Saturday, June 30, 2007

Something to look forward to....

In 2000 the Sunday Times newspaper identified 85,000 Elvis impersonators, compared with just 150 in 1977, the year he died. The report goes on to state that "if growth continues at the same rate, one third of the world will be impersonating Elvis by the year 2019".

Friday, June 29, 2007

Bill Mallonee has a new record out

If you know me you'll have heard me bang on about Bill Mallonee (and before that his band - the Vigilantes of Love). Bill (and his lovely wife Muriah Rose) played an intimate gig at my house last October for about thirty friends and he is never less than superb. The human spirit and bleak experience that drips from every song is unique and you could do a lot worse than to download Circa - the new album. You can also catch any of his old CDs - some as a two-for-one deal if you download.

Here is a posting I noticed via MySpace - it sums my thoughts up perfectly;
About twelve years ago, I discovered the music of Bill Mallonee and the Vigilantes of Love through word of mouth. Starting in Athens, Georgia in the early 90's, the music has had overwhelming roots in americana with dabbles in brit-pop, and mass, critical acclaim without much commercial success at all. Mallonee himself - now in his early 50's - has said that record executives have told him, "This is what I listen to when I'm off the clock", and "I love the stuff, but I can't sell it."

These days, the "Vigilantes of Love" moniker has been dropped in favor of the simple and solo, "Bill Mallonee", which is truer to what the music is as Mallonee has been the sole, stable member and songwriter since the beginning. I've had the pleasure of seeing him live about ten times (and even sharing a beer or two) over the years - sometimes with a full band, sometimes with just a second guitarist, and most recently with an accompanying piano player. Each setting has brought out different aspects of the performance while being consistently phenomenal in it's intimacy.

His perseverance has cost him over the years, as spending time away form his family to tour for most of the year, and financing new albums on credit cards (and now, pre-orders by loyal fans) often does. Through all this, though, he's still the type of artist willing to give away his music for free to those willing to listen.

Tonite I received a message on my myspace bulletin board stating that through Mallonee's myspace page (www.myspace/billmallonee) you could download four tracks for free, as well as go to his online store ( and get two full albums for free (one needs to be downloaded track by track, the other is free with purchase of another album - a two for one deal.)

It's great news for those of us living in an age where a CD of new music costs anywhere from twelve to twenty dollars a pop, yet for an artist who has been putting out records year after year with little or no commercial success for near twenty years, one has to wonder what the repercussions for such a bold move may be.

Some of you who know me well know that I've worked in customer service for over ten years now, but through it all, one thing I was never good at was feeding a bullshit line to make a sale and Im not about to start now.

I'm posting this to you, my friends, to tell you about the music of Bill Mallonee - a man I've met, corresponded, bonded, and shared drinks with. He's a good man witha kind heart who I hope to one day get the chance to perform alongside. If you enjoy music with roots in americana (i.e. - country, bluegrass and folk) with dabbles in brit-pop, and have ten bucks to spare, I implore you to go to his online store and pick up a copy of any of his records (I recommend 1998's To The Roof of The Sky, 1999's Audible Sigh, or 2004's Dear Life...). You'll get The Peter Buck (guitarist for R.E.M.) produced Killing Floor for free, and be able to download the brit-pop influenced album Summershine for free to hold you over until your two discs arrive.

That's three CD's of music you've probably never heard, and that has more soul and diligence than a lot of what's being pushed to the masses today, for ten bucks that goes directly to the artist.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Images from Corner Post

These are some pics from the job we did for The Farm Group back in March - you can see the VTR pods with the mil-spec multi-pin connectors for rapid swap out and the custom desk panels for quick connection to the back of the workstation - FireWire, USB, unbalanced audio etc.
We built ten rooms like this with Tony pre-fab'ing all the looms at the workshop and we deployed it all and had it tested in a week.

Something to look forward to....

In 2000 the Sunday Times newspaper identified 85,000 Elvis impersonators, compared with just 150 in 1977, the year he died. The report goes on to state that "if growth continues at the same rate, one third of the world will be impersonating Elvis by the year 2019".

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Big goal-keeper hands!

We know that Apple like to play fast and loose with the facts when they advertise things - rememeber when the G5 launched as the first 64-bit desktop computer and the fastest computer in the world for under $10k! But I really chuckled when I saw the new iPhone page - they are using a model with much larger hands to imply the thing is smaller than it really is!
So, here's a question - what kind of trickery could make the battery seem to last longer than ninety minutes?!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The wisdom of comrade Alexie Sayle

Garibaldi, Italian revolutionary, ends up as a kind of biscuit. It's quite interesting, you know, the number of biscuits that are named after revolutionaries.
You've got your Garibaldi, of course, you've got your Bourbons, then of course you've got your Peek Freens Trotsky Assortment.

"Revolutionary biscuits of Italy
Rise up out of your box!
You have nothing to lose but your wafers
Yum yum yum yum yum!

Monday, June 18, 2007

2nd o/p of MacPro display cards

We're exhibiting at Broadcast Live! and whilst setting up the equipment I had real difficulty getting a MacPro to feed a 23" cinema display - actually because it was a 7.5m DVI cable I'd stuck a DVI DA just before the monitor (Apple displays are very fussy about long cables - much more so than Dell/HP/Acer etc. - but hey, they're design classics darling so why conform to the standards?!) and would occasionally see a flash of the OS-X logon screen but v.unreliable. I knew the DA was OK having checked it on an HP8400 workstation and it wasn't until Graham reminded me of the problem I had at The Joint back in January (link in the title of this post) that I thought to try output two of the card - all good! It turns out the DVI DA doesn't return correct DDC data and so XFree86 (as implemented in OS-X) does funny things.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The how and why of COFDM

Coded Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (COFDM) is a form of modulation which is particularly well-suited to the needs of the terrestrial broadcasting channel. COFDM can cope with high levels of multipath propagation, with a wide spread of delays between the received signals. This leads to the concept of single-frequency networks in which many transmitters send the same signal on the same frequency, generating “artificial multipath”. COFDM also copes well with co-channel narrowband interference, as may be caused by the carriers of existing analogue services.

This is a very well written explanation of COFDM (as used in both digital terrestrial television and digital radio in the UK) - the workings of the multi-carrier system was something that I never really understood but this opened my eyes (did you realise that every DVB-T mux uses more than 6,000 carriers!). Recently I was explaining to someone how Viterbei decoders work (with particular reference to Digital Betacam VTRs) - again, I didn't realise that COFDM uses a modified Viterbei decoder (the 'soft viterbei decoder').
I wish I hadn't specialised in post-production so early as there are many things the the broadcast chain that I'm rusty/ignorant of.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I own a BVW-75P!

Oasis Television are ripping out and starting again and sending a load of their old gear to the dealers and/or skip! They have generously donated me a BetaSP player/recorder - it's one of the ones I looked after during my tenure there (1994-99) and so is an old friend!
The BVW-75P was the first piece of broadcast equipment I got to know very well. During my time in post-production maintenance at the Beeb it ranked with the Questech Charisma and Quantel Paintbox as a device that I could do anything on - I changed more than a hundred head-drums whilst in VTR maintenance and really understood all the workings of it. At the time I promised myself that I'd have one eventually just as a souvenir of what TV engineering used to be. Stripping down and re-building the t-drawer arm assembly is good for the soul!
This one is actually an Ampex-badged one (CVR-75) but it has the more recent board-set; the TBC-12 timebase corrector and the DEC-45 composite decoder.
I am very happy!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Monday, June 11, 2007

Broadwave streaming server

I had a need to set up a streaming server for spoken content and since I'd previously done lots of work with RealMedia I checked that out first (if it's OK for the Beeb...!). I'd set up the streaming servers for the first couple of years of Big Brother (when the G2 version was considered clever) - but now it's all Helix servers and the the old NT4 version wouldn't play nicely on the box I was trying it on and the prices have gone UP! 400 streams costs you around $22k in licensing. I only need a few dozen streams and so I looked at Broadwave - this is largely agnostic, negatiating with the browser what codec to serve up. It works very well and starts with Windows Media 9 and tries WM7 and then streamed MP3. There can't be many client machines that can't handle one of those!
The only caveat on the free version is 50-streams and a little logo on playback - that's just fine and doing the business where I needed it.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Pant-wettingly-funny audio

Here are a couple of half-hour recordings I came across from years ago - they still make me laugh heartily and so I share them (as MP3 format files) for your pleasure.

  • The Quanicles from Michael Biggins - bear in mind that four of the voices are one guy! Even better than the Jerky Boys;
    In this epic series of calls that lasted an entire evening, I play 4 different characters; John Dandell (who is once again in action as a police officer who works specifically for a telephone company), the operator - Joana, the ancient ninja master - master Shreddar (known though out these calls as... the voice.), and the 15 year old - Matt Cheddar. Poor Quan has no idea I am doing all the voices and truly believes that all of these people are real (except for the voice of master Sheddar, who he thinks is Matt) and will do anything to convince the cop (John Dandell) that Matt Cheddar (the teenage mutant ninja turtles fan) is crank calling him. To make things even funnier, I even let one of the characters I am doing, Joana (the operator), side with Quan.

    Just over half an hour long, download here.

  • Robin Williams on Steve Wright (Radio 1 from 10th May 1989) - back them Williams was the king of improv. I've cut the music but left in the bumpers and stings so you can remember how the late eighties sounded! Get it here - listen for the Jimmy Swaggart references.

Friday, June 08, 2007


Good news everyone! I have seen the future and it runs OneFS. Yesterday I had one of those Bruce Springsteen moments as Rupert and Rob Anderson (from Isilon) took me through the configuration and operation of their distributed storage system.

The Isilon IQ clustered storage product line addresses enterprises' full spectrum of storage needs - from the highest performance Tier-1 applications to Tier-2 enterprise archive, disk-to-disk backup and disaster recovery. Powered by OneFS, the Isilon IQ family of products creates a single pool of expandable storage that is easy to install and grow - once racked, a 10, 50 or 100+ terabyte cluster takes less than 10 minutes to configure and set up, and capacity can be added on the fly in less than 60 seconds with no downtime.

Their OneFS file-system is distributed across as many nodes as you have and regardless of model (the baby 200 model that has only gig ethernet) or the larger infiniband attached nodes you really can expand and contract the storage pool on the fly and without having to re-format to mount new partitions etc. I imagine this is the kind of technology that makes data centres run smoothly. Yesterday I was able to build a 3 x 2 Terrabyte cluster in a matter of minutes, upgrade the software running on the nodes by upgrading one node only (the OS which is FreeBSD runs on the distributed filing system as well) and then attach a fourth node that was running a previous version of the OS and have it upgrade itself. All this happened while the storage was active and being used and the client workstations didn't see any loss of space or loss of performance! When you compare it to other NAS or SAN solutions it is truly miraculous.
In terms of performance it currently connects to the workstations over gigabit ethernet but they are promising faster connectivity. Traditional performance bottlenecks are addressed by including an IQ Accelerator in you configuration - this essentially gives you a bigger in-road to the storage;
Isilon IQ Accelerators automatically join an Isilon IQ storage cluster in less than 15 seconds and add processing power, memory, bandwidth, and parallel read and write access to a single file system and fully symmetric storage cluster. This is in stark contrast to the limitations of traditional storage and namespace aggregation technologies that require customers to add expensive file server heads and disparate devices to increase performance. These legacy approaches are difficult to manage and fail to aggregate total throughput across a unified storage system.

So, you have a storage pool accessible by a single attachment point which can grow infinitely without the usual performance hit as the filesystem has to address multiple virtualised pools.
I am so impressed - watch this space!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

How Avid differs from all other broadcast manufacturers

Avid have this get out of gaol card they play often - it's called the ¨..that's not a supported configuration¨ reason. They play it whenever their badly implemented version of an industry-wide standard doesn't play nicely with other equipment. The first time I came across it was the way they do P2 protocol over RS422 on the ABVB-based Mac systems. I was working at Oasis TV back in 1996 when we started to hook original D5 machines (the Panasonic AJ-D580) up to 9500-based V.7 Avids. We noticed that when capturing the deck would often take off in the wrong direction and then reverse and pre-roll correctly. Often laybacks would fail or be a frame late. Eventually I borrowed a serial sniffer and stuck it across the RS422 out of the Avid and discovered the following.

  • The Avid rarely issued commands in the 17-line window after the start of frame that P2 demands. Consequently the deck would queue the command and ignore it for a frame.

  • The Avid would sometimes issue the pre-roll command before it loaded the counter - the poor old VTR would take off on the pre-roll only to realise that it was going in the wrong direction.
So, a broadcast grade VTR that conforms to every relevent standard doesn't play nicely with Avid's sloppy implmentation of an existing standard and their justification is that "'s an unsupported configuration"!
I've just put in a couple of machines that rely on an outboard FireWire switcher. I would have sworn it was the switcher that was at fault but I had a Root6 ContentAgent to test the various ports with the VTRs. The Avid Mojos will drop the feed if you do anything with the switcher (like make another route!) and you have to re-launch Media Composer. It makes using FireWire decks a real pain and I didn't realise Mojos were so problematic until Graham sent me the following;
This just mirrors my experiences...
Firewire switches, hubs and splitters don’t work CONSISTENTLY. They just don’t. Firewire patchbays and good quality extenders DO.
I have tested half a dozen of these things and they just don’t work without a reboot, a reset, and a mess around.

The same can be said of SCSI, Fibre Channel, and even the way they handle the PCI bus - see a previous post here for details of their half-arsed ADAT implmentation.
Now, if a Sony VTR refused to record a standard PAL signal or a Grass Valley mixer wouldn't derive a key from an SDi feed then they would sort it out - I never heard the phrase ¨...I'm sorry, that's not a supported configuration¨ until Avid came on the scene!