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Rising from Ruin is an on-going MSNBC.com special report chronicling two coastal Mississippi towns, Bay St. Louis and Waveland, as they rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

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This project is evolving. Our daily dispatches coverage has been retired. Click here to see what happened in the area between mid October and January 1, 2006.

Background on the towns and this project is available under the about tab above.

Click here for bios of the reporters and media producers who have worked on the series.

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I've seen the future of news gathering--and it's not pretty. Actually, it's pretty embarrassing. That's me festooned in probably $15,000 worth of technology. And not a cent spent on style. So help us caption this picture. Take your best shot in the comments.

First, some background: A small team (well, two) from Microsoft accompanied us to Bay St. Louis last week to capture 360-degree video of the devastation. They practically invented the technology. And to our knowledge, this will be the first time it's even been used in news. The resulting movie is something akin to the panoramic photo at the top of this page, only moving video in every direction. For the most part, they strapped the shiny red cylindrical camera to the roof of their rental car and roamed the neighborhoods. But cars can't venture inside obliterated buildings or drive down a beach littered with debris. That's were I, the human tripod (or is it bipod?), came in.

A screen capture of unwrapped 360-degree video shot along the beach in Bay St. Louis, Miss. The horizon bends when the camera person's head isn't level. (Image: Ashley Wells / MSNBC.com)

In case you're interested in this high-tech Halloween costume, here's what you need:

1 skydiving helmet with camera mount on top. Carbon fiber is the hot look this season. And don't forget the chin strap. That's key.

1 Ladybug 'spherical digital video camera' complete with six cameras. Only available in red, like a ladybug. Get it?

2 'storage units' for that camera, each packing four 40GB hard drives. Bonus feature: Their heat output can keep a RV warm all night.

1 backpack to hold said storage units.

2 optical link cables connecting the camera to the storage units. Sexier when taped down the back of the helmet.

1 separate camera to record audio, presumably of your tour guide. Even more fun when a 4-foot wire tethers you to that tour guide.

1 tricked out Acer Ferrari laptop, also in carbon fiber. Hey, it's an accessory. But unlike a purse, it can't be closed, at least not while recording. So sashay while holding it upright and open. Totally completes the look.

I suited up in cyborg gear to shoot a few guided tours in the area, one through the dilapidated, and allegedly haunted, county courthouse; another through the wreckage of the city attorney’s home; and one walking down a beach with the director of the local historical society. No one beat me up or even laughed. When there are boats in trees, this getup doesn't look so strange.


MSNBC.com's Ashley Wells takes a guided tour along the beach with Charles Gray, executive director of Bay St. Louis' historical society. (photo: Rick Welsh / Microsoft MapPoint)

But it was awkward. Clearly, I'm no bio-engineered camera stand. The trick is to walk with your subject while holding your head steady and level. You can't look down, even when you step in sewage runoff. You can't let your subject get more than three feet away, either, because of the microphone cord tether. Like Fletch, I was 6-foot; 6-8 with the helmet and camera. So you also have to duck very gradually under some doorways. Imagine walking like this through your living room after pushing everything you own onto the floor. That's what it's like inside these homes, if a living room exists at all.

If it seems I'm making light of all of this, I'm just trying to own the embarrassment from the goofy getup. The situation itself is very serious. This technology will help us show the unimaginable scope of destruction in ways that other images just can't communicate. That's key to truly understanding this story. With any luck, we'll have these 360-degree video tours up on this site in the next few weeks, so please check back often. Now, about that caption ...

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I know it's for taping video but the first thing that came to mind when I saw the photo is the devastaton the police and sheriff's department went through. I thought "Cop without a car?"

"Thank you very much Mr. Roboto"
MSNBC.com's Ashley Wells, decked out head to toe in the latest high fashion techno-wear,sponsered by the well-known "Katrina" label, which is of course owned by Microsoft...:)

I wouldn't mind having access to all that gear, what wonderful technology to have at your disposal!

Keep up the wonderful stories and perspectives on Bay St. Louis and Waveland!

Best Wishes,
JoAnn Bush
Los Angeles, CA

The equipment is goofy-looking and will result in some negative comments about the frivolous tone of this report but the reporter is right, hopefully, that this technology may be the best way for someone to see and comprehend what it really looks like. I was in Waveland and Bay St. Louis 10 days after Katrina was. I took some photos to show everyone back here and found myself saying over and over again that photos and even video do not capture the magnitude of the destruction wrought by Katrina. Not even close. I will be quite interested to see if this "view" of the two towns will resemble what I see in my memory of those places.

...What Captain Morgan can't do, Ashley Wells can!Drink Responsibly.

Reminded me of Ray Bradbury's character Montag in the film version of Fahrenheit 451. The caption "Do I really want to do this?"

"Unwarped perspective: prototype gear for newsgathering brings us closer to seeing the story for ourselves."
It looks like about the same bulk as a good newscamera (tough on the shoulders). While the helmet part seems unavoidable, I imagine better packaging could lead to even more realistic reports from "embedded" journalists.

Photo Editor to Ashley, "All we needed was a mugshot of the guy!"

My first thought...."light's on, but nobody's home"

Sorry Ashley - but you asked for a caption!

My first thought was "Mobile Sound Stage - Quiet on the set while the Red Light Is Flashing".

I have a funny feeling though, that the horizon is going to bob up and down in sync with your gate unless you've mastered the soft shoe shuffle ;-)

Hopefully the finished product will allow us viewers to pan around the camera axis during playback - the flatlook panoramic unfolded leaves a bit to be desired. But a flash style interface allowing the viewer to look "around" will be fantastic!

I'm not clever about captions, so I'll let Robert Shaw's character, Quint, from "Jaws," take a stab at it: "What are you? Some kind of half-a**ed astronaut?"

For one of your next blog entries, take a drive down Hwy 90 after dark.

It's going to be a long time coming back. Two months are barely enough to make a dent in the debris. I hope this blog intends to stick around and go the distance to log that journey. In spite of focusing on part of Hancock County, make sure you remind readers now and again that the situation is pretty much the same along the entire MS coastline, approximately 80 miles of coastline...not to mention Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parishes, right up Hwy 90 to the tiny coastal communities that were wiped out between Lakes Ponchatrain and Borgne, and Slidell LA, and on the other side, Bayou La Batre, AL. About 200 miles of coastline, wiped out by storm surge.


"Who called me Panoramus? That's MR. PANORAMUS, to you"

"DANGER WILL ROBINSON, DANGER, BEEP BEEEP" As a long time resident of Pass Christian , Bay St.Louis and Gulfport, I am glad to see the "eye" of the news being focused here. The majority of the residents here are in no way prepared to recover from this event without massive assistance. My old hospital, Hancock Medical Center , where I worked for three years , will need extensive repairs, and this is the only hospital in the area. I live in Tacoma Wa. now, but my heart goes to the friends and co-workers I hold so dear.

"Do you like my new shirt?"

How about "Mars-Walk in Mississippi" for a caption. The idea behind the technology is excellent, but the equipment could use a tweeking (smaller and lighter camera, cordless mic, etc.). Looking forward to future reports, thank you.


To those who document the devastation I say a prayer of hope for them and those who must rebuild in the most difficult of times.


Earthlings seemingly unaware as Martian gathers planetary data.

jeez what have we got?...some kind of josh darnned houdini


A former computer geek turned cop.

There is a video game called "Ape Escape", and the monkey's have a similar device on their heads. Too Funny! As for a caption, how about "Please help me, I am desperately in need of a date"! Outstanding technology, tho

As a skydiver who is also a videographer, I have to say that this will be the first true view of life here on the Gulf Coast. As a resident of Mobile I understand the magnitude of the destruction and it is important not to forgot those in need as time, holidays and other events go by. BTW, you'll get used to the gear.

"Carbon fiber is the new black!"
"Mark my words! Next year, Matt Lauer will be wearing one of these."

Hey, the helmet will fit better if you put your chin in the chin cup rather than over the cup. Then cinch the sides down evenly. It takes a little practice but you'll get the hang of it!!!

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