09 January, 2006

Worst job you ever had.

In my youth I’ve sold fuller brush (2 weeks), sold cigarette and candy at the wrestling matches( for of all things, my local boy scout troop) cleaned out an enclosed pig sty (once) sheer and dip sheep, it all started to go downhill when I worked for the local cable television studio.

My boot camp experience (USN) was a tad on the bizarre side, after a few days in a regular company I was transferred to service barracks and spent the rest of my boot time filling out and delivering dental appointment cards and standing “the bedwetter’s watch” - seems back then there was a special barracks that the navy would collect those who had enuresis and our job was to wake them every 30 minutes, inquire and mark a chart if they were wet or dry until one night this big dude got up and informed me (in demeanor and tone that left little room to doubt the sincerity of his intent) that he wanted to get some sleep and that if I insisted on having these little discussions I would be in need of immediate medical attention, needless to say his boxes were marked dry for each of my subsequent watches. Spent the next several years doing boring and occasionally dangerous things with helicopters and boats but eventually back slid back into television.

At first, I convinced myself that I could just stay in the technology sector and had interesting diversions in remote sensing, surveillance, lasers and other cool toys but soon found myself building high end broadcast cameras and then editing systems then slipping down into production and post production finally hitting bottom when I started having delusions of Producing and Directing.

It was during this time that I was corned by a local newspaper’s “question girl”
question “what are your bad habits?”
Answer “My bad habits are either illegal, immoral or worse, I work in the television industry. My brothers, ones a nuclear engineer the other an air traffic controller and I agreed that we should tell mom I was still playing piano in the bordello”
And they published it!

Instead of a clean break from the clear vice that television is I gradually moved back to the pure engineering side and somehow ended up on the infamous ‘das boot’ project as it is referred to by those of us who survived. By no means my first (or last) international project this one stands as the most f***ed up project that any of us had ever been involved in.

The actual contract was for (rhymes with baloney) to completely outfit all the entertainment and ambiance video, projection and sound systems including interactive televisions in 1200 accommodations per ship for three hulls being built in northern Germany for a Greek owned cruse line.

The boat yard was an interesting place, these were hulls numbered in the mid six hundred range, the company had been building boats for a few centuries but stayed on the cutting edge of technology, had well established procedures and being Teutonic, extremely difficult about changing or amending anything.

(Rhymes with baloney) also had a deserved reputation for building large unique systems however they operated on a much shorter project cycle with a proportionately higher number of engineering changes, often driven by changes in the technology. Case on point, after the first boat was done, dead buried and the open wounds healed, several of us went back for what was called a Preliminary Design Review (for Das Boot II), and we’re going great, we can get larger AC units, more power, etc. The yard was talking about what pattern of carpet to use where and what color trim around the sconces, as far as they were concerned the boat was built (even though it had just started getting put together) and we were about 2 years too late to be requesting changes like these.

The town and boat yard were all newer buildings (for Europe anyway) most being about fifty years old or less, clue to the reason for the building boom could be found along one corridor where they had pictures of the hulls they built for uncle Adolph.

The project had been sold (on both sides) by a concept document that started well then ended abruptly, there were some creative concepts floated but for the most part little to no engineering thought was given.

I later found out one of the few guys in this biz who I respect, had flown over the week before I was sent, took one look at the site, turned around went back to his hotel and commenced drinking until he could get a flight out.

I was told when I was offered the job that it was all done and that they needed a sr. engineer to check it all out and sign off the installation, when I got there, nothing was working and there was just 6 weeks to go before the maiden voyage.

This sort of explains how I found myself 10 meters up in the show lounge on top of a narrow shipboard ladder at 2am on a mid December night in the North Sea, I’ve been up since 6am, the ship is undergoing sea trials and that particular night they were doing list tests and stabilizer tests, sound folks are setting their system which involves 120dB blasts of pink noise on a random basis, meanwhile I’m trying to hold on to the ladder, the lighting grid, the two ‘mis-connectored’ cables that control the pan tilt zoom and focus of one of the cameras and not become impaled on the artsy glass top tables with one leg in the middle.

My email back to my boss started with “…remind me again who won WWII? Here I am, a NorCal kid working for a jap company on this dammed nazi death boat”

We even had t shirts made up that said arbeit macht frei.

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