In my teens, while living outside Charlotte, N.C., and operating a lawn business in the hot southern summer sun, I quenched a part my
musical thirst by listening to two fairly eclec-
tic radio stations: WFAE and WNCW. Both had
a few hours each week of ballads, with WFAE
hosting a long-running NPR radio show called
“The Thistle & Shamrock.”
These ballads, though, were not the English
gentry variety that Sting laconically sings about
in “Fields of Gold” on his Ten Summoner’s Tales
album. Rather, they were hard-scrabble Appa-
lachian and Scots-Irish ballads about unrequit-
ed love and untimely death.
Sometimes both were combined into a single
ballad. But, just as often there were the songs
about deaths at sea or in the mines, those places where loved ones would never be able to visit
and mourn because they were so inaccessible.
It’s the kind of song Gordon Lightfoot popularized with “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” about a big ship from “some mill in
Wisconsin” going down 15 miles from safety on
Lake Superior in a November gale. Or the kind
of song that a too-soon-gone Canadian singer,
Stan Rogers, memorialized in the rollicking
“The Mary Ellen Carter” ( go2sm.com/rogers):
She went down last October in a pouring driving rain / The skipper, he’d been
drinking and the Mate, he felt no pain /
Too close to Three Mile Rock, and she was
dealt her mortal blow / And the Mary Ellen
Carter settled low.
In the imagination of a 15-year-old boy in the
South, Three Mile Rock was just as mythical as
Bigfoot and as unattainable as Shangri-La.
Yet, as a late-40s father with three children
in college, I’m rediscovering the potential awe
of distant locations, thanks in no small part to
the use of streaming video for exploring remote places.
As any viewer of recent Expedition Unknown
episodes will tell you, streaming is helping to
make many of these far-off places more accessible through the curious eyes of Josh Gates
and his capable production team.
It’s like the explorers of old—be it National
Geographic’s first editor, Gilbert Grosvenor,
or even Ellie from the Pixar movie Up!—have re-
emerged with new tools to replace, or at least aug-
ment, the shovels in a new wave of exploration.
From drones to underwater rovers, explo-ration-based television production in the world
of miniature wireless cameras does more than
just entertain and educate the viewer. It ultimately educates the scientist, archaeologist, or
intrepid explorer by giving a wider perspective
on terrain and overall exploration layout without needing to unnecessarily disturb natural
habitats with the use and hefty cost of a full-size
bathyscaphe, helicopter, or submarine.
For sure there’s a bit of the hyperbole—Gates
did a search for the Yeti that returned more
questions than answers, but did so with a set of
tools that spark the imagination of a future generation of explorers.
For instance, visual imagery streaming isn’t
the only tool being used. Several episodes have
showcased the use of night-vision and infrared
cameras, which allow extra-sensory capture that
the average human couldn’t see, let alone record.
Even more interesting is the use of laser-based radar, or LIDAR, which is used in drones
alongside visual imagery streaming as a way to
map surfaces. Without having to penetrate or
disturb hundreds or thousands of years of undergrowth, a LIDAR-equipped drone can map
many areas to uncover manmade structures.
The results are turned into three-dimensional
maps and coupled with satellite images or live
streams as a way to further explore key findings.
This doesn’t replace shovels in the dirt or
divers in the water, but it helps make pinpoint-accurate archaeology more (and, environmentally, less) impactful.
So take it from a 15-year-old-turned- 50 amateur explorer: We’re just scratching the surface
of finding the gold of El Dorado, even if what
we’re finding is newfound respect for civilizations that have come before us now that we can
“see” their contributions in a whole new way.
You can read more about these innovations in
“Digging It” on page 26.
Tim Siglin is a streaming industry veteran and longtime
contributing editor to Streaming Media magazine.
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