Sean Alexander

Thoughts are actions in rehearsal

(Republished after blog move)

Here it comes, more transparency- parts I and II of my Extreme Makeover experience 🙂

A number of weeks ago, I wrote a short blurb about my experiences assembling a volunteer team to help out on the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition project here in the Seattle area. This was a project that came about thanks to a Design Producer contacting Robert Scoble through his blog. Now that the show has aired, I’m posting part II of my experience.

About the Dore Family

From ABC’s Extreme Makeover:Home Edition site: As a struggling widow of three daughters, Roseanne Dore is no stranger to hardship. The family was dealt a tremendous blow when their Kingston, Washington home, originally built by Roseanne and her husband, burned to the ground in March 2004. Following the devastating news of the fire, Roseanne found out that their home insurance policy lapsed when their agent retired. The structure was uninhabitable. While figuring out what to do, Roseanne moved her three daughters into a half-built, backyard utility shed that had no plumbing, electricity or running water. Now, the Dore family will be getting a very different home from the original 856 square ft. house, as well as new lives.

Part II: The Details- Monday (T-48 hours)

On a Saturday afternoon two weeks before Thanksgiving, I saw the mail and blog entry from Robert and made a few phone calls. By 9:30am Monday, I had talked with the producers, put out the call internally and our virtual-team was assembled. We had to be out at the house on Tuesday (the next day) to do the installation.

I got the phone number of the home networking and theater installer, I got a quick rundown on the wiring – network closet in the upstairs closet, 5.1 surround system downstairs in the “Great Room”. We hadn’t even seen a floorplan but we knew that Roseanne Dore had three girls, and we knew what their interests were. Of particular interest was the youngest daughter, whom we heard was a budding designer who liked to draw. We felt a Tablet PC would be perfect for her so we made a few phone calls. Roseanne (Mom) was going to be starting a new business so another Tablet PC to manage it was the call for a second system.

After a round of whiteboarding the house, we had to get creative and make a trip to Best Buy in Bellevue, WA to purchase equipment for the house. We had a lot of interesting stares as we were walking out of the store with a pallet of equipment (HP Media Center PCs, software and peripherals). The store was sold-out of HP Digital Entertainment Centers, so these were sourced from another store (Circuit City in Lynnwood if I recall correctly). Other equipment including Tablet PCs were donated by the Tablet PC team.

Tuesday (T-24 Hours)

Susan on our team was an absolute all-star. She called in more favors than I care to remember including coordinating with Best Buy’s corporate HQ to get the Geek Squad mobilized. Geek Squad is basically a home installation and tech support company that merged as partner with Best Buy over a year ago. You might have seen their signature “Geek Squad” VW bugs painted like police cars. These guys are a passionate but consummate professionals. A team of 3 volunteered to come out to the house and help us out with the install. Given the compressed time, this was needed.

A quick phone call to our friends over at MSN and we had a free year of MSN service and hundreds of dollars in music credit from MSN Music to replace the girls’ music collections that burned up in the fire. The Games for Windows team donated games and the Xbox team donated an Xbox. Teams were coming out of the woodwork. Then we hit a snafu- the house didn’t have cable service (it’s rural Kitsap County) yet Comcast went the extra distance in checking. That meant no cable service. Satellite TV service would have to be coordinated after the fact and I committed to paying for the first year of service.

Heading to the house

We headed out on-location. The producers callled and asked if we could come out about 3 hours early – Centex was ahead of schedule. We were asked to be there by 1pm. With a fully loaded SUV, another fully loaded car, and later the Geek Squad bug we headed out to Kingston, WA. I had never been to Kingston but headed for the Edmonds Ferry terminal. Gassed up with a tall Starbucks’ sugar-free vanilla latte, I was ready to hit the Kitsap Peninsula.

Security was tight. With what amounts to a single-lane road heading into and out of the house, they had to keep things moving quickly. The Navy did an amazing job with multiple security checkpoints. We were cleared through and cleared into the VIP tent. They had WiFi and broadband in the tent which made the wait easier. I went into the house and met with the home theater installers and got a mental picture of the entire setup. There must have been over 120 Centex and related employees in the house at any given time, all wearing blue “booties” to protect the house from the mud. The mud was everywhere outside, save for the cedar piling and mulch they had put down on the ground.

With a mental picture of the interior layout, I met up with our team and relayed. We contacted the producers and they mentioned the house wouldn’t be ready until about 7pm. We had a wait but made the best of the time, volunteering as best we could yet we couldn’t get into the house so there wasn’t much to do.

What, no broadband access?

One small problem- technology isn’t necessarily the top item on the list for the TV show. There were no plans for broadband Internet access in the house. With broadband cable out, DSL was the only option so I tried to meet up with the local telephone provider, CenturyTel to see if the house was even qualfied, while Susan tried to reach their corporate office. To make matters worse, I hadn’t been able to meet up with the telephone installer due to bad cell reception in the area. Finally I found out I had missed them and the installers had left. Bad news. The good news is that CenturyTel had called the installers and asked them to volunteer their time to turn around and try the DSL install. See- there were only so many copper pairs left and the house was technically hundreds of feet beyond the qualified distance for DSL. Yet the installers tried. They asked us if they could take the VIP tent offline to use the line- we said no problem (w/ permission). They actually boosted the signal and got it well beyond the qualfied length of DSL and into the house. What’s more, they donated a years’ worth of free Internet service. Wow. They even knew we would pay for it but they wanted to make a diffference. What a great company.

First, the Furniture, Second the PCs

Okay, enough waiting. We practically begged to go into the house to help out. The painters were largely done, now it was time to load in the furniture. We were asked to assemble the furniture in the Bed & Breakfast bedrooms. The production team was apologetic in their ask but we were happy to help. We loaded in and assembled the furniture in the “Asian” influenced B&B room in record time. The rustic-cedar lined room we took “offline” to break out computer equipment and set it up. It turns out one of the installers for CenturyTel actually knows the family. This is a close-knit community and I’m just so happy to see this happen.

Here’s what we outfitted:

  • HP Digital Entertainment Center z545 in the Great Room (connected to Plasma TV & 5.1 sound system)
  • HP Media Center PC in Jessica’s “Sailboat” Bedroom
  • Gateway Media Center PC in Sarah’s “Skiing” Bedroom
  • Tablet PC in Aariel’s Bedroom
  • HP Media Center Extender in Roseanne’s Bedroom
  • Microsoft Bluetooth Elite Keyboards and Mice
  • Linksys Dual-Band Wireless A+G Broadband Route
  • A Rio Carbon for each of the girls (and Mom)
  • An HP Printer/Fax/Copier
  • A Creative Portable Media Center
  • A bunch of DVDs
  • A bunch of MS Software (MS Office, Encarta, Digital Image Suite 10)
  • A bunch of Games for Windows (eg. The Sims 2)
  • APC UPS devices

I’m intentionally not linking the above because that’s not the point. Very little of our technology was shown but that also wasn’t the point.

We stayed until almost 3am helping with the install- the ferry’s were done for the night and we had to drive around the peninsula back to Seattle and Redmond. I was sore, tired and had such a smile on my face- I had never met the family but was

The Unveil

The next AM I headed out alone and did the fit and finish in the house – making each PC saw each other, sharing out the printer etc. I missed the “unveil” for The Dore family by about 15 minutes. I needed to get back to work and knew I would see it better on TV. I would be back the following day anyway and able to meet them in person. Later that night, I saw a segment on local TV on the project showing their reactions and I couldn’t stop grinning. I’m a sucker for the holidays (Go Griswold or go home is my motto) and this was a great way to start out.

The Next Day

Wrapping up. I had 3 hours of sleep and then turned around and was back on a ferry- thank you for the coffee! One of my co-workers, Leila, joined me as we headed out to the house at the inviation of the production team. We met the Dore family personally. While I don’t want to go into details of the conversation, I was touched by them- their humility and strength, their pride, and their vigor as a family. They had been through so much and seemed so overwhelmed by the generousity of so many. I got hugs and that was all the payment I needed. The production team was filming, “Beauty Shots” inside- the shots you often see in the unveil that show the rooms- a few of which you can see the products we placed.

So there you have it- no fancy placement on TV, no “product placement” with major spokespeople. We knew going in that was highly unlikely. What we got in return was something much more- an opportunity to help our neighbors. I gave my blue “Extreme Makeover” T-shirt away to another local neighbor who loves the show. No autographs. No pictures.  This upset my mother but that’s now why we were there. I did spend a fair amount of time talking to Michael Moloney who was great. You can tell the designers really care.

Speaking of which, at a time when people need it more than ever, please give to the Tsunami fund through the American Red Cross or whichever foundation you prefer.. As I mentioned last week, a few of us donated our salaries last week while at CES and it felt great – we’re so lucky to do what we do, enjoy it and get paid for it. Please help however you can.

And lastly, big thanks to Robert Scoble, Susan, Dave, Leila, Lisa, Guy, the Geek Squad, and our other friends for taking a chance, and recognizing that this would see little to no on-air promotion, yet be a great way to help a neighbor in need.  Personally I cannot wait to go to “The Phoenix” Bed and Breakfast, to watch my son run around and even jump on the bed. Since the filming, we’ve been working to put Roseanne and her family in touch with our small business team to help her get the business started.  Now that CES is done, time to check up on that… I’ve since moved jobs but the job continues to move me.

Update: Roseanne Dore & Famiily have set up a web page at for inquiries on when the B&B will open. I know our small biz team is assisting and I suspect they’ll be open for this Summer. 🙂