Friday, November 30, 2007

Resolution goes bust

It seems that every facility I've ever worked for has gone bankrupt! There is normally a few years separating my departure and their going under but the last facility I ran engineering at went under yesterday. Here is a nice picture of their OB truck and the last big project I did for them.
In this photo it is being crane'd into the premesis that was Fame Academy.

So, in reverse order;

  • Carlton (later Corinthian) Broadcast Facilities - my tenure; 1993/94, went bust; 2005
  • Oasis Television - my tenure; 1994/99, went bust; 2006
  • Resolution Post Group - my tenure; 1999/2002, went bust; 2007
So, Mr Facility Owner - don't employ Crawley if you value your business!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Analogue, non-GPS in-car navigation!

I've been so bad at blogging recently - mostly due to the pressure of work. By the time 22:00 comes around and I get home I'm in no mind to write blog entries. This is a pity because I've seen a lot of cool stuf recently. Anyways - this caught my eye on Digg and I did a bit more snooping around Honda's site.
The gas-rate gyro works by using the inertial force of gas to move straight, employing helium ejected from a nozzle and blown onto two heated wires. The unit determines directional changes by sensing the temperature differences between the two wires. Therefore, this type of gyro, which employed just eight parts, was a very appealing candidate. However, it was not very accurate, and the zero point was often impossible to locate precisely. It was a problem for the development staff, but further study nevertheless identified certain benefits. As a result, the staff continued its research, hoping to develop a system that would offer reliable control, although within a limited range, along with constant zero correction.

It makes the achievement of affordable GPS receivers seem not such a great milestone!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

DataCentre Design & Build

I went to a very good lecture at my institute last night - here are some of the things that struck me;

  • UK data-centres currently consume about 4% of the electricity generated in this country. This is set to rise to 7% by 2010 and then about one percent per year on current rates of growth.
  • If you look at a kW-hour as generated and measure how much of that makes it to the processor you see that there are modest losses in transmission and sub-stations, but by the gates of the data-centre you still have 80%. However, once you've gone through distribution and (particularly) UPSes and then the mass-market PSUs that most servers still ship with you are down to about 10% of original power by the time you get to the motherboard.
  • Virtualisation hasn't yet penetrated into UK data-centres as much as it should have - this is particularly important because the average server is typically consuming only 15% of processor cycles. I did write about VM Ware previously.
  • Having spent time at VNSL's data-centre in Stratford a few days recently I've been thinking about efficiently those guys do cooling and power-distribution - see previous post here.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Operation Christmas Child

This is an old post from a couple of years ago - but I thought it was important to re-blog it.

Despite what you may have read in The Guardian from last year these guys do a tremendous thing every Christmas. More importantly they give normal people the chance to be involved in something special. A couple of years back a friend was a volunteer driver for them and worked in an orphanage in the Czech Republic in the run-up to Christmas. He was profoundly touched by the experience and couldn't even see where the cynical white middle-class liberal (with a small L!) press had got their info from. Still, if you've got nothing honorable in your own soul it's hard to recognize selflessness in others - you just assume they have ulterior motives.
There is an anti-American undercurrent in the newspapers aimed at the chattering classes and I don't like it. Every American I've met (here and in the States) has been an entirely reasonable person. Surely you can hold a view that you dissapprove of Bush and the war and yet still feel affectionate towards normal Americans.
Anyhow - it's not too late - the couple of hours it'll take you to fill a shoebox with some goodies (and maybe £10 out of your Christmas budget) will be time and cash better spent than you'll ever realise.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Data Centre wiring

All of last week we were integrating a set of server cabinets for Dataupia and yesterday I took two of the wiremen to the data centre in East London where the service was to be housed. We spent the day finishing the install and during several of the hurry-up-and-wait periods I chatted a bit with one of the admins there. They host for several large corporates including a well known search engine and their machine room is enormous. I thought I'd seen big machine rooms in TV facilities but even the mighty Red Bee looks small compared to this! They have four diverse power feeds (from different providers) and four separate incoming fibre sets (again, totally diverse). I had a good look around and here are a few observations;

  • All the power (16A and 32A feeds, terminating in the cabinets in C-form ends) starts in the mains room on Powerconn connectors - supposedly because those connectors lock - unusual.
  • Despite every bit of equipment having a switch mode supply (and hence being an inductive load) every MCB in the mains room was C-rated and double the required capacity (C32s for the 16A circuits etc.) - I'm sure using correctly rated D-breakers would be better from a safety and reliability point of view.
  • Air conditioning was via the floor - cool air forced out of the raised floor void and warm air extracted from above. Given that all kit draws air in from the front and cold air is heavier than warm air I'd have thought the TV practice of dropping cold air down the front of the bays was a better configuration.
  • All of the techs and admins who saw Clyde and Linus at work marvelled at the numbered cables and the fact that all our cat6 was cut to exact length - I can't believe the entire internet runs of pre-made patch cords!
  • Al the fibre I saw was tight-buffered OM1 run in Copex - what technical reason is there for that? Have they never heard of loose-tube cable?!

So all in all an interesting day - I was gratified that the way we build machine rooms in TV seems more sensible than these guys (and I'm assuming this is a tier-one provider). With all this in mind I signed up for the following at my institute. If you're interested drop me a line and come next Tuesday;

IET London, Hammersmith Section
20th November 2007 - DataCentre Design & Build
Talk by Mike Stokes of Symantec

Mike Stokes leads the data centre consulting practice for Symantec in the UK. He has over 10 years experience in guiding clients in the definition of how to meet their requirements for data centre capacity covering capacity planning, technical specification, project definition, financial analysis and business justifications.

His talk will cover the common difficulties being currently being experienced by many companies in deciding how to provide adequate space, power supply, connectivity and cooling on a 10+ year planning horizon, for IT architectures that have been changing dramatically every three to five years, a trend which is only expected to accelerate.

This subject should have something of interest for all IT Professionals, IET engineers and managers of IT operations.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Spoof iPhone commercial

Graham (who keeps his podrush blog) told me of the bizzare whooping and cheering he was subjected to when he entered the Apple store on Regent Street on the day the iPhone launched here in London. Rupert put me onto this - made me laugh.

MurrayPro's new SD/HD cage

The reason I always liked using MurrayPro gear is that it comes from a small English company where you can talk to the designer if you need to - Tony has helped me out on numerous occasions when I've needed advice on fixing a piece of his kit or mod'ing it for some other purpose.
His cages have always been very useful - the Cage2K which has been around for the best part of ten years has the superb feature of actually labelling each page of cursors. It's so useful to see in small, discrete text shoot 16x9, protect 14x9 (or whatever).
This is his new product - I include a screenshot of the magazine advert. It launches after Christmas but I may well have an advanced one to use on an upcoming job.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Two interesting things today

Brooks's Law
Brooks's law was stated by Fred Brooks in his 1975 book The Mythical Man-Month as "Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later." Likewise, Brooks memorably stated "The bearing of a child takes nine months, no matter how many women are assigned."

Stupid Filter
StupidFilter was conceived out of necessity. Too long have we suffered in silence under the tyranny of idiocy. In the beginning, the internet was a place where one could communicate intelligently with similarly erudite people. Then, Eternal September hit and we were lost in the noise. The advent of user-driven web content has compounded the matter yet further, straining our tolerance to the breaking point.

Thanks Matt!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Ben Brown leaves me crazy voice-mails - there are a few others! here and here.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Solid state laptops and all that

Watch this episode of Unwired from my mucker Wil Harris;

That caught my eye on Saturday morning while I was sitting around in my dressing gown and catching up on video podcasts. I was so turned onto the idea that I've decided that by hook or by crook I shall get one of these bad boys to play with. It really reminded me of my old Jornada 820 which was excellent as an email/Excel/Word machine.
Anyhow - with that in mind I noticed that Uruguay has ordered 100,000 OLPC machines. The market for small, embedded, task-specific robust devices is getting more interesting.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Visit to Probel in Reading

Simon and I had a day at Probel in Reading to learn about configuring and programming the Sirius router range - we're putting in a 128x128 HD-SDi (with RS422 level as well) at Channel Five and we'll have to do the detailed config before we hand over. I am very familiar with Quartz routers (using their WinSetup tools) but Probel's Nebula tools are new to me. The current version specifically supports;
  • Support for Sirius 256 routers.
  • Dual output mode. This marries two outputs together to provide redundancy. These are in groups of eight; i.e. outputs 1 to 8 are the first output of destinations 1 to 8, outputs 9 to 16 are the second outputs of destinations 1 to 8. Outputs 17 to 24 are the first outputs of destinations 9 to 16, outputs 25 to 32 are the second outputs of destinations 9 to 16, etc.
  • A source can now be set to one of three trigger methods, 625 PAL, 525 NTSC, and HD.
  • Selection of either Field or Frame switching for each of the reference types.
  • The facility to convert Router/Freeway databases to a Nebula database is included in the Nebula Editor. The database must already be on the editor PC (it’s usually called curr_sys.fr1). The user then clicks “File”, “Convert database”, and selects the database to convert to Nebula format. This is saved with a “.ne1” file extension.

The hardware seems rock-solid but the software seems a tad old! When you programme the button panels you don't have the luxary of defining the inputs (example, VTR1 -> VTR9), the output and then just nominate a VTR button on the panel - no - you have to define a VTR button an then define every possible sequence of keypresses and what sources (and then after that destinations!) they refer to. Quartz make it a lot easier!
The Aurora distributed control system (which we haven't bought for Five) allows you to tie many panels to multiple routers and monitor the whole shooting match in a very complete way.
Having avoided Probel (really since I left the Beeb in '92) preferring Quartz for ease of setup and economy I think I'm having to re-visit my prejudices.