Production Journal: Nov. 4, 1994

This is the first entry in what may prove to be a diary of the production of Jason 6: Island Earth. Your correspondent of the moment is Tom Newman. I am the Producer/Writer of the Program, which some might consider an oxymoron for a show that is live and spontaneous, and which seeks to use interactive technology not to create a "story" but rather to involve in a direct manner the audience, which is seen not just as the recipient of a program but as an active participant. Nevertheless, there is a lot of behind the scenes work that leads up to the program. I'll try to tell you about some of it.

Today a bunch of people spent more than two hours on a conference call reviewing how the specifically interactive elements should work -- driving, Q & A, and exercises using the computer during the show. Things are still in flux; don't ever take anything written here as definitive or official. But just to have the most basic kind of interactivity work in a system as complex as Jason takes the combined efforts of designers, software programmers and engineers, people who understand networks and satellites, as well as educators and the people who understand the content. Nothing is off-the-shelf in this operation. It is all custom work, and that means plans, discussions, drafts, reviews, prototypes, until it seems we will never get to the finished product. We started working on the Jason 6 interactivity before Jason 5 was done, in a very real sense. Sometimes the design which looks simple turns out to require a lot more programming than the designer ever imagined. It is hard for the non-programmer to know, since we base much of our knowledge on things we have seen -- but we do not really know how much code has to be written to get the effect we see as pretty simple. Like this interface, for instance. The Mosaic screens look so easy to use, we may not be aware of how much code make them possible. Television is another example, because the most transparent technique which no one notices is usually the most challenging effect to create. But even a piece of paper is hard to create from scratch, so this should not be such a surprise. It is a humbling lesson in how much we are interconnected in our efforts -- whatever they be.

Right now we are gearing up for a big meeting of all the downlink sites in mid November, at which all the plans we have made should be reviewed and approved. After that meeting, our countdown begins in earnest. We would like to have all the taped roll-ins -- segments shot ahead of time to provide some specific bit of background we can't show live -- done before the end of December, except for a couple we may shoot in January. Meanwhile, the software people will be working long hours on the interactivity programs, and the network communications people will be finalizing and testing all the connections for audio, video, and data. We all have long lists. The PINS coordinators are lining up schools to participate and providing teacher training, and teachers are starting to receive the curriculum guide so they can build lessons around the Jason experience. Logistics for getting the Jason army to Hawaii with its equipment need to be finalized. Limits of organization are probed by numbers of last-minute ideas, changes of mind, new discoveries.

Our basic production plan calls for a crew of thirty -- just for the production, not counting all the people one will see in the show or an equal number of personnel that keep the whole operation going. We will have remote-operated cameras at the most dangerous sites -- a skylight ( a hole where one can see a river of lava pouring inches or feet below the surface) at Pu'u O'o (the most active volcano in the complex) and on the bench (a pile of relatively unstable lava heaped up at the beach). We will have cameras on a helicopter, including infra-red sensing devices that reveal the underlying rivers of lava. And we will have cameras on biologists, geologists, and astronomers, and on argonauts. We will set up four production vehicles -- big trucks with various self-contained and specially-equipped electronics. One will be a satellite uplink. One will be a TV control room. One is just for the computers and the people running the interactive portions of the show (that will be where I am). And one is a satellite uplink just for the data.

Our location is far from any electricity, so we will be operating off diesel generators. We will set up three microwave relay stations to bounce signals from outlying areas back to the control room. Two of these will be solar and battery powered, and the third will be gasoline powered. We will not make final decisions about placements until a bout a week before the broadcast begins. The lava field where we will be is always changing, and we need to adapt to the conditions we find.

Perhaps the biggest piece of equipment, besides the vehicles, will be a device built to sample the lava -- the Lava Crane, we agreed today to call it. In the past, scientists have sampled lava by throwing a hammerhead attached to a cable into the moving lava, and pulled out a gob of molten rock. This is dangerous work, since the lava is uneven in consistency and can pull in an unwary researcher. Which has apparently never happened, but there have been close calls. The Lava Crane will allow rapid, safe, frequent sampling.

We will have about ten days to set up and get everything working. Our dress rehearsal is scheduled for February 24, and the show goes on February 27. the schedule is noteworthy. Because of the time difference, the first show will begin in pre-dawn darkness so that the PINS in England can see shows before nightfall. The schedule for PINS is the same as always, five shows a day starting at 10AM EST. That's 5AM where we will be, and we will have a 45-minute commute from our sleeping quarters and will need some time to get things running. We figure it will work out if we just don't adjust to Hawaii time at all, and go to bed every evening around seven. It will be an interesting case study in biological clock manipulation: what is more important, the sun time or the meal time?

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