enough to feel present. Pete seemed happy.

The plan was for a video call between Chef Brown here and Chef Ramsay there. A couple of questions about the menu, a couple of questions about difficulties, and a shot of the South Pole itself — end of segment.

Pete was the tech or production assistant or something over in England. He seemed to be the most excited person involved.

Pete was the tech or production assistant or something over in England. He seemed to be the most excited person involved.

Last night, of course, went worse. Pete’s office was far away from the space where the filming was actually happening. On the walk over, we lost the Skype call at least twice. The “early” slot we were hoping for about 11:00pm was drifting. The batteries for the camera Dave was using didn’t really seem to have a lot of charge. Something in the camera cable was shorting or crossing and with small movements of the camera the video would drop and not come back. The quick-release mount on the tripod was anything but. Dave and Chef trooped on, sitting at the ready, IMing with Pete about where things were going, and that we missed our chance at coming in after this commercial or that commercial. Live TV is all improv. Nobody got steamed or anything, just progressively more tired as the night wore on. And then wore off as we passed midnight into Boxing Day on this end of the call.

Finally, James exchanged words with Gordon.

Finally, James exchanged words with Gordon.

I think in the end it was “hello”, “what did you serve?”, and some question about James’s food order — I hadn’t realized he only gets one food order per year to get everything he needs for the summer. Gordon asked to see the pole, Dave — who had given up on the quick-release and just had the camera seated on the tripod — picked up the camera, and the picture froze on Chef Brown’s smiling face; no pole. Ramsay seems no stranger to live TV, so just cut out to the next segment; and we’re out, about 12:15 or so.

Dave packed up, we all went to bed. Just another day of excitement at the South Pole.

Aw man! David Hasselhoff was a guest on the show, too! We missed that somehow.


4 responses to “James and Gordon

  1. OK, I just had to comment when I saw reference to the TDRS satellite. *I* worked on the project in my first job out of school. It solved some interesting problems and I’m glad one of them is comm to the south pole.

  2. It wasn’t TDRS we were on though, it was Nato IV-B. 1.544 Mbps and we had to block all other traffic to get the video call through. Rocky, we do use TDRS daily and it’s our most important link!
    Pete mentioned “celebs” but I didn’t realize there were others besides Ramsay! They’re trying to get us a DVD.

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