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.
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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