Friday, April 29, 2005

BBC NEWS | Technology | Net-powered computer goes on show - why would you be willing to sacrifice gigabit ethernet performance and all the other features of a proper machine just so you can use a pair on the RJ45 to power a computer?

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Quality of engineers comming out of India - I blogged a while back on how Bill Gates was complaining about the quality of US engineering graduates. I recently advertised for an engineer and had about two dozen responses. Half where from the sub-continent and to a man (only one woman!) they had really good engineering degrees and very impressive work records. All of the UK applicants (bar two, one of which I employed) had very modest CVs. We have to worry - we're turning out shed-loads of media studies graduates and not many engineers. Now I have nothing against media students, but what makes them think they can transfer into engineering just like that?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Seattle Times: Business & Technology: Plugged in to Microsoft's biggest rival - interesting article about Linux inside Microsoft. I get some negative reactions to Linux from some of my colleague - the principle objections are that you can't make a business model out of "free" software - I think that misses the point - ISPs, banks, Telcos & governments aren't worried they have to pay for Server 2003 - the money from Linux comes from the associated support services. The other objection seems more related to IT people who don't know/understand the OS (it differs from Windows in some fundamental ways!) and so are scared that they are ignorant - by ignoring Linux their ignorance becomes less threatening to them.
The fact that Microsoft are ploughing money into it is interesting - to quote from Microsoft's Leigh Day "My belief is that open-source software is going to help drive the acquisition cost of software down toward zero," he said, a shift that will require software companies to move "over to a maintenance and support model."
People who continue to dis Linux because they've bought into the Microsoft mindset may find themselves out in the cold!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Previous post on WiFi security - I was at a big broadcaster yesterday discussing a project we're doing for them - one of the senior programme execs was bemoaning the fact that he couldn't use his laptop to get wireless access. The guy from IT explained how "we don't have wireless here as it is so insecure...". He went on to say that to provide secure access would cost "£80k per access point"! I was toying with my PDA and did a quick wireless scan and found three peer-peer wireless networks - two of which allowed me out to the Internet with very respectable throughput. It's the classic example of an IT department forbidding some way of working and because they now provide no support to users when people do implement it themselves they do it badly. The same thing was prevalent years ago when people were forbidden from using email at work - use of Hotmail/Yahoo/etc flourished and now you've got viruses arriving over http where they are less easy to scan than if they came via an email server!
What is it with corporate IT folks?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Data over plastic fibre? - I thought I'd got my head around the whole business but here is an article from my institute's magazine. It seems that there are a couple of cable suppliers who are now offering plastic fibre - quite how you end this stuff off isn't explained. Presumably a fusion splicer is out of the question! I'd also be interested to find out how you cleave it as plastic is a lot less brittle than glass and so probably shears rather than splits - hmmm. Will research some more.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Joe got his Grade 1 playing sax - we're all very pleased! Not tele, IT or technical but made me proud.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Virtual OS under Windows - I've just watched a very interesting half hour video from Channel 9 - the internal MS Dev TV channel. Ben Armstrong is the product manager for VirtualPC which is the product that was previously made by Connectix. I've been monkeying around with VMWare as an alternative to dual-booting my laptop with Suse 9.2 (best current distro of Linux). Anyhow - watch the video and check out the order they verify the functionality of a new build. It first has to run DOS, then Doom, then Quake, then Windows 95, and then if it runs Win2K they are pretty much home. They also give some interesting insights into why BeOS and O/S2 are so hard to provide under emulation (both for entirely different reasons).

Sunday, April 10, 2005

For a mid-90's vintage monitor,

Sony PVM monitor remote connectorI spent all day searching for this and my old colleague (from Oasis TV days) Darren Tucker (now chief engineer at Lip Sync) dug it out for me. The part is a HiRose HR10A connector - the RS part number for the twenty-pin male cable mount is 779-734. Sony have since moved on to using RJ45 and D-9 connectors for remote control. Before the 20-pin they used to have a square HiRose connector so it pays to look it up before you buy the ends (which are expensive!).

Friday, April 08, 2005

Adventures with Skype! as I think I blogged before I am hugley impressed with Skype - the quality is great and as a free internet VOIP solution it rules! Voicemail, calls to and from the public 'phone network and a great set of interfaces which look and drive like regular 'phones make it the first one of it's kind that all my family will be happy to use - and that's what makes technology penetrate. Anyhow - I'd be using Skype for a while with a cheap headset that worked just fine (from Lindy). I have a couple of machines on my network that never get switched off and so I thought one would be ideal to host a Skype account and have a hardware 'phone hanging off it. I have a couple of DECT 'phones in the house (both registered to the same basestation in the cellar where all the computers live - very convenient!) so I bought one of these USB -> Telephone line adaptors (basically makes your 'phone line look like another sound card to Windows). Then with a bit of software called Skypemate (which essentially maps telephone key-presses to the appropriate controls in Skype) you can make Skype calls on your regular 'phone handset. It works remarkably well when you've waded through all the "beta product" problems! It happily routes calls to that handset when they arrive either over Skype or over the normal 'phone line. It means both modes can exist while you decide if you want to ditch BT (or your normal telco) - for free (or nearly free) calls who wouldn't. It's here but there are a few caveats:

  • Looking into the unit's RJ11 connectors I spotted that only two pins are populated - now I'm assuming that this is an American gadget where they don't have the same practise of stripping off the 48v ring tone at the master socket and presenting it on pin 3 with an earth on pin 4. With this in mind I crimped up a couple of RJ11 - bare end cables and took my master socket off the wall. I routed the single twisted pair incoming 'phone line into the unit and took the output ("TEL") back to the master socket (so as to strip off the 48v ring tone) and plugged my DECT base station into the master socket. It all works!
    They'll have trouble selling these as cracking open your master socket breaks your BT/Telewest/Telco's domestic agreement and without having access to the twisted-pair incoming line you can't get ring-tone into the box - it only has two pins on the RJ11 in and out. If you take the BT output of the master socket it has already had the ring-tone stripped off the pair and it is presented as a 4-wire.
  • Skypemate hooks into the Skype API and if you don't uninstall any previous versions the slug-trail prevents Skype from ringing the 'phone's bell when a Skype call comes in - you can kill these only registry entries within Skype by going to the control which other programs can access Skype entry in prefs.
  • Performance is everything - I origionally hung this off my aging server (dual 500Mhz P2s) - not pokey enough - very jerky sound quality and often missed the calls. When I moved it on to the media PC (single 1.6Ghz P4) there were no problems and the speach quality improved no end. I made a few calls while that machine was playing back a full-screen DivX without any frames fropping.

So, I am a huge fan - now if someone produced an embedded client that you could hang off your aDSL or cable router (i.e. ethernet in, telephone socket out) then they'd be on to a winner. Chatting with friends in Thialand for an hour and a half for no money in the middle of the day is very liberating and having a 'phone number that none-skype people can call means I really can be rid of my regular telephone line and all the associated line-rental costs (oh, and did I mention Skype calls are free or nearl-free!).
Adam Harris of VOIP Interactive gave me a load of advice - he's a good guy.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

TV Gamut - here is a bit I wrote for our work email newletter that we send to clients periodically.

A lot of the standards we adhere to in television today have their origins in the methods established in the dark days of early colour in the sixties. Back then there were no digital pictures, all images were sourced through analogue tubed cameras, telecine and slide scanners. Our world was either RGB (the red, green and blue colour component signals that came out of a camera) or composite (typically the output of VTRs and studios and what was sent to the viewer at home). The relationships were well defined and the graceful behaviour of analogue electronics meant that keeping pictures within the range that the VTR (and hence the transmission chain) could handle wasn't hard.
In the mid seventies the digital framestore started to make an appearance making possible digital video effects (DVE), electronic caption generators and painting systems (Paintbox, Matisse etc.). By the late eighties Silicon Graphics et al ensured that a lot of what we saw on screen was digitally originated rather than coming from 'real world' pictures. Now - properly designed digital systems are more than able to capture the full range of analogue colours (the gamut of the system) but a lot of strange un-analogue things can go on in the digital domain if care isn't taken. A digital signal can go from zero to full level in the space of a single pixel which could never happen in the analogue domain - the size of the scanning spot on an analogue telecine or the spot aperture in a studio camera ensure a more graceful response. You can also get very bizarre combinations of colours in the digital domain that would not equate to colours that came out of a camera. If you consider that the majority of the permutations of the ten-bit digital Y, Cr, Cb colour component signals that most contemporary TV systems store give rise to illegal colours then the pervasive nature of the problem becomes apparent. Add into the mix prosumer DV cameras where the pictures haven't had the caring eyes of a racks engineer looking at them as the were acquired and you'd be forgiven for thinking that getting your master tape past the broadcaster's QC department was well nigh impossible. Well there are two kinds of gadgets that allow us to avoid the pitfalls of bad gamut - waveform monitors and legalisers. With a waveform monitor you can keep an eye on the various parameters that make up a video signal. The best of breed come from Tektronics who have devised various display modes that make gamut errors very clear. The Diamond and Arrowhead modes are only found on Tek units and show clearly when pictures are getting near to gamut limits. The newer rasterised models allow several displays to be shown on screen simultaneously. They will also keep an automated eye on dozens of aspects of your video (and audio) and record them to a log file for later reference. Go for lunch and glance through the tape log when you get back!
If you mention legalisers to those online editors who remember the early models from fifteen years ago you'd be forgiven for imagining such devices only exist to make pictures look bad! It is true that initially they dealt with gamut errors in a very brutal 'digital' style but the last decade has seen much more subtle methods and now a lot of broadcast television (particularly fast-turnaround shows with lots of DV or other domestic content) goes via a legaliser before transmission. They hardly ever effect the looks of pictures (so long as you don't go for particularly garish red captions!) but your pictures are now guaranteed to be 'street legal'. The models we've found to be most effective are from Eyeheight whom we sell for.
Root6 has spent time researching both legalisers and waveform monitors and we believe we offer best-of-breed examples of both at standard and high definition. Please call for details, a demo or advice on both of these.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

I've just posted this on

Are you a year out of Ravensbourne (or similar) and looking to move on?
Root6 are looking to recruit an assistant for the head of systems integration. We're after someone who's committed to broadcast engineering (this isn't a stepping stone to being an editor or DVD author) and is excited by all the future is bringing us (HD, SANs, IP networks etc).
Although the bulk of our workload is installations we need someone who's happy to end off cables or bolt together bays as well as marshalling the wiremen and making sure diagrams are up to date. In return we'll provide lots of training in a really friendly environment and lots of new technology to get to grips with.
We've just finished London's first 2k/4k capable SAN for uncompressed film DI work and spent the latter half of last year building MTV's new post centre in Camden.
If you're interested or know someone who is then email phil at root6 dot com - I'll ask you about common mode rejection as well as other electronic things so you're probably doing this already! It's not a job for a runner who wants to move on.
Phil Crawley
Root6 Ltd