A couple of people have asked me if I have gone, am at, or are going to the Winter Olympic Games in Torino, Italy. The answer is I have not gone, am not at, and am not going to Torino, Italy. We sent a smaller tech staff to this Olympics games as compared to the summer games in Athens, even though we were facing some new and interesting technical challenges.
Quite frankly, it was not possible to justify flying me out to Italy, even for setup or strike. Another way of looking at this is that I have done such a good job in preparing the technology for the games that I don’t need to actually be there to set up servers or support our users.
One of the most interesting aspects of Sports Illustrated’s coverage of the games was the number of sites we set up. In all previous Olympics, there has been a single press center where all of the images were downloaded or scanned. (Since Athens, we have shot only digital photos for the Olympics.) In Torino, we set up five remote offices connected to the main press center. The most heavily used office is in Sestriere. Sestriere is located in the mountains; not only does it take a while to get there from Torino, but also if it snows heavily the roads can take a very long time to clear. Each of the five remote offices are connected to the press center via E1 lines. (E1 lines are European versions of T1 lines that operate at 2 Mbps.)
My coworker, Phil Jache, deserves the accolades for getting these remote offices to work. He set up all of the servers and workstations for each of the remote offices in addition to purchasing and configuring network lines and equipment. Setting up this kind of system takes a lot of time; Phil basically started doing the work after the Athens games ended.
Phil also worked with our networking group to set up some interesting WAN links. We have two T1 lines direct to New York City and one T1 line through our Tampa offices. The T1 lines appear to be point-to-point lines to us, but we have actually been given slices of T3 lines supplied by AT&T.; It’s a very neat set up, and it gives us both the reliability and bandwidth we need.
Some people have asked me what I have worked on for the Olympics. In addition to giving some help to Phil in planning our Olympic setup, I had the following punch list:
- Sequence number: Each of our images are given a unique id number. We are using the same sequence of numbers in New York City as we are in Torino. Prior to going live, we had to make sure that the sequence in New York City was incremented to allow for Torino usage. This is something we have forgotten to do at other events.
- Event creation tool: This is a program that we last used in Athens. It is a series of web pages that allows us to easily assign photographers to events. There are over 450 events at the Winter Olympic Games, and we have eight regular photographers on site. I had to get this program working and upload the events for the games.
- Create all events: This is directly related to the event creation tool. I had to go the schedule for each day of the games, and copy and paste the data into a spreadsheet. Then, after fiddling with the formatting, I was able to upload the spreadsheet into our SQL database.
- Web site look, feel, & links: We tend to customize the web site used at remote events. It looks pretty, and it allows users to distinguish the remote web site versus the New York web site. The templates for creating the site need to be modified on three or four different application and web servers. The web site was again designed by my coworker Mike Wolf, who is on-site in Torino. I think he did a great job.
- Block out assignments: This is similar to the sequence number task. Each photographer gets their own assignment for each day. These assignments are each given a unique ID. I had to create dummy assignments in New York that are overwritten each day with information from Torino.
- Hotfolder for images (printing): Hotfolder are directories (or folders) on a computer that will process files. If a user wants a file processed, they copy it or move it into the hotfolder. This hotfolder is used for printing images. I implemented it using a Perl script and a custom hotfolder module. I invoke a couple of GNU tools and change the JPEG into postscript. IPTC information is also extracted from the image and printed on the bottom of the page.
- Hotfolder for images (select and superselect): As our editors flip through images, they select the ones they like by copying them to the filesystem. The selected images are moved to the hotfolder where a process I wrote labels them in our image database, MediaServer, with the tag “select”
- Change tracker statuses: The tracker application is used in New York to track the status is of each assignment. In Torino, some of the statuses, like “Sent to Lab” didn’t make sense. Remember, we are only shooting digital images in Torino. This task was a reminder to remove inappropriate statuses from the tracking page.
- Local phone numbers: We have many people in Torino. This web page consolidated all of the phone numbers for our Sports Illustrated staff on location. It’s useful for both the New York and Torino staffs.
- Credential badge: Every staff member at the Olympics is issued a press credential. The press credential is stored in a transparent pouch that hangs around the neck. I designed a badge that fits into this pouch in addition to the credential; it has everyone’s phone numbers, emergency phone numbers, and the phone numbers of Olympic staff members at each press venue.
- MRTG: I set up MRTG to produce pretty graphs to help us monitor our network connections and servers. MRTG is a pooling program that queries devices for values and plots them on a chart. The program has been around for years, but it can still take some time to set up.
- ACLs: All of our web applications are protected by access control lists. I had to open up access in both New York and Torino to allow both sites to view servers at the other sites.
One of my other coworkers, Carlos Amedee, also did a ton of work. Most of the servers were new, and we had to set them up prior to shipping the machines. Another coworker, Nate Gordon, has been working a ton on-site. He is a photo editor in New York, but he was put to work doing a lot of technology work in Torino. For example, he had to terminate ethernet cabling for every workstation in the Torino office. Anne Jackley, my boss, also did important work–like making sure that we had the budgets and support we needed to get everything accomplished. Finally, I haven’t even mentioned all of the other folks in the Information Technology division at Time Inc. This wouldn’t have happened without their help.
Our photographers have shot over 105,000 images as of today, and we have transmitted over 5,500 photos from Torino to New York City. The photos are stunning and wonderful.
The issues covering the Olympics have provided the best weekly Olympic coverage I have seen from Sports Illustrated. The text, photos, and design have all come together to produce a coherent package; reading the magazine is the closest thing to being there. And I’m not saying this lightly. I have worked at Sports Illustrated for over ten years and read the magazine in the ten years prior to working here. If you enjoy the Olympics or just enjoy good news coverage, I would definitely pick up our latest regular issues.