Wednesday, December 20, 2006

From the sublime to the ridiculous

We've been doing an install at a Soho facility and as ever Tony and the wiremen do a superb job - neat and accurate. The right-hand image shows our cabling on the top cable tray and the previous systems integrators efforts below; Un-numbered cables that have been just thrown in. They've attempted to run HD-SDi over skinny coax and fibre channel over long pre-made tight-buffered optical cable. By contrast we do all video on Vision 1000 and all fibre on kevlar-armoured loose-tube cable. I'm amazed that previous company had the cheek to submit an invoice!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

PC LINE PCL-100K Webcam

This is a Dixons/Currys brand cheap'n'cheerful webcam - just the thing for Skype etc. Not at all usable for anything approaching quaility capture but fine for use as a webcam. Now because it's a cheapie they don't bother to have downloadable drivers - I know, I mislaid the CD and searched for an hour online. I found lots of people saying ¨where can I find a driver...¨. Anyhow - I thought I'd stick it on my server - in case I loose the CD again!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Bah, humbug!

Despite Simon Hoggart's critique of the round robin newsletter we keep plugging away trying to make one that will inform, educate and entertain. Actually I sympathise with Mr. Hoggart's view - you do see some excellent examples of child-centred boasting around this time of year!
Anyhow - you can have a look at ours here - it's a PDF.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Magic Avid!

This is a killer! Avid have a dual-boot solution that allows you to have both NitrisDS and SymphonyDS apps on the same machine - but rather than doing something modern with a partitioned drive and bootloader they have the Avid dual-boot option that uses a key-switch to power one of two system drives! All built into a nice metal panel that fits in a 5 1/4 inch drive bay and just switches the drive power. I laughed heartily when Joel showed me that.....

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Linux on HTC Universal

This looks interesting - I'm about to have a spare Universal - watch this space!

Friday, December 08, 2006


I've had a busy few weeks (which is good!) but I've had a few small run-ins with customers.

  • I had to go and investigate a suite where all the laybacks (to BetaSP!) had visual disturbances. The issue had supposedly only started after we'd changed the video i/o card in a workstation. When I got to look at some of the tapes it was clear that the fault was either RF or tape damage. When I parked the deck on the offending frames and opened the tape you could see the scratch running the length of the lower edge. If memory serves it is TG2 and TG5 that guide the lower edge of an SP tape and so clearly the fault with mechanical and definitely located in the record VTR. I showed this to the editor who was adamant that it couldn't be the case and that it was us having done something when we fitted the new video i/o card - ¨Coincidence, I think not¨!
    His colleague realised the silliness of his position and apologised, but because I wasn't willing to back down I left under a bit of a cloud.

  • Colour balancing monitors - I got booked to go and calibrate a monitor for a grading session that was about to start. When I got there (colour probe in hand) I found an industrial JVC display - NTSC-phosphored tube and no tweaks on the outside. I explained this to the editor and left. The next day they called to say how unprofessional I'd been and why hadn't I set up the monitor. Well - as a freebie - I'd set the black and white levels but they wouldn't accept that the display was un-calibrat'able (made up word). Why people believe they can make a £1,500 monitor look like an £11k grading display is beyond me. Also - did they think I was lying or stupid (it must have been one or the other).
I'm wondering if other industries have such huge egos? Someone knows they're wrong, the person they're shouting at knows they're wrong, they know that the person they're shouting at knows they're wrong BUT to smile, apologise and walk away with everyone's dignity intact ain't an option.......

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Quantel eQ

In the eighties (when I was working in engineering at BBC Television News) I was in post-production maintenance with responsibility for (amoungst other things) a bunch of origional series Quantel Paintboxes (they became ¨Classic Paintboxes¨ when the V-Series hardware was launched). I knew those things inside-out. They were so elegantly designed and logically laid out that maintaining them was a joy and I could figure out which board had a fault in a couple of minutes and get it down to the chip in twenty.
After I left the Beeb I had virtually no dealings with Quantel. I used to see them at trade shows but it's always hard getting past the marketing to see what the real engineering is. They've regularly published a little book called The Quantel Digital Fact Book (which should, in truth, have been called The Quantel Digital Lie Book!) - essentially it was a bunch of marketing spun up to look like engineering. One article entitled ¨Resolution Independence - a universal panacea?¨ banged on about how a single platform couldn't support differing TV standards properly. They dropped that particular bit of fiction when they introduced resolution independent equipment! The superiority of 8-bit video was another myth they propogated (and I heard a number of otherwise sensible Soho engineers repeat that bit of nonsense) - again, they stopped saying that when their kit started to do 10-bit.
Anyhow - last week I was installing an eQ workstation and made a few suprising observations;

  • It's now a PC! They use an industry standard Intel server board (dual Xeons) with commodity drives (SATA) and graphics card (Radeon X800).
  • The video i/o card is bought in - although I couldn't get a good look at it I'm pretty sure it was a DVS Centurus card - as used in Clipsters, Baselights etc.
  • I saw an AMC sticker inside - we've used those guys to integrate specialised computers for us - they do a good job but I was suprised to see them building Quantel machines!
  • They include all of the extenders you might need to get USB and SVGA to the suite - it's nice to see that they still cling to the notion that equipment belongs in a machine room and people in the edit suite - Avid would do well to learn this!
Although the eQ in question had a fault and I didn't get to see it running reliably it does seem that Quantel (although having gone to commodity hardware even more so than Avid) take seriously the idea of a professional application. It seemed snappy, launching quickly and responding really well. I suppose it your heritage is in expensive hardware that was built for one job only you have a good set of pointers.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Fixing laptop keyboards

It's not really widely applicable but I got to the end of a busy weekend with only one computer left to fix! (last weekend was a four-PC weekend - at some point I'm going to have to start charging people!). My sister's laptop is a Compaq EVO150 and the fault was that one of the control keys is sticky - it's unusable because trying to type in Word when every keypress is CTRL-keypress is frustrating (to say the least). Anyhow - a replacement keyboard module is the best part of a hundred quid and a couple of weeks away - not ideal. The keyboard (like most laptop units) is a sealed unit and so flimsy that the thought of taking it apart was out of the question.

KeyTweak came to the rescue. It allows you to re-map scan codes and so isn't as useful as Microsoft's keyboard utility if you're using an unusual keyboard layout (for example). But, if you need to disable a key or make an unused key (like on those stupid multi-media keyboards) do something KeyTweak is the business. I just disables the right-hand control key and all was good. I had to detach the faulty module and use a USB keyboard while doing it, but it works like a charm - and who uses the right-hand control key?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

My friend Victoria in Tanzania

She is working for the Sunseed Tanzania Trust who work with local partners in Dodoma and Mbeya regions of Tanzania. Their main project is the Domestic Energy Project which aims to improve women and children's health as well as help tackle deforestation and desertification in the arid region of Dodoma.
See her pics here

Friday, December 01, 2006

Drilling Square Holes

I found this on Digg - I love that site!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Muggers commit crimes 'for kicks'

Having seen a bit of the youth-justice system in action recently (my eldest boy was mugged for his cell 'phone by a gang of older youths) I was interested to see this article on BBC News. The quote that really made me sit up was;
It would be really sad if this report got translated as a bunch of young people robbing for fun. It is not about that.
"It is for 'kicks', but you've have to understand what the 'kick' is. The 'kick' is people who are victims for prolonged periods of time developing a cycle of revenge so that they then get a high from victimising someone else.
Camilla Batmanghelidjh, founder of the charity Kids Company.

It's staggering how every social problem in Britain can be laid at the door of the middle-class - the fact that people like this assume that the under-class can NEVER be held responsible for it's actions is very prevelent.
I did calm down reading the closing comment;
One of the things that kept emerging in our work was that... this was an extension of traditional bullying. That motivation of dominance, of proving that you were tough in the eyes of other people was a very strong theme.
Marian Fitzgerald, professor of criminology at the University of Kent

So much of this is about being the man and about respect and bling - when is youth culture going to grow up? You don't this kind of engrained hatred with good old rock'n'roll!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Buy Nothing Christmas

Buy Nothing Christmas is a national initiative started by Canadian Mennonites who offer a prophetic "no" to the patterns of over-consumption of middle-class North Americans. They are inviting Christians (and others) all over Canada to join a movement to de-commercialize Christmas and re-design a Christian lifestyle that is richer in meaning, smaller in impact upon the earth, and greater in giving to people less-privileged.
Giving gifts at Christmas is a good thing to do - it's a small re-enactment of the incarnation of God's love. Gift-giving, as we know from other occasions (like birthdays, weddings, housewarmings) serves as a kind of social glue that keeps us together. It shows affection, thoughtfulness and love. While gift-giving is a good thing to do at Christmas, that doesn't mean we have to go overboard at Christmas.

Monday, November 20, 2006

More Vista thoughts

One of the biggest challenges... is to fight that perception that old versions of software are good enough,
- Chris Capossela, Microsoft.

I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions and how you might paraphrase that particularly insidious bit of marketing speak! Anyhow - having decided I'd lay off Vista until at least SP1 (good advice with any Microsoft product!) I heard Paul Thurrott's most recent Windows Weekly podcast where he put to rest some of the fears over licensing and even suggested that on most hardware the Vista experience was a good one. My five month old MacBook seemed too under-powered (having motherboard graphics) to be a candidate but he reckons he's tried it and it's all good. Then I caught last week's Security Now! with Steve Gibson who had a totally different take on things. Oh well - I don't anyone who has build 6000 (the final RTM version) and so I can't get any real advice.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Quartz routers RS422 problem

I love Quartz for routers - they are a small English firm (now owned by Evertz) and they really pay attention to detail - like MurrayPro and Crystal Vision you can talk to the designer/programmer and get sense. I see their routers in more OB trucks than most and having put in a few they seem more reliable than Probel et al. The control system and programming tools are very straightforward (Leitch could learn a thing or two!) and the fact you can download to the master level from even a control panel hundreds of meters from the mainframe is fantastic. At MTV last year it saved me lots of shoe-leather!
Now - I put in a simple SDi/RS422 system at five and they had this problem that was hard to replicate - When one of the editors assigned a VTR to one of the Final Cut workstations another VTR route would drop (only on the RS422 level). This meant that in effect they could only use one VTR at a time. I couldn't replicate the fault. Quartz suggested;

  • Re-load the router config in case of corruption
  • Move one of the VTRs to an unused port and re-programme to reflect the change - in case a cross-point had gone faulty
I tried both of these, but since I couldn't provoke the fault before I started (neither could Stuart, their senior engineer) I felt like I was going through the motions a bit. Stuart even went as far as to suggest it was finger trouble! In the end I saw it happen and it was thus - The editor routes the VTR to the FCP and then he routes the FCP back to the VTR - this is sensible as he doesn't want to have to go back to the control panel when he does his layback. I hadn't appreciated this and had always just routed a VTR into the FCP only for testing. It did seem that when you route a VTR in AND out of an FCP and then do it with another VTR/FCP combo it drops the first route. Everyone at five's reaction was that the RS422 level was having trouble treating each device as a source and destination but this is bogus - even though a VTR is only one hole on the back of the router all P2-protocol devices know about Tx/Rx swaps and that wasn't the answer.
Thinking back to the first or second series of Big Brother I rememeber a similiar problem - it all comes down to the fact that the Quartz control software makes the serial port router look like a set of sources and destinations by using a two-pointer buffer. If you fill that buffer with two routes that refer to the same device you run the risk of subsequent routes breaking that relationship. The solution is to re-sort both source and destination tables so that all RS422 port definitions are in exactly the same places in the tables for the same devices - something you'd never have to worry about for other signal standards. By doing this the buffer never gets monopolised by a single device and the problem is solved.
Now Quartz told me this (reluctanty) back in 2001 and to my suprised it's still an issue - it's also still not documented!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Telephone Preference Service

Under Government legislation introduced on 1st May 1999 and replaced on 11th December 2003 by the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003, it is unlawful to make unsolicited direct marketing calls to individuals who have indicated that they do not want to receive such calls.

Before we registered with this lot we used to get two or three unsolicited calls every evening - kinda inconvenient when you're reading with the kids or trying to eat your tea - my thoughts are that you should have to opt-in to unsolicited 'phone calls - why should I have to tell someone I don't want to be continually disturbed? My family time is way more important than someone trying to con me into buying second-rate double-glazing.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Not one, but two webcams at the workshop

Yesterday I found another old Logitech kicking around and pointed it at Tony D's bench (he's better looking than me or Stuart!).

See the handsome chaps here!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A tale of two podcasts

I did my degree in the eighties and after an abortive start on a Physics Bsc. I switched to a maths and programming course (ironically the maths was easier!). I came across an old paper I'd written on the two branches of artificial intelligence - commonly refered to as the strong AI model and the weak AI model. I don't know if I'd read it somehwere (this was more than twenty years ago!) but I'd made a rather insightful comment;
....It shows maturity within a discipline when valid sub-sections become vibrant and recognisable to external observers.....

I think that can now be said of podcasting - gone are the days when every podcast you listen to (and The Daily Source Code is probably the worst offender!) was about everything and nothing (and actually mostly about podcasting). Two shows that I've recently discovered that relate to this industry are;

  • VFX: The Visual Effects Show - Ron Brinkmann, Alex Lindsay and friends review visual effects of the latest movies while discussing the challenges and technologies of today's visual effects pipeline. In a recent episode they talked about the effects work on Flyboys which caught my ear because I knew it had been shot on the Genesis digital film camera. We'd had some rushes at work and I was amazed at the clarity of the images. They had only bad things to say about the grade of the finished film, which is a shame because digital cinema cameras are really starting to shine. They also talked at length about the green-screen/gimbal rig work and how all of the part-models were static and the tracking shots had to work as if they were shot from one moving plane looking at another moving plane. I'd have loved to see the automated cameras movements swinging around the model to achieve that look.
    All in all a really interesting podcast if you have any involvement with digital effects.

  • The Schubin Report - Technologist and engineer Mark Schubin looks at the past month's digital television news and events - He's an old-school engineer who has very much kept on top of current developments. This month's podcast has a great section on why every HD television currently available is a bad buy! Rupert put me onto this one and initially I though he was a bit of a schill for JVC - but if you ignore the adverts he really is quite balanced.
So - my recommendations for new listening.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

My boy Dan and The Boss

This is a picture from March - It's at St Luke's LSO - my middle boy is behind the drums. I also recently posted a clip of Springsteen that I snagged of BBC4 from when he played St. Lukes - here it is on YouTube;

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Staff who have a nap make far fewer mistakes

Napping at work is one of the best ways of increasing productivity and reducing human error, according to psychologists, who have found that most employees already sneak off for a quick sleep during the day.

I remembered seeing this article years ago - and guess what, The Independent archives go back a long way!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Audio calibration on DVW-A500P

Since the format was introduced in 1993 (the year after I left the Beeb) I have been very close with these VTRs. It's fair to say that Sony pioneered pretty much all of the features we take for granted in a modern digital VTR - no tracking knob (thanks to the Viterbei decoder for ridding us of that particular foible!), pre-read editing, and repeatable tape-interchange!
Anyway - today I had to calibrate a machine for -18dBfs => 0dBu (or 4 on a BBC PPM) - which every superhero knows is how we do it in Europe. Now I must have done (literally!) a hundred DVW-A500P audio re-calibrations so I rocked-up with my soldering iron, tweaker, test-tape and schematic but clearly I haven't done a machine from the last revision of the APR-1 card (rev EP-GW of the 1-648-534-16 Googlers!) because they'd replaced the solder 'splats' with switches (labelled as well!) and put a load more headroom in the pre and post-amps - do it was easier than I remember it from the nineties!
I've often said it, but that machine was so well designed - to have a production run of over a decade and still be more sophisticated than anything the competition had to offer. The only reason Sony stopped it in favout of the DVW-2000 series was the European RoHS legislation!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Hamachi rocks!

I was aware of Hamachi as a personal VPN solution last year and knew that security guru Steve Gibson rates it (check out his podcast on the subject here) - now I've been trying to get my Windows server at home to do the VPN-server thang but it seems so tempremental - and this is borne out by trawling the news-groups. Any change to the network config makes the routing service fail and this week I had the audacity to upgrade one of the network cards for gigabit and I've not been able to get the MS VPN to come back up - so (like every other network protocol that machine serves) I've discovered that a third-party solution is invariably more stable/faster than the one that Microsoft provides.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Mark's glass robot and the flying fists of Chris!

My work pal Mark Lloyd is planning a short film based around a VR game set in the real world (only the players see the robots) - here is a test of the first composites. He's shooting it HD on Panasonic P2.
An earlier robotic creation of Mark's is here.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

five - they've got downloading wrong!

Sarah and I watch CSI (I know - not a thing you'd admit in serious company!). Currently in the UK CSI:Miami is the only one that's not showing old episodes - on five it's in the middle of season four (season five just started in the States). Anyhow - we can't miss an episode! We'd not claim to like it but we keep coming back for more.
I like to criticize the science (have you ever seen the OS they seem to run on all their computers?) and the look (graded by a colour-blind fool on acid!). Sarah prefers to mock the stories and acting -
Horatio; ¨Now I want you to let me worry about that¨ (removes sunglasses),
Token black lab-tech; ¨Sure thing H¨ etc.

Anyhow - I'm currently pulling twelve hour days to try and get a feasibility study finished (ironically for Channel Five!) because Sarah and the boys are off for half-term visiting my folks. Imagine my horror when I realizedised that having swapped a drive in my PVR machine (the mighty MediaPortal) I hadn't re-powered it and consequently missed this week's episode. I remembered that Stuart at five had told me about their download service and so off I went - £1.99 for an episode - fantastic - peace at home for the price of a skinny-laite! My heart sank when I tried to get episode fifteen - You have to use IE6/ActiveX/JavaScript for their download manager (have they not heard of security?!) to work and the file is DRM-crippled. Now I want to watch this on my PVR, not on my PC - this is proper tele after all, not a three-minute YouTube clip. So, I fell at the first hurdle - I was willing to pay but they made it easier for me to just go and snag it from Bittorrent (which I did - and it was in HD).

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Bluefish AES breakout cable

We have to make these and I always forget the pinouts!

Friday, October 20, 2006

The best reason yet to use Ubuntu layman's terms, buyers of retail copies of Windows Vista will be able to transfer their software to a new machine only once. If they want to move their software a second time, they will have to buy a new copy of the operating system. If you buy your computer with the operating system pre-installed, you are not permitted to transfer it at all.

Given that neither my three month old laptop nor my ten month old graphics card at home are man-enough to run the aero-glass GUI I don't think I'll be embrassing Vista any time soon!
When I look at the number of corporate users who stuck at Win2k I can't help feeling that (aside from OEM copies on new machines) sales of Vista may be disapointing. The hardware demands are outrageous which confirms the old adage; What Mr Otellini giveth Mr Gates taketh!
Can anyone at Microsoft write code or do they just bolt objects together?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Quantum SDLT 600A continued...

Having upgraded and shipped a few of these (see here) we're starting to get customer feedback;
One of our editors has been busy with it since it arrived on Monday and ran into some problems. We then brought in our system's administrator to help him sort a few things.
It turns out that in general it all seems to work, but there are some majors faults that prevent us from using the device the way it is supposed to be used (and the way we would like to be able to use it).
This is the way the 'bugs' were explained to me:
When copying a project folder (with different files in there) to the drive onto a cartridge, it will alter the original date the files were created to a fictional date that the 600A seems to refer to. On copying it back to our systems, the files will again alter the dates to the system settings of the computer at that time.
This makes it impossible to distinguish between different FCP project files etc. thus making it very hard (if not impossible) to recognize the most recent edit if it was not named perfectly (lot's of times we like to refer to the 'date modified' for reference).
The only workaround we have for this, is to Archive the project folder first, so only the date of the Archive gets affected and the contents will be left untouched. The disadvantage is of course that we now have to take off the entire project folder and unpack it, before we can access the necessary files.
The other problem is that if a certain file has a slightly longer name, or a space or underscore in the name, it will copy to the tape just fine, but it will not let you copy it back to the computer from tape. The only workaround for that is the same as for the other problem, i.e. Archiving it before backing it up, so only the Archive name gets 'noticed'.

Hmmm - I'd never rely on a remote filesystem to keep dates accurately - particularly since you may be going between different filesystems that might mangle filenames, permissions etc. Anyhow - the word from Quantum;
I have done some investigation into this "bug". This is normal behaviour for FTP and therefore we need to think around this.
Technically we can preserve the file attributes in the metadata fields as a future enhancement.

So there you go - an workflow adjustment me thinks.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Sony HD-CamSR in a 2k DI environment

The link is to a Sony training document from last year that goes into great details on the SR format and how it operates in both 440mBits-1 and 800mBits-1 data rates. It also explains why in a 2k workflow the SR's resolution of 1920x1080 actually outperforms most film scan resolutions.
Important stuff if you are interested in digital film workflows.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Why do peope use the Foot-Lambert?

As a means of measuring the light output of a display device it is an obsolete measurement. Far better to use the Candela per sq.m which is the SI unit and not some horrible mix of imperial and metric. For the record most edit suite monitors are run at a white point of 80 cd/m2 which is approximately 30fL.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Bill and Muriah played our living room!

I had a fabulous day Friday - took the day off work and went to collect Bill Mallonee and his wife Muriah Rose from Waterloo. They played a two hour set in front of thirty or so friends and they were great! I took them back to the Eurostar on Saturday so they can continue to Belgium (more gigs) before returning to the States.
Having chatted with them about the difficulties of securing gigs while you don't have a label behind you made me doubly determined to support them and other musicians who are doing it independently.

This YouTube clip is of one of the tunes they did on Friday. My middle boy Dan was very pleased Bill borrowed his guitar amp and I'm proud I was able to give Bill my D-blues harmonica (he'd misplaced his) - he did tell me he'll keep it for the next time he records!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Quantum SDLT600A drive, initial notes

The manual is here, my quick and dirty guide to configuring FTP clients for use with the drive and firmware upgrade instructions are here.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Test Instrument Computer Services (TICS) International Ltd

Test Instrument Computer Services (TICS) International Ltd has been established for 14+ years, supplying test and measurement instrumentation within the U.K., Europe and the rest of the world.

I'm just talking to these guys about a Philips (now Fluke) PM5639 monitor colour analyzer.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Quantum SDLT 600A

We've got a couple of these gadgets in to see if they are the ultimate backup solution (sic) - they do look interesting though. It a 300gig DLT2 drive with an FTP server in it. The machine understands the MXF format and allows you to pull specific time-code ranges off. In theory it opens the way for a data-driven digital conform for film and TV editing. They do a robot for multiple tapes and when you have that the separate tapes appear as different folders off the root of the FTP - all very clever!
Oh - the mouse is attached to Rupert's laptop - the only connection on the back of the drive is a gigabit ethernet RJ45 - no SCSI or Fibre Channel.
Here's the blurb;
Quantum's new SDLT 600A is the first data tape system enhanced for professional video. This revolutionary system combines the well established benefits of data tape archiving with video tape convenience and accessibility.
The SDLT 600A’s feature set makes the drive MXF-aware which permits video tape-like access to subclips by timecode and provides an unprecedented level of interoperability between applications and environments.
With its built-in Gigabit Ethernet port, the SDLT 600A is a network attached device so it can be directly connected to any network and accessed by every edit workstation, networked server, graphics devices, or other computer based video equipment on the network.
Because it uses Super DLTtape II™, the SDLT 600A delivers a 30 year tape archive life to protect professional video, audio and data assets better than any video tape backup. Each cartridge holds 300GB of information and allows faster-than-real-time transfer rates of up to 288 Mb/sec. And, because each Super DLTtape II contains key MXF metadata in a tape-based file directory, your media is transportable and exchangeable for seamless application independence.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Old Faithful

This is the toolbox I was issued with when I was still wet-behind-the-ears at BBC Lime Grove studios around 1988 - so many colleagues tell me I need something a bit tidier but I love it!

Here are a couple of memories associated with it;

  • Flying to Saudi in 2001 with Tony Dwarika - we realised we were very late for a flight and while sprinting across the departure area at Heathrow it burst open, scattering tools all over the place - Tony was very angry (but he did buy the the Samsonite strap!). On the way back we made an emergency landing in Rome because of a bomb threat (it was the weekend the USA invaded Afghanistan post 9-11) and when the Italian soldier had me open it for inspection his eyes lit up and both of his colleagues released the safety-catches on their machine guns!
  • On the way home one night I had a small dog (one of those yappy little rat-like things) go for me - in shock I dropped the toolcase on it and the poor creature was trapped! Not knowing what to do (if I picked up the case the now very annoyed dog would have gone for me) I just stood there like a lemon wondering what my next move was - eventually the owner showed up and although he was less than pleased that his dog was pinned to the ground by a tool case he did accept that the animal was too aggressive.
So - long live the battered tool box!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Live music at Phil's house

I just sent this email to lots of friends;
On Friday 13th October I'll be hosting an acoustic gig in my house! Bill Mallonee who used to be the singer/songwriter with my long-time favourites The Vigilantes of Love is currently touring the UK promoting his new album ¨Permafrost¨ and because he's not got a gig every night he's keeping it real(!) by playing in fans' houses for friends and family and the chance of selling some CDs (and saving a few dollars on hotel bills!).

If you've paid any attention to my rantings about the state of music over the last few years you'll know I hold him in the highest regard and if you appreciate live acoustic music in an intimate setting then come and join us and we'll have a ball - we'll do some snacks and it'll be a nice evening. I'm inviting friends from work, the street, church,and further a field!

So - Sarah and I would love you to come - stylistically Bill is very much in the Americana vein - think Neil Young with a bit more melody or maybe what REM might sound like as a solo act. If you'd like to borrow a CD just tell me. He's turned out fifteen or so albums in the past couple of decades and so has an impressive body to work to draw on - you have my word that it will be an enjoyable performance. He's never made it as big as he deserves and is a jobbing musician. I can't over emphasise that music this good doesn't come your way every day - plus, the snacks and company will be good!

So if you want to come send me an email!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Gnome Partition Editor

GParted is the Gnome Partition Editor application. Before attempting to use it, here is some basic background information.
A hard disk is usually subdivided into one or more partitions. These partitions are normally not re-sizable (making one larger and the adjacent one smaller) The purpose of GParted is to allow the individual to take a hard disk and change the partition organization therein, while preserving the partition contents.

GParted is an industrial-strength package for creating, destroying, resizing, moving, checking and copying partitions, and the filesystems on them. This is useful for creating space for new operating systems, reorganizing disk usage, copying data residing on hard disks and mirroring one partition with another (disk imaging).

It saved me this weekend - something to keep in every IT dude's toolkit. The nice thing is that it can manipulate NTFS partitions as well as many other file systems.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Scripting, scripting everywhere!

In the light of the vector graphics vulnerability in IE6/Outlook and all the other nasties that can arrive into your PC via scripting I've been running NoScript under Firefox - It is excellent - by default it stops any active (i.e. Java, Javascript, Activescript, AJAX etc) content from executing in your browser. You then have the choice of white-listing a site or only temporarily allowing it. Most sites look broken when you first enter them, but I take the view that I'd rather choose who I allow scripting for. Your also never quite sure if a site has a load of iFrames back to dodgy sites and then there are all the add banners to consider. Have a look at this site - they clearly refer to MANY other sites with active content!
Now I have just one bit of Javascript on this blog - it allows you to launch the webcams in a buttonless window - but if you have scripting turned off it merely launches in a new browser window.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Vulnerability in Vector Markup Language Could Allow Remote Code Execution

Even if you have a fully patched XP/SP2/IE6 machine you are vulnerable to this exploit that uses a bug in Microsoft's vector graphic rendering engine - apparently Ad and warez sites are seizing on this bug exponentially and all it needs is for you to visit a site (or have an email show itself in the Outlook preview pane) that has one of these specially crafted images for you to get infected.

As ever, the fewer bits of nonesense in your browser the better, so de-register the faulty DLL for a worry-free life!

regsvr32 -u "%CommonProgramFiles%\Microsoft Shared\VGX\vgx.dll

The more I think about it the less likely it is that you're reading this with IE - tech savy people use Firefox!

Have I mentioned noScript?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Enigma lecture at the IET

Last night I went to a superb lecture at my institute on the German Enigma machine and how they went about cracking it's encrypted messages at Bletchley Park. Dr Mark Baldwin - the lecturer - had brought along his working four-rota machine and gave a demo. The quality of construction was excellent with that sixty year old example still working perfectly. Although I had a vague idea of how it worked he explained in great details the mechanical and wiring details. Having recently re-listened to Steve Gibson's excellent encryption series on Security Now! (episodes 30 to 37) I now see that the Enigma was a good example of how to do encryption. The Germans avoided security by obscurity - the allies had many working Enigmas and had figured out the wiring of all the rota sets before the war even started. The power of he system is in the size of the key-space and it was sloppy practises that allowed the allies to crack the system. Repeated use of sweetheart's names etc. as well as non-random sequences of keys allowed the size of the key-space to be radically reduced and in a symmetric stream cypher these are bad ideas!
Dr Mark Baldwin's Enigma site is here.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Rowan and Sophie in Nova Scotia

Our good friends Rowan and Sophie are working in Canada for the next three months - Sophie is a lawyer and Rowan is a database guy for the treasury and this picture is from when they got married a couple of years ago (Sophie looking like the young Audrey Hepburn, I think you'll agree).

Anyhow - they are on a working holiday, check out their blog as the scenery looks stunning and I would love to be spinning llama wool rather than what I'm doing today!

Friday, September 15, 2006

HD at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics

A while ago I remembered the first HD job I was involved with in 1994 - I came across this interesting PDF showing that there was full HD coverage of the 1992 games and even delivery to many (possible!) viewers using the HD-Mac transmission standard. I did monkey around with C/D/D2 Mac at the time and was amazed when I read the spec for HDMac - it allowed up to 1250 line signals that could be switched on the fly - frame to frame - so that when a 720 line (for example) fifty-fields interlaced sports programme went to the slow-mo it could up-res to >2k but at a lower frame rate (typ. 12.5 fps).
But, the really clever feature was that this was all compatible with the SD standard D2 Mac signal (the one which the origional BSB system used before Sky bought them out and reverted all broadcasts to PAL). So a broadcaster could send the 36Mhz signal at whatever resolution/framerate he wanted and be assured that all viewers could watch it. The page on Wikipedia is a good starting point.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

It's happened to me!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

IBA Tech Report from 1970

After writing about the new Tek WFM7100 last Friday I came across this brilliant document - it is the Chief Engineer's report to the IBA board and contains lots of info about the state of broadcast technology thirty-five years ago. There is a description of how they were upgrading the ITV network for colour and how the use of twin-lense telecines were taking off - Mk.1 Cintels I'm assuming - the Mk.2 was either a jump-scan or "digi-scan" depending on vintage (we had a few of those in TV news at the Beeb - I was quite a dab-hand at repairing the memory boards). Automated measurement using Vax PDP-series mini-computers is examined as well and serves as another parallel with the Tek. This picture shows how they did screen-grabs back then - using a polaroid camera mount!
Anyhow - give it a read - I was gratified to see how much of it tied in with what I learnt at BBC Evesham in the late eighties. It is a big 12-meg PDF but worth the download.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Gilbert's Fridge

When I first started at the Beeb in the late eighties there was a superb kids TV show called Gilbert's Fridge - Gilbert was an alien who (for no explained reason) was a South London car dealer. He was voiced by Phil Cornwall who has gone on to much bigger things. Although it was a children's programme all the BBC engineers I worked with thought it was superb and there were always VHS copies floating around the workshop. Imagine my delight when I found the complete series on UK Nova - here is a two minute DivX clip so you can see for yourself.

It's also on YouTube.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Tektronix WFM7100

I've just my hands our new Tek WFM7100 demo unit and after one quick firmware update (to v. 1.23, fact fans!) I've been monkeying about with it ('cause I'll be demo'ing it post IBC). First thoughts are that it's very sluggish - screen update on waveforms is fine but navigation is slow. It feels like i's running on top of something (Windows Embedded?!) and that seems to be born out by the fact that when you hit it over the Java interface the menu on the front panel screen remains with the last selection you made and the remote display changes as per selections you make on the browser - almost like a remote desktop.
Anyhow - feature wise it is pretty much a WVR7100 with some nice extras. The biggest step is the screen grab facilities. In the same way that video or audio 'events' (gamut, level etc.) can be placed in the log, close the GPI, honk an SNMP alarm or just indicate on the front panel you can now have an error condition dump a screen-grab to a USB thumb drive. Now you can imagine exporting the XML log with still-frames of the offending video - excellent for monitoring the state of a cable head-end (for example). Another addition is having a picture o/p SVGA as well as the instrement's display out. We often install the WVR series rasterisers into machines rooms and DA the feed to several places (including for the operator in the machine area) - but since this has a built-in insterment display it would be advantageous to have just the picture (on a 15¨ TFT panel) thus avoiding the cost of an HD monitor.
Unlike glass-tubed traditional 'scopes (and even some other rasterised models - specifically the Videoteks) the 7100 generates the graticules in the same digital space where the HD/SDi stream is demultiplex'ed - the upshot of this is that they are ultimately accurate - something no other 'scope can lay claim to (unless they've just been calibrated!). Having spent time doing a head-to-head with the other manufacturers (Videotek, Omnitek and Hamlet) I conclude that the only reason folks don't buy Tek is the price. In terms of accuracy, ease of use and feature set the Tectonix are way out in front. Their automated QC features are pretty impressive and make delivery reports very easy to prepare.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The comma is on its way out....

Wired is a fashion magazine for people who like to imagine they know something about technology. Every five years or so I read it and my prejudices have always been confirmed! It appeals to people who have money to buy-into a digital lifesyle (sic.) but have little understanding of any underlying IT.
Anyhow - in this month's issue I spotted this Nathan Barley style quote:
Commas are a kind of channel noise. You’re not getting to the verb fast enough. Why make us wait? The comma is on its way out. Use small words.
- Bart Kosko, Polymath (apparently).

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Friday, September 01, 2006

Nobody's Cool

It's a bit emo for my tastes, but this tune has been running around my head since I saw one of the students at my eldest boy's school do this at their last music evening.
nobody's cool, we're all the same, you're not a player, life's not a game
don't you think it's time we left high school behind
you're not a stud, you're not the man, you're not a pimp, and i'm not a fan
your misogyny is just a plea for l-u-v

the only thing i've seen that's cool in my life is a mom who loves her child and a man who loves his wife

your two tattoos don't make you tough, please quit the act i've seen enough
you say you're different but you all end up the same
just be yourself, don't fake the geek, don't say you're random or a freak
dude you're not punk rock, we're all just human beings

the only thing i've seen that's cool in my life is a dad who loves his kids and a man loved by his wife

nobody's cool, put down your nose, i don't care where you bought your clothes
can't you see it's time we left high school behind
cause it's plain to see we're all just human beings

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Ubuntu and Your iPod

Well, you will be happy to know that Ubuntu does iPods, even Nanos. You will also be happy to know that using your iPod on your Ubuntu system is quite easy. All you have to do is plug your iPod into one of your computer's USB ports, after which Ubuntu will automatically mount it and place an iPod icon on your desktop (Figure 16-1). Yes, no longer do you have to mess around with mount and unmount commands or editing system tables. Just plug in your pod, and Ubuntu will do the rest.

I don't have an iPod but this is the kind of thing that might persuade me!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Bootcamp 1.1 Beta

Support for the latest Intel-based Macintosh computers
Easier partitioning using presets for popular sizes
Ability to install Windows XP on any internal disk
Support for built-in iSight cameras
Support for built-in microphones
Right-click when pressing the right-hand Apple key on Apple keyboards
Improved Apple keyboard support including Delete, PrintScreen, NumLock, and ScrollLock keys

I got video working under Skype! Now that is progress.
The Bluetooth seems to now work under Windows and the machine is running a bit cooler (although I think that is down to the firmware update). I haven't had a chance to benchmark performance while on battery - previously the dual-core chip speed-step'ed right down while not on mains - I'm hoping that this has been improved.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

GAIM crashes with MSN accounts

Yesterday, Gaim started crashing for a bunch of people (most notably Windows users) when trying to connect a MSN account.

* Update - August 20th, 2006 - 12:32 CDT *

Gaim 2.0.0beta3.1 has been released which fixes this and other bugs in beta3. You can download it from its SourceForge file release page.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Holiday in Cornwall

I'm currently returning from the family vacation - see my photo blog for some nice pictures of what is Britain's most beautiful region.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


This is the best bit of software I've found for making panoramas from multiple digital images. Here is an example from the Eden Project (visited during my recent vacation);

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Cleaning your MacBook with Nail Polish Remover...DON'T

This was posted to OS X fanatics earlier -

This is actually an awful, horrible idea -

Nail polish remover, over time, will eat away at polymer surfaces, leaving you with much much less than desirable results. Do NOT use nail polish remover on your MacBook, ever! You will eat a hole in the plastic surface - count on it.

If you're going to clean the white, what has worked on iBooks, and what works on MacBooks just the same is PLAIN RUBBING ALCOHOL either on a cotton swab or toilet tissue.

Again, I repeat, NO NOT USE NAIL POLISH REMOVER. This will leave you with an eating away of your MacBook over time!

Monday, August 14, 2006

SPV M5000 as Bluetooth modem under OS-X

Alasdair Allan gives a superb walk-though on using your HTC Universal 'phone as a wireless internet router with your MacBook or PowerBook - works for me!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Dual-link HD SDi is dead (and other things!)

I had a great meeting with Lee Ballinger - a sales engineer at Tektronix who looks after Root6. He periodically updates me on new products and gets me up to speed for when I have to demo them. He is a great guy - an old school engineer who is very much grounded in test and measurement. The WFM7100 series is the new range of portable rasterised video 'scopes and looks set to really clean up - they have addresses the (very few) weaknesses of the WVR range and have a killer product. I'll blog a bit more about it when I've had a day with our new demo unit. Lee also told me about a couple of interesting developments that he's been party to in other Tek divisions;

  • Sony are set to kill off the dual-link HD-SDi interface - as a three-gig interconnect it has always been seen as ungainly and they aren't going to launch any more products that use it - a ten gig multi-mode fibre (straight to the back of the VTR/Telecine/etc.) is just around the corner. This will mean that those stick-in-the-mud engineers who refuse to take fibre seriously (or do it half-heartedly) will have to pull their fingers out.

  • Quad-core 4.4Ghz Intel chips - he's seen production samples in quantity and they are coming soon - Tek's new seven gig 'scope wasn't quick enough and they had to rush a set of prototypes to Intel to allow testing of those new microprocessors!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Killed the GUI in Ubuntu?

I did! Actually I was doing a patch-update and the battery on the Dell Latitude died. Subseqently I couldn't get the thing to boot to Gnome. Booting to the command line and doing an init 5 produced only the "brown screen of death"!. However - as with any Debian Linux you can run the patch-manager from the command line;
apt-get upgrade
apt-get dist-upgrade

and all is well!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Skype under Ubuntu

Hmmm - to get Skype working under most Linux distros you have the choice of using the old-skool OSS (Open Sound System) or the newer ALSA (Advanced Linux Sound Architecture). I've never got anything running properly using the OSS-driver! The problem with the laptop I'm using is that it only has USB1.1 ports and so my US-Robotics handset wouldn't work properly either! Enter Skype 1.3beta which does support the ALSA driver and all is well.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Vista's virgin stack

Microsoft Windows Vista (now in beta testing) and Windows Server "Longhorn" (now in beta testing) include a new implementation of the TCP/IP protocol suite known as the Next Generation TCP/IP stack.

So runs the blurb on - it seems that they have started again (much in the way they did with XP and Windows 95 before it). Now I'm a big fan of writing something that is clean and not a hack'ed, patched version of something but as Steve Gibson points out the TCP/IP stack is the one thing you want to be hardened by sustained hacker attack - the stack in XP showed none of it's vulnerabilities in beta but as we know it was a security nightmare until SP2 (and even now we haven't had a quiet patch Tuesday for more than eighteen months!). The same was true of 95/98/ME - the only version of Windows that had a relatively secure IP stack from launch was Windows 2000 - and it inherited NetBSD's stack!
Now Symantec have been hammering Vista with malformed packets and have some very alarming results here - I suppose it's in their interest to portray Vista as insecure and needing of additional software (theirs!) to make it safe to use. Still - makes for interesting reading.
Like all OSes I'll be waiting a year before I install it on any machines I rely on...

As an aside I was chatting to someone I met on a campsite - he writes embedded applications for industrial machines - not Windows Embedded but proper assembler code for 80186 chips (and the like) - low power processors that can run off batteries etc. He is currently working on an IP stack for the x86 and has implemented stacks for Z80 etc. His observation was that there are no good quality "free" (as in free software - open source) code implementing an IP stack on those chips - today people are keen to save the time and implement using embedded Win2K (but not XP interestingly - probably for the reasons above). But, you only get the best performance with the economy of assembler code.
Reminded me of the little NetIOM board is was playing with just after Christmas - see here and here. It had a very rudimentary web server on chip and support of ICMP etc.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The old BBC News ticker

This is my favourite desktop widget of all time - it just provides a ticker of the top twenty or so BBC News stories - click on an interesting one and it fetches the web page. The Beeb stopped offering it for download a couple of years ago but I've been re-installing the last version I snagged on many machines and it still works a treat - don't be put off by the warning about it being for Windows 95 or NT 4.
It is very configurable wrt genres etc. Click the link above for the Windows installer. It has a very low memory/performance footprint (I've even got it running on a 400Mhz P2!).

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


My neighbours are stealing my wireless internet access. I could encrypt it or alternately I could have fun.

This is very funny - as well as giving you a few good pointers about port forwarding and proxy servers.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Ext2 Installable File System For Windows

If you currently have Windows running and you realize that you need some files for your work which you have stored on an Ext2 volume of your Linux installation, you no longer have to shut down Windows and boot Linux!
Furthermore, Windows will now be able to handle floppy disks which have been formatted with an Ext2 file system.
Linux Ext3 volumes can also be accessed.

There have been several times in the past when this would have helped me out immensely!
Thanks to Rupert for putting me on to this.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Cable Rod - Cable installation system

Cable Rod is a highly effective professional cable installation tool which has been proven to make significant savings on a wide range of cable installation work.
This practical and self-explaining device facilitates the quick and easy installation of cables behind walls, under floors or via suspended ceilings. Rods made of glass-reinforced plastic (GRP) are simply screwed together and fitted with one or more of the clever attachments. Three diameters and bending radius guarantee high flexibility, so that rods can either be bent, pushed or pulled.

I got one of these sets whilst helping Tony with some fibre cabling at Channel Five - what a revelation - I shall never go on site again without one of these bad boys! It is just what you need for getting cables run in tight spaces and means you can go the whole length of a room lifting a fraction of the floor tiles you'd normally need to. The torch gadget is very useful when you're in a dark void.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

SCART pins and their functions

Since I use this blog as a repository (via the search box on the right - go on, give it a go!) and a colleague asked me about SCART pins today I thought I'd better squirrel the info away.

  1. 1. AUDIO Output Right
  2. 2. AUDIO Input Right
  3. 3. AUDIO Output Left
  4. 4. AUDIO Ground
  5. 5. BLUE Video Ground
  6. 6. AUDIO Input Left
  7. 7. BLUE Video
  8. 8. Function Switching (See Note)
  9. 9. GREEN Video Ground>
  10. 10. Comms.Data Line 2
  11. 11. GREEN Video
  12. 12. Comms. Data Line 1
  13. 13. RED Video Ground
  14. 14. Comms. Data Ground
  15. 15. RED Video
  16. 16. Blanking
  17. 17. VIDEO Ground
  18. 18. Blanking Ground
  19. 19. VIDEO Output
  20. 20. VIDEO Input
  21. 21. Common Ground / Screen

Note: Pin 8 provides function switching. Applying 9.5-12V to the pin will cause a compatible TV or VCR to switch to the AV (SCART) input. It may also switch on the equipment from standby. Applying 0V or leaving unconnected will switch back to TV. Some TV's also use this pin to select the aspect ratio. Applying 5-8V to pin 8 will switch to 16:9 mode. This may be used by DVD players to set TV to correct ratio. Connect ground to pin 14 or pin 18.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

ISO Recorder v2

ISO Recorder is a tool (power toy) for Windows XP, 2003 and now Windows Vista, that allows (depending on the Windows version) to burn CD and DVD images, copy disks, make images of the existing data CDs and DVDs and create ISO images from a content of a disk folder.
ISO Recorder has been conceived during Windows XP beta program, when Microsoft for the first time started distributing new OS builds as ISO images. Even though the new OS had CD-burning support (by Roxio), it did not have an ability to record an image. ISO Recorder has filled this need and has been one of the poular Windows downloads ever since.

My groovy MacBook has a combo-drive that not even the current release of Nero recognises. Initially I thought this would be a problem as I often make CDs at work and I'd never used the Windows CD burning wizzard (or whatever they call it!) - but since I only ever have to put files onto CDs (never audio or video CDs - but as it turns out the Windows wizzard will do audio somewhat clumsily) I figured I'd give it a go. It's fine, but won't burn the contents of ISO images directly - this little Windows add-on does the business - I needed something to burn the ISO of the Dapper Drake!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

My favourite band in my living room!

Be near my house in the first week in October and enjoy an acoustic set by Bill Mallonee, ex front-man of The Vigilantes of Love;
We've become increasingly displeased and discouraged with the politics and dynamics of club oriented shows and tours over the last two years. I played that scene for 14 years, so i know of what i speak. And while we still do club and rock club gigs, we find the cooler places diminishing. With no label, formal distribution or booking, the "bottom line" all too quickly kicks much good music (we believe) to the curb. It is not without notice that the whole "House Show" industry has exponentially grown over the last few years as artists will always be driven to "take their music to the people," and give expression to their vision that isn't cluttered by beer sale quotas and late night dynamics that tax the ability of many folks (who'd like to hear good music) to attend. The fact that many artists who played the club circuits in the 90's are now playing more and more hosue shows testifys to something of what i think is a revolution in this area of the music business.

hope this finds all well...thanks for gracious support.

bill mallonee

Monday, July 24, 2006

Packard Bell Medi@ TV 2

Here's an interesting gadget (with a silly name!) - the documentation is (as ever) full of how it will revolutionise you digital lifestyle yada yada, but what it is (I discovered after trawling the manual) is a remote network display for Windows Media player - if the clip will play on the PC their software runs Media Player silently and re-directs the output to the gadget over ethernet. For less that fifty quid I may give it a go - if the SVideo o/p is good it might be a nice front-end for MediaPortal. It handles tunes, movies and still photos with a very nice interface on the TV.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Microsoft buy SysInternals

Wow - the freeware site everyone who is serious about networks and security uses is being taken under the umbrella of the evil empire!
It reminded me to make sure all of their utilities I use are up to date - who knows how long before they are taken down. TCPView is particularly useful - it's a GUI front for netstat and amazingly it's only 87 kilobytes big!
Remember that obsolete measurement of file size? - the kilobyte!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

iRed light

You have a beautiful new Mac with a built-in Infrared port and an Apple Remote control? Front Row is not enough for your needs?

Then try out iRed Lite which pushes IR control to its limits!

* Remote control any application by remote keystrokes
* Call AppleScripts for finer control
* Use your Apple Remote for iTunes, then for iPhoto, then ...

Friday, July 21, 2006

Quartz Winsetup

Quartz routers really are the easiest systems to configure - I've just been programming a dual-level SDi/RS422 rig for a job and compared to Probel and Leitch the software is intuitive and straighforward. Another neat feature is that no cross-points change when you are downloading new configs - essential if your matrix is in a transmission area, for example. Once you have named your sources and destinations it all follows on. I've raved about them here and here.

The workshop cam returns!

Should be a bit more stable now (we're hosting it on our LINUX server!) - if you want to see if me, Stuart or the wiremen are in;

Bit of a treat for the ladies today - I'm wearing my shorts!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Not that I worry about this kind of thing!

This tool checks your computer for infection by specific, prevalent malicious software (including Blaster, Sasser, and Mydoom) and helps to remove the infection if it is found. Microsoft will release an updated version of this tool on the second Tuesday of each month.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Hot today!

My favourite pluggin for Firefox is showing a flaming thermometer for today's weather!
Phew, what a scortcher......

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

MGE Evolution UPS

We are currently integrating an XSan with 2 XSERVE RAIDs, primary and secodary MDCs (MetaData Controllers), an Open Directory server, QLogic 2 gig fibre switch and a couple of gig ethernet switches (for the MetaData network and the general IP LAN). One of the things about XSan is that it rarely recovers gracefully after loosing power - unlike Avid Unity or Facilis Terrablock it is the kind of SAN you NEVER want to loose power to!
In the past I've often been at a loss when integrating UPSs into Apple configurations because the traditional Powerchute software (that talks over RS232 to a server) has never been available for Mac - in the past I home-brewed a little EPROM circuit that spoofed a USB keyboard and sent the necessary keypressed to gracefully shut down the system when power died - not ideal.
The new range from MGE addresses all of that - they work nicely with Apple in one of several configurations;

  • Single XServe RAID in a storage configuration (JBOB to use PC talk) - the Evolution 2200 will talk over RS232 to tell the JBOB to firstly flush the RAM cache, and then after n-minutes without power it gracefully powers down the chasis.

  • XSan with a primary metadata controller - the 2200s attach via USB to the server and you run Personal Power Solution (MGE "PAC" sofware) on the MDC - again, the UPS sends the command to flush the caches and if power ain't back in two minutes (user definable) it gracefully shuts down the SAN

  • Multiple UPSs, multiple MDCs - the 2200 all sit on the IP LAN (via ethernet) and they talk to the same PAC software on multiple servers - a bit more configuration but rock solid - it'll even send out an SNMP alert.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Super-fast encoding on my Macbook

I have to keep telling people "...look, I'm no Mac fanboy, but..." and then explain how pleased I am with this little 13" Macbook. This screenshot is an encode of a Doctor Who episode to DivX (using the "Home Theatre" profile - 980kbits at SD resolution). The new v.6 DivX codec is multi-processor aware and on typical television content I get close to two-times realtime encodes. It's been a long time since my laptop has been more pokey than my main desktop at home! The dual-core Intel seems faster than the dual 2.4Ghz P4s in the family's main PC. Now I haven't explored any encoding under OSX but as a Windows laptop this is a superbly fast little machine.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A Closer Look at Damn Small Linux

In this article you will learn how to turn a blank CD and an inexpensive USB keydrive into a powerful, portable, take-along operating system complete with modern applications like Firefox, a Web server, and multimedia tools. All this can be done using free Open Source Linux software.
The article goes on to explain how since the memory footprint is small (typ. <50megs) \home\ directory) on the thumb-drive.
I'm going to give this distro a go and I'll report back.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Ancient BBC proverb

If you can see it and hear it - there's scope for future economy.

They've got big salaries to pay, you know.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Eight channel chaser

Joe is going to a fancy-dress party tomorrow and he wants to go as a mad scientist - he's building a kind of "mind probe" helmet and wanted a set of LEDs to chase - I dug out this circuit which is very simple - the NE555 pulses the dual 4-bit counter. When bit3 is pulsed high it flips over to the first bit of the second "nibble" and hence you get an eight-way chase. That's why pins 15 & 10 are strapped together on the CD4015. It works well - I hope the party is good!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Bill Mallonee's new record "Permafrost"

This arrived in the post yesterday - all the way from Athens, Georgia in the US of A - very exciting! It's the new CD by my longtime favourite (and ex-frontman of The Vigilantes of Love) Bill Mallonee. I saw him earlier in the year where he has playing some of these tunes live.
So, slammed this new disk into the CDRom tray and have been enjoying it since - Flowers has been tugging at my ears and Bank has the makings of a classic.
Bill isn't a wealthy musician but his ilk are well worth supporting - if you want a great introduction to his music then his fan website is a good starting point.
"Why has Phil blogged a picture of the jiffy bag?" you ask - well look closely at the customs form - it's signed by Bill himself! You don't get that level of attention to details and care for the fans with Robbie Williams....

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Dark side of the moon

I'd forgotten just how good a record this is - partly because I put my vinyl deck away ten years ago and partly because I've been listening to lots of Americana for the last few years. Anyhow - I saw the BBC documentary (which repeats endlessly on BBC4) and is nearly always available for download on UKNova. After that I just had to go and grab the CD - it sounds better than I ever remembered!
Something that tickled me is the Wikipedia page on progressive rock - here is a little extract;
...lyrics that convey intricate and sometimes impenetrable narratives, covering such themes as science fiction, fantasy, history, religion, war, madness, and literature. It is relatively rare for progressive rock songs to be about love or sex, and practically unheard-of for such songs to concern other pop staples such as dancing or cars.

...and mercifully never about bitches, hoes, money, guns and widescreen TVs!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

We're there!

My wife Sarah can't wait!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Joe playing in the East Barnet Festival

Sarah took these photos of Joe's school jazz group playing - in case you can't tell they are doing their own arrangement of Herbie Hancock's Watermelon man - more like the one off "Head Hunters" rather than "Takin' Off".

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Pirate Bay

It's very amusing to follow the story of The Pirate Bay - one of the largest Bittorrent trackers on the internet. They are based in Sweden and it looks as if they really are operating entirely under local law. Hosting the torrent files is not akin to hosting copyright material and although you could argue that they are aiding in the commision of crime they aren't holding any copyright data themselves.
This reminded me of an arguement about MP3 that ran something like this; There is no MP3 file that ALWAYS corresponds with the "input" uncompressed audio. In fact, depending on how you set your codec (and the codec you used) there are an infinite number of possible MP3 file "outputs" from any give WAV "input" (or whatever source format you use) file. So it then appears that music companies are laying claim to having copyright to any possible permutations bits and bytes that make up any MP3 file because any combination could have been encoded from the data thy hold copyright on.
I'm being a bit obtuse - I appreciate that music is more than bits and bytes and pirating movies isn't really on. I suppose it just shows how copyright is playing catch-up with this online world that we live in. If you have a chance read the legal threats page on the Pirate Bay - they really are sticking two fingers up to Big Media! It's a funny read.
...Please sue me in Japan instead. I've always wanted to visit Tokyo.
Also, I'm running out of toilet paper, so please send lots of legal documents to our ISP - preferably printed on soft paper.
No, but seriously. That's simply not how international law enforcement works. Using the same logic, a country where web sites are forbidden could press charges against you for having one.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Alex's new baby

Good news - Alex and Danielle have given birth to a healthy baby girl - Saskia. If I show this to my Sarah she'll get broody......

Friday, June 23, 2006

Mark's show video

Tony keeping it real (as ever!)
My colleague Mark Lloyd made a stop-motion show reel for the Broadcast Live Show - it ran on a big screen on our stand and shows (amoungst other things) Tony, Stuart and I building the racks - it's seven minutes long and encoded as (wait for it!) DivX!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Linux, Windows & MacOS (2nd week with the Mac!) - Game development

If you have any interest in open source software (who which modern person isn't?!) then FLOSS weekly is a great podcast (part of the mighty Leo Leport's stable). This week's features Ryan Gordon who ports games across platforms (typically from Windows to Linux & MacOS) - he has some really interesting insights into the process of software development, particularly in reference to graphics APIs - Direct3D, OGL & SDL and how Vista will be much for OGL-centric. It reminded me of a video I saw on Channel 9 where they use Doom and then Quake as the test code for virtual machines.
Anyhow - here is a guy who knows each OS more intimately than most developers (he really has to get under he bonnet!) and his view is that each has good points and each has very bad points. I'm starting to realise that being a fan-boy for any OS (even Linux!) ain't useful. Having this little Macbook means I'm using OS-X a lot more (typically at the weekends, but having got VPN and an Exchange client working during the week as well) and perhaps getting good at many OSes can make me a better engineer - particularly where networks and SANs are concerned.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

TV Gamma curves

Got the following from Nick, one of my colleagues who is the lead developer on our ContentAgent machine;
Hi Phil,

Random question; but do you know anything about the maths for plotting gamma curves? I have to match the UI for gamma correction in the enclosed mock-up, but have no idea what equations are involved. Any ideas, or what web sites might help?


my reply;

I started composing a very confusing reply but thought that there would be a good Wikipedia page, and indeed there is!

In a nutshell the formula is;

Vout = Vin raised to the power of the reciprocal of the gamma value (typ. 2.2 for PAL) - this works for value between zero and one and I think most algorithms apply that and then scale to 8 bits (don't forget the offset of 16) or 10 bit (don't remember the offset!).


Monday, June 19, 2006

Cheeky cheeky!

I'm at a trade show and I noticed some naughty person who is using a laptop to try and capture logon details from unsuspecting WiFi users - what do you call a WiFi phishing attack? I often see these in Starbuck and the like - normally with an SSID like Starbucks_Free-WiFi!

Friday, June 16, 2006

Lets's talk legless

If you're at the Broadcast Live show next week in Earls Court make sure you swing by the Root6 stand and say hello - I'm currently pre-building the demo systems in the workshop and we have some good stuff this year - two types of fibre-SAN, several flavours of editing workstations (on both Mac & PC!) and Root6's legendary tech support and systems integration staff on hand.
Graham will also be demoing a Baselight-4 which always wows them. We have the new Blackboard control surface which is an amazing piece of equipment to see.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

My first week with the Mac.....

I thought I'd note down a few observations about the new laptop. I fully intend to use it in both Windows and OS-X modes and so far have been (mostly) pleased!
  • The keyboard looks very tacky but is in fact a joy to type on - much better than my old Dell.
  • Battery life is fine - under OS-X (with the proper power-management drivers) I get four hours of general stuff done, under Windows it's less - maybe two and a half.
  • Display - best image I've ever seen on a laptop, no question.
  • Weight - fine, a bit lighter than the Dell.
  • All of the built in gadgets (webcam, IR remote, audio etc.) work fine under OS-X but under Windows it's a bit of a different story. The webcam is absent and the audio is kinda incomplete. See this thread on - basically you get audio out of the built-in speaker and out of the headset jack, but plugging in your earbuds doesn't mute the speaker! The microphone doesn't work and plugging in a mic isn't there either. I suppose BootCamp is still very Beta, but they need to roll up some drivers for the gadgets to work under Windows. Actually you can make the audio to work - it involves lots of messing around with different versions of OEM drivers. I did it and eventually got it all as it should be but it left things a bit unstable with spurious error messages on boot-up. Your mileage may vary - see here. Because I Skype a lot I got one of these which works fine under Windows (and you can leave the music/radio-stream playing while you chat!).
So after a few days of fiddling around with audio drivers I also realised that my NTFS formatted Windows partition was on read-only in Mac land. My Mac HFS+ partition was invisible to Windows and so transfering files between OSes had to be done via a thumb-drive! So, I took the decision to repave the Windows partition. One thing I wished I'd realised was that it is ONLY BootCamp that can write a new master boot loader on the Windows partition. The procedure is to boot to OS-X and let BootCamp re-claim the space, re-partition and then let the system re-boot with the XP+SP2 CD in the drive. It took me a few times around the cycle (assuming I had a corrupt XP CD!) before it dawned on me.
So now I have a FAT32 Windows partition so I can read/write Excel files (for example) in both Mac & Windows.

A few things that make it easier;
  • KeyTweak allows you to re-map the break key on, say, the F12 key. Means you can do ctrl-alt-del when you need to!
  • is a Windows keyboard definition I brewed (I've rolled it with an MSI installer so you can put it on your machine easily). Out of the box Windows installs with a standard US keyboard which is fine bar the pound symbol (shift-3) which shows as a hash and it also has sticky-quotes, which I hate. My keyboard definition sorts both of those.
  • iMouse solves the single-button track-pad dilema - very good, although apparently these Macs actually have a rocker (it feeds like it has a left and right click) which will be livened up some time soon.
  • There is USB imaging device that although recognised isn't available under Windows - not a big deal but whenever software tries to touch it the machine blue-screens!
    I can only assume it's the built-in camera. When I let Skype try and pick it up the machine bombed spectacularly and if you leave Skype with video enabled it bombs on every re-boot! It's best to disable it from the device manager, perhaps BootCamp v.2 will have it working!
Now I'm no Mac fan-boy but I do like this machine - runs Windows well (about twice as quick at encoding DivX video than my 2.0Ghz Dell - the dual-core is a real step forward). Since we install so many machines running Final Cut and XSAN I really need to be on top of OS-X and this is a great way to immerse myself in it.
Finally - I was in the Apple Store here in London picking up a spare power-supply. The young chap who helped me was very good - I wish all retail outlets were that agreeable. Anyway - he was asking me what model I had etc. and when I mentioned it was my first Mac he stopped, touched me on the arm and said (in a very ernest tone);
Can I tell you, the feeling of excitement never quite goes away,
Dude, it's only a computer!
No, it's not only a computer.

I didn't have the heart to tell him that the first I did was install Windows, and Linux ain't far behind!