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Streaming the Bay Lights

A Medford technology services company helped bring an $8 million light sculpture on San Francisco's Bay Bridge to the Internet masses last week with just minutes to spare before deadline.

Called "The Bay Lights," the installation by artist Leo Villareal features moving abstract patterns created with 25,000 LED lights on the bridge's western span. After two years of planning, the sculpture was set to be illuminated with much fanfare March 5. But glitches and vendor bailouts left the project's organizer, Illuminate the Arts, without a way to stream live video of the sculpture online as promised.

Enter Cael Weston and Acme Computer of Medford. His mission: to acquire "a massive amount of bandwidth," weave together all partners on the Internet and get the high-definition streaming video online at thebaylights.org in 60 hours, Weston said.

"I was pretty sure we could do it," Weston said Monday. "It was madness. I managed to get top-notch people all working together on it, both my team and client vendors. It was a small job for us, but with a tight time frame. It was great to be part of something this spectacular that pushed my team to the limit."

Acme got the job done, Weston said — with three minutes to spare before deadline. The live feed of the Bay Bridge will continue from dusk to 2 a.m. daily through the end of 2015.

The two big challenges were finding bandwidth and pushing the video feed up to the Bay Lights website, said Weston, who joined the project in mid-February when Acme was tasked to install a high-definition robot video cam on the Hotel Vitale at Mission and The Embarcadero to capture the nightly light shows for the next two years.

Acme pulled in Pusher Inc., a Web development and software engineering firm in Dunsmuir, Calif. They persuaded Hotel Vitale to let them use its connection and provide enough bandwidth to stream high-definition images.

Next they had to engineer a system that could stream the video simultaneously to an anticipated 250,000 Internet viewers Tuesday night, a feat they accomplished with the help of LiveStream.com.

"It was a pretty exciting little project with an amazing time line," said Acme Vice President Sean Garland of Mount Shasta. "We threw every resource we had into it."

At 1.8 miles wide and 500 feet high, "The Bay Lights" is said by backers to be the largest LED light sculpture in the world. It is strung on 100,000 feet of vertical suspension cables and shows impressionistic images of fish and waves moving across its length. The lights can't be viewed by cars on the bridge. According to the website, it costs $15.06 a night in electricity.

Acme, founded in 1990, is a 20-employee firm that provides video surveillance, wireless networking and system design. The company at 16 N. Riverside Ave. is doing about $2 million a year in business, said Weston, a former journalist for the San Francisco Examiner and ABC. He started it in Siskiyou County, merged with Garland's operation and moved to the Rogue Valley in 2012.

"We are extremely grateful," said Illuminate the Arts board member Elana Yonah, who managed the last-minute efforts with Weston. "They dedicated 100 hours with us and it was a beautiful relationship. They asked us how high we wanted them to jump, and we said higher than you ever jumped before, and Cael said, 'let's go.' "

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Cael Weston, owner of Acme Computer, described the process of getting high-definition live video of “The Bay Lights” online in 60 hours as “madness.” - Jamie Lusch