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!