Posted by: Brad Nixon | December 14, 2011

Behind the Scenes at Under Western Skies

After I published my recent article marking the second anniversary of Under Western Skies, it occurred to me that some of you may find it interesting to have a little look at what goes on here at UWS WHQ.

Admittedly, when we launched the blog, Under Western Skies was nothing like the finely-honed enterprise of today. To give you a quick glance back at those early days, here’s Dani, who was receptionist, story researcher, fact-checker and computer department, all in one.

UWS Dani 5751 (640x480)

As you can see, Dani — as did all of us — had her hands full. And, of course, we roll our eyes now at the outmoded technology Dani was using (as you’ll see later when we look at the UWS installation of today). We’ve grown a lot since those first stumbling steps, and we’re very proud of both the technological infrastructure and the expert team of professionals who work constantly to produce the blogs. I’m pleased to give you a little tour of the effort that goes into publishing Under Western Skies.

Each week begins with the heads of all the departments — Art, Literature, Travel, etc. — gathering for our weekly Story Conference. The same sort of thing happens at newspapers, magazines and publications around the world. We meet for several hours each week, and it’s always a freewheeling give-and-take of a high-powered team of creative individuals.
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Story Conference in the UWS War Room

As Publisher, I treasure this chance to see great people performing at their peak during this session. Once the editorial staff determines the lineup for the week, we assign each story to a team of writers, researchers, graphics, photo and layout pros, and they set to work. In the next photo, Stephanie and Robb — two of our Senior Writers — are discussing some data they’ve just received from the research team (Robb’s holding the data drive).

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The UWS senior writing staff

It’s a daunting, demanding process to get the facts, conduct interviews, delve deeply into databases and online libraries, all against a deadline. It requires accomplished professionalism as well as a deep understanding of the latest technology, but the UWS team is equal to the task.

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Senior Researchers Darby Sue and Melinda Sue

A little later, you’ll see more of the impressive technology that supports their work, but it’s still a people business. One of the most important factors is, of course, a great work environment. Here’s Angelica, one of our research assistants, going through some online databases from a workstation in what we like to call The Fishbowl.

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The Fishbowl

For a lot of the work, of course, you can’t have daylight streaming in on the screens. Below, two of our writers are discussing a series of UWS stories they’re preparing. Stemming from an in joke too laborious to relate here — associated with the logarithmic functions of the computers there — this part of the facility is referred to as the “Log Jam.”

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At work in the “Log Jam”

It takes long hours and excruciating attention to detail. While the writers are developing the story outlines and the researchers are mining all the necessary facts, Iphigenia, our fabulous Art Director, is meeting with her team, circulating from desk to desk in “The Stable,” establishing the basic layout for each of the stories.

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Art Direction Conference in “The Stable”

As Iffie and the team map out the initial layouts and determine the creative treatments, assignments go to the graphic artists. Here, two of our seasoned veterans, Caleb and Cal, discuss a rendering for an upcoming project.

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Caleb (standing) and Cal

It takes multiple hands working with a number of advanced imaging, graphics and layout technologies to bring the stories to life.

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Proprietary UWS Graphics Interface Workstation

One particular aspect of UWS — The Under Western Skies Kitchen of Adventure — requires a very special set of skills and knowledge. Here’s Brunhilda, our Quality and Safety Assurance Director, examining some ingredients from our National Chili Month recipes, to make certain they meet our exacting standards (and, as you see, Brunhilda’s located in our Marina office, where fresh fish, produce and rare spices come right off ships from around the globe).

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Quality and Safety Assurance

Whenever she sees a need, Brunhilda can call on the resources at the UWS Remote Support Site (UWS RSS) for further testing and evaluation of any ingredients or recipes.

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Quality Field Testing at UWS RSS

Of course, inspectors from the County, State and Federal governments are always on hand to supervise our adherence to FDA, EPA and County Health Department regulations.

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Quality and Safety Inspectors

As the stories, artwork and layout take shape, the initial drafts go into Editorial. Every publication lives and dies by its ability to control the workflow through a disciplined editorial process, and we pride ourselves on the rigor of our version control. Here’s Ed at the console, monitoring and adjusting the proprietary UWS Editorial Version Control System (EVCS).


UWS Version Control

As the final step in the EVCS, every piece reaches what I understand the writing staff refers to as the “Sanctum Sanctorum:” The Counselor’s desk. This is the final, critical gate through which all work — including mine — must pass. (Insider’s note: you want to be on The Counselor’s right-hand screen. If you’re on the left-hand screen, your piece is coming back to you for a rewrite, marked up in the infamous purple ink.)

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Sanctum Sanctorum: The Counselor’s Editing Station

As you can imagine, there’s a lot of advanced technology underlying this massive enterprise. Most of you will marvel at this state-of-the-art installation, and I have to admit that some of it confounds me, although some of you younger readers will be at least somewhat familiar with it.

Internet connectivity and communications routing …

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IP stack

… which receives constant supervision by our IT staff …

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One of our unsung heroes behind the scenes

There are massive rows of servers …

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Server farm

… and a massively complex central processing unit.

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Central Processing

This complex operation is managed and supervised by Huck and Buck, up in what we refer to as “Mission Impossible Control.”

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Huck (left) and Buck

There’s a constant, heavy demand placed on people and machines. A big part of my job is to do all I can to provide the best possible working environment for the employees (I’m about to sign off on the design for the new bocce court). The equipment needs a lot of TLC, too. For that, we count on “Doc,” who can fix anything.

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Doc hates the term, “Miracle Worker,” but it immediately comes to mind when you see what he can do with an oscilloscope and a soldering iron.

When it’s all done — stories researched, written, edited; artwork created; photographs shot, retouched and set into the layout — The Counselor gives the go-ahead to Huck and Buck, who uplink the final product to WordPress from the transmission unit out at the Remote Support Site.

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UWS Uplink BNMSV777

Within seconds, it’s another blog post for your reading enjoyment. Just another day at Under Western Skies. Hope you enjoyed the tour.

© Brad Nixon 2011, 2018


  1. Aha! Made me laugh


  2. OK, too funny! 🙂 But where did you get those 1960’s era photos???


  3. Gosh, I had no idea all of that went on. I, for one, am impressed.


    • Just remember: notwithstanding all that impressive, state-of-the-art technology and massive support staff, NOTHING, I repeat, NOTHING at UWS, gets by the infamous Purple Pen! The only possible way around The Pen is for outside commenters like us to slide in a little blub under the radar. 🙂


  4. Fantastic rundown – thanks Brad. Perhaps you can follow this up with an account of the operations of your field reporters and photo stringers who gather the excellent stories from outside LA. I am sure they have many hair-raising experiences which would make exciting stories in their own right.


    • Ah, I see it must be morning in Australia, and you’re full of vim and great ideas for me. Thanks.


  5. Happy to see Huck and Buck are still calling the shots!


  6. Loved it! Was it dragonfly or bath salts?


  7. Very happy for the play by play at UWS WHQ. Always wondered what Huck and Buck did in the off season.

    Oh my.


  8. so, i guess the charges against doc were dropped? thanks bard!


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