Friday, December 26, 2008

Channel Four - a mouthpiece for hatred

In keeping with being the 'stylish' face of UK terrestrial television Channel Four has given over it's Christmas message to Iran's president;

...a Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokeswoman said: "President Ahmadinejad has during his time in office made a series of appalling anti-Semitic statements.

"The British media are rightly free to make their own editorial choices, but this invitation will cause offence and bemusement not just at home but amongst friendly countries abroad."

Labour MP Louise Ellman, chairwoman of the Labour Jewish Movement, said: "I condemn Channel 4's decision to give an unchallenged platform to a dangerous fanatic who denies the Holocaust, while preparing for another, and claims homosexuality does not exist while his regime hangs gay young men from cranes in the street.

"Who will deliver next year's alternative Christmas message? Will it be David Irving or Robert Mugabe?"

Conservative MP Mark Pritchard, a member of the Commons all-party media group, said: "Channel 4 has given a platform to a man who wants to annihilate Israel and continues to persecute Christians at Christmas time.
"This raises serious questions about whether Channel 4 should receive an increased public subsidy for their programmes."

Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor said: "In Iran, converts to Christianity face the death penalty.

"It is perverse that this despot is allowed to speculate on the views of Jesus, while his government leads Christ's followers to the gallows."

He said Channel 4's decision to broadcast the message was a "scandal and a national embarrassment" and in "its search for ratings and shock factor, Channel 4 had lost its ethical way".

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell joined the attack, calling the president a "criminal despot, who ranks with Robert Mugabe, Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and the Burmese military junta as one of the world's most bloody tyrants".

Channel Four's F***-You attitude is amusing when it's to do with their own chav/celeb offerings (Big Brother etc.) but I really hope this puts pay to them getting their hands on any of the license fee. I'll be annoyed if that mob in Horseferry Road get any of the money I happily pay every year for the Beeb.

Friday, December 19, 2008

WFM7100 screen grabs

I'm currently prep'ing some training notes for video, audio & QC test and measurement. I've often said it, but Tektronix really are the best-of-breed for television signal monitoring. People only buy Hamlet, Harris, Videotek etc. because they won't stretch to a Tek.
So, here are some screen grabs - handsome!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas 2008 family newsletter

The Guardian's Simon Hoggart lists the seven sins of writing a round-robin newsletter;

...including boastfulness (dazzlingly clever children who play the saxophone and ski for Britain); smugness (their job, their house, their holidays are all perfect); tiny-mindedness (do we really need to be told how to start a jigsaw by looking for the straight bits?); whimsy (letters written by pets or babies); and the dreaded over-sharing, in which every illness and operation is described in minute, unwanted detail.

I hope we've avoided that and manage to raise a smile (Sarah is going to be a stand-up when we're done with all this parenting).

do a right-click save on the link - my server is not doing MIME type properly

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The 'amazing'(!) Shakti Electromagnetic Stabaliser

Having offered my beloved Harbeth speakers for sale (lots of interest so far!) I came across this bit of nonsense online. Audiophiles really are gullible fools with too much money to spend.

SHAKTI Noise Reduction Technology (NRT) absorbs and dissipates Electromagnetic Interference (EMI). Automotive Computers (ECUs) and audio/video components self generate a radiated EMI field that degrades signal transfer functions. The word SHAKTI means "energy." Through an energy conversion, inductive coupling process, the "antenna-like" circuits within SHAKTI attract and then resistively convert EMI to non-interfering heat.

The upshot is - pop one of these bad-boys on top of your amplifier and it will sound better! They even do little ones to sit on top of your speaker cables. They even claim that strapping one to your engine management module will make your car go faster! I emailed them to suggest that a few stuck on top of the UN building in New York would do wonders for world peace.

But wait - they have an even greater innovation - The Hallograph;
The Hallograph Soundfield Optimizer consists of two arrays that are easily placed behind each speaker near the corners of the backwall. Each array is engineered with proprietary technology (patent pending) and made with exotic hardwoods, consisting of staggered activated panels that are mounted on an elegant base that beautifully blends into any style room environment.

That's £1000 a pair to you chief!

Friday, December 12, 2008

For sale: Harbeth Monitor 30 (Active) loudspeakers

These are a pair of Harbeth Monitor 30 Active loudspeakers (Eucalyptus finish).
I have owned them for six years but for the last four they have been in storage. I ran them up last weekend and listened to a favorite CD and they still sound lovely. The cones are undamaged and the cabinets have a couple of suffs/scratches but otherwise are fine.
The Active variant is reasonably rare as most people bought the passive model. They have balanced and unbalanced inputs and the internal amps are matched to the speakers. If you've ever worked in radio or TV they are a badged version of the Rogers LS5/9 which you see all over the BBC.
It breaks my heart to let them go but space/family/time means I don't give them the attention they deserve!
The link in the title is to the page on eBay.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

DriverBackup v.2 is out

This is a sweet little utility that takes a snapshot of the drivers on a Windows system - XP & Vista in 32 & 64bit flavours. It makes an archive backup of all the driver files and then when you repave the machine you just need to re-install DriverBackup and point it at the archive (which you hopefully backed-up to a CD/USB-stick etc!). Then, one re-boot later and no yellow question marks in device manager!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Optical cabling - advice to customers

I'm not blogging much at the moment - lot on. However - this is what we're advising customers who don't use us fot their fibres;

  • Grade of cable - All current models of film and video SANs make use of multimode connection. OM1 cable is still the preferred grade (62.5 micron VCSEL-optimised glass in accordance with ISO-11801) and since current configurations are 4 gigabit (moving to 8 gigabit) more attention needs to paid to circuit loss than 1 gigabit (the standard when OM1 was introduced). OM2 and OM3 cable is still unsuitable because of the 2.5dBs of loss when going between dissimilar core sizes (62.5 vs 50 microns). This is a function of current host-bus adaptors rather than the response of the cable.
  • Bandwidth - Whereas 1 gigabit traffic will tolerate up to 8dBs of loss we are now dealing with SANs that demand at least two octaves more bandwidth and so best practise says that we now expect no more than 3dBs of loss on a SAN circuit.
  • Style of cable - Although tight-buffered cable is easy to install it is never optimal for long runs. For interconnection between equipment within a cabinet it is appropriate and between cabinets if run in protection – Copex etc. For inter-area runs a loose-tube cable is the best solution as it is an order of magnitude more robust and although has an slightly larger install-time cost has a much lower TCO.
  • Connectors - All contemporary host-bus adaptors and fibre-switches terminate runs in the LC connector. If existing cables are terminated in legacy SC or ST connectors they should either be re-terminated or re-run as adaptors introduce signal loss. SC or ST patch panels are fine so long as run-out cables are SC-LC (to equipment) as appropriate.
  • Testing – We will ascertain if circuits are suitable for proposed SAN deployment by illuminating them with a calibrated laser tester (850nM wavelength, -19dB(m) signal) and measuring circuit loss – these results will be provided to the customer.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Modern Cryptography

AES, RSA, and Rijndael - if these mean nothing to you then you're clearly not interested in cryptography. If that's the case why are you reading this blog?!
Anyhow - if your an engineer of any kind in this modern world then there are certain things you should have at least a passing familiarity with - how TCP/IP works is another one.
The best primer I've ever come across is episode 31-37 of Steve Gibson's Security Now podcast go from symmetric stream ciphers (the Enigma Machine being a prime example) through to current state-of-the-art methods. It's very listenable and so if you have a spare eight hours (ideal on the commute) you should check out those podcasts from a couple of years ago - link in the title.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Shield, end of season

Episode 13 of Season 7 was one of the best and most dramatic hours of television I've ever seen. I've been following it since the first year and it is the only cop show that has never lost it's dramatic tension and has never indulged in 'character development' episodes. Compared to the various CSI variants (which I like for different reasons) it shines.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


I am so far behind what the kids are listening to but after hearing this blaring out of my eldest two's bedrooms and iPods I thought I'd check it out.
I'd had a vague interest in some of the more intelligent hip-hop from the early nineties - Jungle Brother, Tribe called Quest, De La Soul etc. but most modern hip-hop leaves me cold. It seems like all the things I ranted about as a teenager - materialism, violence, mysogyny, and hatred are all required elements for the modern rapper. I found this in a paper by Darren Rhym of The Department of English of The University of Georgia;

In the end, this whole argument boils down to the fact that misogyny is ingrained into our culture and we allow it. We buy CDs and go to concerts where gangsta rappers call black women "bitches" and "hos." It is not just black women who are victimized. Since gangsta rappers disrespect our mothers, sisters, and daughters, every black man is a victim.

Excuses -- "I like the beat," "I don't listen to the words," and "They are only referring to certain types of women" -- are not acceptable. When gangsta rappers disrespect men and women and preach violence and hate to us, we must reject their messages. We cannot buy their CDs, albums, or tapes, or attend their concerts, or appear in their videos, or even support record labels or radio or television stations that advocate gangsta rap in any way. Malcolm X used to preach about the ills of airing "dirty laundry," and that is what gangsta rappers do when they disrespect black women in rap songs.

Rap is not just music; it is our African-American culture. It is the way we blacks perceive ourselves, and the way we are perceived by the world. The content of gangsta rap music in its current form is unacceptable. It cannot and should not be tolerated by anyone.

He should check out Flobots album - not only is it intelligent non-hate-filled lyrics but they are musically an order of magnitude more interesting that Dr Dre et al. Real drums with guitars and even jazz-influenced arrangements. Currently what's on my MP3 player.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Jailbreaking / unlocking iPhone for v2.2 f/ware

If you have a first gen iPhone and it's at v2.02 (at least) you can proceed to doing an iTunes upgrade without fear - the radio firmware isn't changed but apparently battery life and stability are improved (so Joe, my fifteen year-old tells me!)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday thoughts

I was out at Pinewood Studios on Wednesday doing some final work in a grading theater - Brian kindly brought me a good cup of brewed coffee (it was around 11:30am and it was my fifth cup of brewed coffee) and it left me feeling very jittery! Consequently I've decided to cut down on the coffee and I only drank tea yesterday - I felt a lot better by the end of the day and I have a feeling I slept better. The problem is I like coffee so much!

Parallels version four is out and I installed it yesterday - very good, a bit faster on the screen handling and startup/close-down of the virtual machine (XP SP3 on Leopard) was a lot faster. Simon didn't find it so good though on his MacBook. It tried to convert the v.3 VM but it failed - however, re-creating a BootCamp VM is trivial.

Good TV - There seems to be a load of good tele at the moment - Lead Balloon (Jack Dee's sitcom) - currently BBC2 are showing season 3 (it used to be a BBC4 show). Outnumbered - BBC1's (again, from BBC4) is hilarious. Little Dorrit - the BBC does a superb job of Dickens again. Star Wars:Clone Wars the animated series - Cartoon Network are showing the latest itteration of that franchise. Mythbusters - fantastic family tele. The Shield - series 7 on FX is the best yet and very exciting.

10mBit broadband - I recently got upgraded and although Virgin Media are hopeless when things go wrong I'm loving being able to torrent an episode of something that aired in the US last night at 3 minutes per half-hour of TV!

Monday, November 17, 2008

I wish I had the nerve...!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Inductive loads and power correction

The power factor of an AC electric power system is defined as the ratio of the real power to the apparent power, and is a number between 0 and 1 (frequently expressed as a percentage, e.g. 0.5 pf = 50% pf). Real power is the capacity of the circuit for performing work in a particular time. Apparent power is the product of the current and voltage of the circuit. Due to energy stored in the load and returned to the source, or due to a non-linear load that distorts the wave shape of the current drawn from the source, the apparent power can be greater than the real power.
In an electric power system, a load with low power factor draws more current than a load with a high power factor, for the same amount of useful power transferred. The higher currents increase the energy lost in the distribution system, and require larger wires and other equipment. Because of the costs of larger equipment and wasted energy, electrical utilities will usually charge a higher cost to industrial or commercial customers where there is a low power factor.

Thinking about power-factors all came from various discussions with the wiremen and engineers whilst working on site over the last couple of weeks - In the case of the kind of builds we do we always ask customers to provide a power supply with inductive rated breakers. This is from our standard Scope Of Works document;

The equipment cabinets will be wired with 14-way IEC mains distribution units. Every circuit is fuse-protected and the mains input is terminated in a 16A C-Form connector (AKA a ‘Commando’ plug) – Root6 requirement is that the client’s electrician provides a separate spur connection for each bay and all feeds are provided via a D-rated 16A MCB. We recommend the area is protected by an Earth Leakage Breaker. We will test all mains installs in accordance with edition 4 of the 16th ed. IEE regulations using a standard suite of PAT tests.

We've fallen foul of a customer who didn't pass this on to their electrician and we've been battling with B-Rated (i.e. resistive-load) breakers not being able to hold an 16A circuit to a bay full of switch-mode power-supplies (i.e. all modern broadcast equipment!). When a strongly inductive load such as a switch-mode/resonant-mode power supply is switched on input surge current which may be several times larger than the steady current flows. It's also why the mains in Soho is nearly a square-wave - all those odd-order harmonics being dumped back out onto the incoming supply.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The idiots have won!

Charlie Brooker's Nathan Barley is still one of the funniest things ever on TV - I know 'cause I deal with a lot of those people - Meeja Fools!

Once the idiots were just the fools gaping in through the windows, now they have entered the building. You can hear them everywhere, they use the word cool, it is their favourite word, the idiot doesn't think about what he is saying, thinking is rubbish and rubbish isn't cool...... Stuff and shit is cool. The idiots are self regarding, consumer slaves. Oblivious to the paradox of their uniform individuality, they sculpt their hair to casual perfection, they wear their waist bands below their balls, and they babble in to handheld twit machines about that cool email of a woman being bummed by a wolf.... their cool friend made it, he’s an idiot too. Welcome to the age of stupidity, hail the rise of the idiot.

Those two fine examples of humanity - Jonathon Ross and the other guy are in trouble for reverting to type on Radio 2. But, imagine my suprise when I was in the newsagents to buy a bag of crisps and I saw this cover of a lads mag - the young woman in the centre of the whole debacle with her kit off - the idiots have won!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Fridge-freezer mains earth defrosting connundrum!

I have an upright fridge-freezer in my kitchen and about a year ago I moved it to clean underneath. Since then every month I've had to defrost it (despite it being a frost-free model) and was getting ready to maybe replace it. However, three months ago I noticed that the extension cable that powers it (from a socket in the lader) had been tugged (I assume when I moved it out to clean) and on further inspection the mains earth had come out in the trailing MK13 socket on the end of the extension. I re-wired it and since then the thing hasn't frosted up once!
I'm at a loss - how does the presence (or not) of a mains safety earth cause this behavior? What about those countries that don't have an earth?

If you've got a thought then I love to hear it - have a party in the comments!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Trying to get enthused!

Despite my first weekend since August when I did no work between Friday tea time and Monday I don't feel very enthusiastic about broadcast engineering - I hoped I'd be refreshed and full of beans but I'm a bit flat. Hopefully the following lecture at the IET will perk me up!
The Beijing games were the biggest and best ever. Paul Mason of BBC Television will describe the technical challenges of delivering multi-media coverage from dozens of venues from the other side of the world. He will cover the planning and technical operation of the Games, including both the Host Broadcaster and BBC operations

I can take guests so if you want to go let me know.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

New York tests analogue shut-off

New York City over-the-air analog TV stations went dark for two minutes yesterday. The prescheduled test gave a temporary taste of what's planned when the stations permanently pull the analog plug on February 17, 2009.

My DVB-T television (which runs Linux!) needed a first birthday the other day (the DVB decoder temporarily went AWOL) and so for a day I was watching composite analogue signals from Crystal Palace. I have to say that I now find MPEG2 compression artifacts less objectionable that multi-path/PAL-decoder errors. The analogue switch-off here in Blighty can't come quick enough!
Now then, when's that DVB-T2 HD over H.264 switch-over coming?!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Eyeheight legalisers parameter bugs

I came across this a couple of years ago - if you recall the Rec103 preset the ringing perfromace is wrong!
Here is the email I got from their tech support back in September 2006 and the one I installed a couple of days ago is still suffering!

...this is a software bug which we have just noticed and are now working on. We should have a fix within the next few weeks.

In the interim you could enter the values for the EBU settings you require manually. You could even store these values into memories and label them as explained in....

Here are the values for the various presets....

Memory 1 Legaliser On 0% - 100%

Memory 2 1. Set High Clip = 105%

EBU 103, 2. Set Low Clip = -5%

Tight 3. Set Ring Suppression to "MANUAL"

4. Set High Ring Threshold = 103%

5. Set Low Ring Threshold = -1%

Memory 3 1. Set High Clip = 103%

EBU 103, 2. Set Low Clip = -3%

Optim' 3. Set Ring Suspression to "MANUAL"

4. Set High Ring Threshold = 101%

5. Set Low Ring Threshold = 0

Memory 4 Bypass / Legaliser Off.

....hope this helps and we will contact you with the software up-date files which you can flash into your legaliser using the RS232 port of a PC.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Netvue - business class IP TV system

I went to a very impressive demo at Sony BMG today - they have an Exterity-based office IP-TV system as provided/configured/integrated by NetVue. They seemed to have really got it right. The system is based on IGMP multicast over IP which relies on IGMP-compliant switches (think Cisco 3750 or equivelent HP ProCurve). Essentially it means that only the streams that are being watched are present on the network and then only the data is present on those segments with active clients.
Set-top boxes are tiny and around the £250 mark. The PC client comes in at £35 per seat.
What I found to be the really clever side of it was the TV gateway which takes DVB-T multiplexes and strips out all the transport streams and makes them available. So, with their 1u chasis you can expose all six FreeView Muxes (55 stations?) on the network for around £8k - to build an RF-system with similar abilities would cost many times this and the pictures would look awful (I know - I've built a few!). If you need to hang a video device (Sky STB, DVD player, etc.) their STB & PC client can both back-propagate IR control.
As mentioned - I kept getting the feeling that 'they've done this right' - it's a very complete/robust solution. I like the idea that when they can avoid it they don't re-encode the video and assume the clients can replay MPEG-2 transport streams (or in the case of the HD STB H.264 transport streams).

I can't wait to spec one of these!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lorenz Cipher & Collosus

I went to a superb lecture at my institute - The IET - all about the German Lorenz cipher from the war and the Colossus machine built at Bletchley to crack that code. Tony Sale is a very engaging speaker and clearly a very competent engineer. He is the proprietor of the Computing Museum at Bletchley and has (for the last ten years!) been re-building a working Mk2 Colossus.
The Colossus computers were used to help decipher teleprinter messages which had been encrypted using the Lorenz SZ40/42 machine — British codebreakers referred to encrypted German teleprinter traffic as "Fish" and called the SZ40/42 machine and its traffic "Tunny". Colossus compared two data streams, counting each match based on a programmable Boolean function. The encrypted message was read at high speed from a paper tape. The other stream was generated internally, and was an electronic simulation of the Lorenz machine at various trial settings. If the match count for a setting was above a certain threshold, it would be output on an electric typewriter.

I did take copious notes, but Tony's website is excellent and Wikipedia has good articles on both the Lorenz Cipher, which (like the Enigma) is a symmetric stream cipher, and the Colossus computer.

Tony set a challenge a year ago to receive and break a Lorenz transmission and the German engineer who won was using a 1.4 GHz laptop which, running his own code, took less than a minute to find the settings for all 12 wheels. The German codebreaker said: “My laptop digested ciphertext at a speed of 1.2 million characters per second – 240 times faster than Colossus. If you scale the CPU frequency by Moore's Law, you get an equivalent clock of 5.8 MHz for Colossus. That is a remarkable speed for a computer built in 1944."

Whichever way you think about it the codebreakers at Bletchley shortened the war by months or even years and so can be considered the real heroes of WW2.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

DivXLand Media Subtitler

DivXLand Media Subtitler allows the user to manually subtitle movies and videos while viewing the applied captions on the fly. It includes some features like automatic timing limit, easy caption edition, and offers 2 modes for applying of captions.

My kids like anime and as all true snobs they are very dismissive of people who watch English dubs. However - they don't speak Japanese and so a way of checking/editing subtitles before they are burnt into the video (Using VirtualDub - what else?!) is needed.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Seasick Steve

I've just downloaded his album (from 7Digital - all MP3!) and I'm loving it!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

TriCaster - very impressive

Earlier in the year I banged on about the TriCaster after I had a demo. We've just finished an install at the College of Law using it as the centre-piece of their little three camera studio and I am even more impressed than I was! Driving the virtual environment is so easy and it really does perform well. Having a selection of four shots per camera (you set the shot for the close-up and then each camera is available as the close-up, MCU, twp-shot and long-shot) with an environment that tracks perfectly is a revelation. The in-set virtual monitors work as well. The perspective and reflections on desks etc are all very convincing and once you get past the fact that all the virtual sets look like CNN or ESPN you can really produce some expensive looking tele.

I hope Root6 pick this up as a product because there is nothing to match it sub £100k.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


I picked up this flyer in Borders yesterday - it's the first time I've seen this in any kind of retail outlet, let alone a book shop;

Customers can choose from items in an e-catalogue or an instore printed version. Once purchased from the console, the software is pressed onto a disc with a special inlay card and user manual. The entire process is planned to only take a few minutes.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

I got a GoogleWhack!

Whilst searching for details of some monitors I have to calibrate later this week!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Adeona - stolen laptop tracker

I installed Adeona on my MacBook Pro over a week ago and promptly forgot I had it on there - it consumes little processor time and you're unaware of it. What is does is continually send photos from the iSight camera and any useful info - IP, nearby DNS servers, router names etc - basically anything to help physically locate a stolen computer. Best of all it's open source and the OpenDHT storage it uploads to is 256-bit encrypted.

Friday, October 03, 2008

BBC64 camera line-up 'chip-chart'

I'm at the studio build today setting up camera channels and doing general line-up. We've supplied the good-old BBC64 camera chart which I used to spend many happy hours staring at whilst lining-up cameras for studio/OB shoots. When I die (and they lay me to rest....) I want this and Test Card F on my gravestone!
The info sheet has all the reflectance figures and frequency gratings for when you have the camera focused full-frame on the chart.
Oh, does anyone know why the light-trap in the middle of the chart is called a Gregory Hole?
Also - ex-BBC type, can you still get hold of Cardboard Kate?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Fibre patch cords protected with Copex

Fibres in 20mm CopexA facility that we're just finishing has a lot of tight-buffered patch cords running between four bays (twelve Avids with SAN attachment and DVI extenders) - since it's impracticle to run loose-tube cable in such a restricted space Simon came up with this method of running the fibres through Copex and under the bays, breaking it out at the height of each pair of workstations - a very good solution that I'll use every time!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cheeky cheeky!

I've just been finishing off a studio build at The Law College - I chose a Yamaha 01v96 as the audio mixer - it has loads of ins and outs and very controllable. They didn't want to go for a full-blown talkback so I used a couple of ins for the director's open and switched mics and a couple of the spare Aux'es to feed the wallbox foldback feeds (the interviewer's earpiece and the floor foldback wedge). For the director's desk I had the metalwork dept at Bryant make me a panel with a mic on it and talkback key so that the director can key the mic and talk to the whole studio over the floor foldback but the interviewer's earpiece always gets the feed. You could also send a mix of the playback out of the wedge so that the studio crew get in the mood(!).
Anyhow - a combination of a mic that wasn't very sensitive and the general noise in the control room meant that the earpiece feed was a bit noisy and possible distracting to the interviewer.
The solution - the 01v96 has a noise gate and compressor per main input channel - I stuck a gate set to -50dB on each mic input (the open and switched feeds) and all was good. On one hand it seemed a bit naughty to use a noise gate but on the other hand it worked brilliantly!

Sorry to not be blogging so much at the moment - I'm working late most nights to stay on top of my day-job.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Nice cat5 SVGA extender

I've used several SVGA over cat5 extenders to send Tektronix rasteriser displays around buildings (typically the unit sits in the MCR and the display is in the suite). This is the best little combo I've found so far for the job - good quality (the Tek is only 1024x768) and it has a DA built in so you can have a local display (for the tape op) and the remote display hanging off the small unit.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Burning DVDs for TV replay

For the longest time I've been using Nero Vision Express v.3 (it used to come with v.6 & 7 Nero Burning ROM) as it is a very simple way to make menu-driven DVDs and not bad at transcoding whatever files you throw at it. In the case of .dvr-ms files (the MPEG2 transport stream container format used by most PVRs including MediaPortal and Microsoft MCE) it would only re-encode the video packets if they were non-compliant (i.e. ITV or Channel Four!). My only criticism is that it's pre-set templates look poor compared to iDVD (for example).
For menu-free DVDs I used DivXtoDVD (which despite the name does many formats) to create a VIDEO_TS folder. Very clean transcoding.
For manipulating ready-made DVDs (either off the disk or from a VIDEO_TS folder on your HD) I find DVD Shrink to be superb.
Anyway - WindowsXP SP3 kills Nero Vision Express so I've been looking around for an alternate and I think I've found the answer - and it's open source! DVD Flick is where it's at (link in the title).

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

My birthday and the LHC gets booted-up!

...and the BBC's programmes were superb - click the title link.

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Wrekin and other transmitters

ON Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble
His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
The gale, it plies the saplings double,
And thick on Severn snow the leaves.

I few years ago I took the kids climbing up The Wrekin in Telford. When we got to the top we found the Wrekin transmitter which serves Shropshire and a lot of the Welsh borders. I remember as a teenager being puzzled that the picture on my parent's new TV was so bad when I could see this mast from my bedroom window. It wasn't until (having unplugged the Belling-Lee connector from the back of the TV) I tried a small PO-1 screwdriver and got perfect pictures I discovered how demodulators in TVs can be over-driven! A 24dB RF pad sorted out our problem.

Anyway - although I only did a couple of weeks in transmitters during my BBC training in the eighties I did find it immensely interesting and so you can learn a bit more at the MB21 website.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Jailbreaking & unlocking v 2.0.2 iPhone

What a jolly kind fellow Kevin King is - The product manager for ContentAgent (the encoding machine made by Root6 - the firm I currently work for) - his blog and Flickr - donated his v.1 iPhone to Joseph (my eldest) and of course I had to re-pave, update, jailbreak and unlock (for use on Orange).
So - don't pay for this service. There are numerous companies offering to do it for twenty or even thirty quid and it's all on the web. The tool you need is WinPwn (it easiest if done from Windows) and I've packaged it all into a ZIP archive here along with a PDF explaining it all.

The official Apple firmware (which WinPwn modifies for your handset) is here.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

London at night, aerial pictures

Not technical - but some great photos of my beloved home town!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Converting unencrypted .VOBs to .DV files

What a great little app - I have one of those camcorders that shoots straight to DVD which is hugely convenient for showing people what you did that day (who can't play a DVD? You can't do that with a miniDV tape!) - and 8cm DVD-R's are so cheap you tend never to tape-over anything. But! iMovie, ExpressPro, Final Cut etc etc won't read .VOBs directly (well, iMovie '08 will, but not iMovieHD which I have on the home Mac).
Drop2DV doesn't seem to degrade the video (not so that I can tell) and it is quick - even though it is going between a long-GOP and iframe format - it has no GUI!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Windows XP SP3 & Parallels VM

As I mentioned a few months ago I ditched Vista after a year of really wanting to like it but being intensely frustrated at how unproductive I felt using it - staring at the spinning blue disk and finding my gigabit LAN behaving like a dial-up connection!

Anyhow - I've been rocking XP in Parallels on my MacBook Pro - XP runs faster in the virtual machine than Vista ever did on the metal! The only time I ever boot natively into Windows is for gaming (you'd not expect Halo to run well in an emulated environment!). A couple of days ago I upgraded to SP3 and although booting into XP directly showing no problems I realised that now my VM under OS-X was broken. So - I did what I should have done before starting(!) and read the release notes. The approved way to do it is;

  • Boot XP directly and upgrade Apple BootCamp to v 2.1 here

  • Install SP3 (again, booted natively into Windows)

  • In OS-X upgrade to Parallels v 3 release 5600
I did it in the opposite order and found myself unable to even create a new working VM from my BootCamp partition. The solution;

  • Once OS X boots and you are logged in, start Parallels, but DO NOT start the VM!

  • Open your VM configuration, and select 'Hard Disk -> Advanced'

  • Click on the "Clear..." button under the "Cleanup Boot Camp partition" section. This allows Parallels to 'learn' about the changes made by the SP3 install.

  • Start your VM.

  • Once the VM is started and logged in, *RE-INSTALL* the Parallels Tools!
Interestingly the guys who work for me in the Systems Integration deptartment at Root6 (the firm I work for currently) all use Parallels but the guys in Tech Support all use VMWare Fusion. I think the two are as good as each other. All of Root6's engineers run Intel Macs and the Sales guys all run Dell laptops.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Gaping hole opened in Internet's trust-based BGP protocol

My interest in BGP grows;

....Pilosov and Kapela, however, have found and demonstrated a way to intercept communication and then forward it back along to its original intended recipient. This is normally impossible; having established himself as the most direct router for a given address, any data the hijacker attempts to follow is promptly returned. Pilosov and Kapela bypass this issue by prepending the IP address they feed to certain routers. Prepending refers to attaching additional numbers to their own advertised route, in order to ensure that certain routers reject it. Once a router has rejected their address, the hacker feeds the data to be forwarded on to it. The data is processed and sent to where the router thinks it should go, which means it ends up forwarded on to its intended recipient.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

XBox360 - multiple displays?

What a mission! My kids saved for nine months and between them bought a 360 - I'd always maintained that because we have a powerful PC a console is not needed but they disagreed! Anyhow - we have it connected to the living-room standard-def TV over RGB but there are occasions when Sarah and I want to watch the TV and nobody is using the PC next door in the dining room. The Dell LCD panels I have on the main family machine have several inputs - using the mighty Synergy is what I use for taking control of Sarah's Mac on the PC and by switching the right-hand monitor to the 2nd DVI input you can have a proper two-machine setup without all the laggy behavior of VNC/ARD. I also have the output of the MediaPortal PVR on another input of that right-hand monitor and so if I want to watch TV recordings full-screen (or window'ed - the Dells do that) I can.
So, with all these inputs I figured I could just take an HDMI output from the xBox and feed it into the LH monitor and because the controllers are wireless we'd be good - however - if the xBox sees two monitors (i.e. terminations on the analogue SD output - RGB) and the HD HDMI output it won't boot! No problem I thought - I'll just feed the YUV output (which is also available on the analogue connector) to the Dell - but no, all the TV outputs (Composite PAL, SVideo, RGB & YUV) are at the mercy of the frame rate of the game (typically 60hz for 90% of the titles) which the Dell won't display! They assume that 625-line signals are going to be 50hz and display an error message for all analogue inputs from the xBox for most games.
Hmmm - at this point I was starting to think it would be impossible to have two displays fed off the console if one was a Dell LCD monitor - however, help was at hand in my box of bits with an on Lindy video->SVGA convertor. This takes composite or SVideo and converts it to SVGA in a veriety of rasters - but it maintains the frame rate. It turns out that the Dells are entirely happy with 60hz SVGA (no suprise there!) and so I attached the Lindy (oh, it's a 32555 and still available) BUT the SVideo output of the xBox uses the same driver amps for the green and blue outputs as the Y and C (on the 4-pin SVideo connector) - so, if you hang an SVideo output at the same time as the RGB the screen goes a funny shade of Cyan on the RGB and very dim on the SVideo! Given that both connectors are there on the breakout cable this seems like a poor bit of design!

So - next step was to lift the 75ohm terminating resisitors in the Lindy box - colours all good now but some reflections present on both inputs while the Lindy box is powered. The eventual config was to use a remote mains switch on the Lindy controlled of my NetIOm remote system. An icon on the XP desktop switches on the Lindy, switches the left-hand Dell to SVGA input and routes the xBox audio to the windows mixer! All this automation is done with a MacroScheduler macro.

The SVideo -> SVGA adaptor produces a very usable feed and although is only standard def on what is an HD-capable display the kids are very happy to have a 2nd location to play xBox!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Channel Five installation on the cover of Broadcast Engineering

This is the install I designed and put in last winter - quite a good article (right-click > save-as the link above) but I don't even get a name-check! Oh well - I was quite pleased with how it all worked out!

Friday, August 22, 2008

DNS cache poisoning - the state of things!

After reading the excellent book on BGP that Kip got me I've been turning my attention more to how the internet works and the subject on everyone's lips at the moment is the problems with DNS that Dan Kaminsky discovered earlier this year. Traditional DNS-cache poisoning has been around for ages (I blogged an article from my institute's magazine back in 2005 - read it here). The aspect that made that kind of DNS spoofing not so much of an issue was that the window of opportunity that a hacker had to persuade a DNS server to point a domain name at an incorrect (i.e. compromised!) IP address was tiny - you had to get the fake DNS response in between the end of the record's TTL and the next time the server made a proper query. For that reason it was never a big deal.
The best explanation I've heard about the new attack was best summerised by the mighty Steve Gibson on this week's Security Now podcast;

LEO: stated that the idea of debouncing spoofed DNS by requiring two identical query results had been aired but discarded because this would double the number of packets required for each lookup. Is that really true? The key point is to only allow changes to the DNS when they've been validated with a second query and reply. Each DNS server holds a cache of results from previous lookups. So it will only generate a new request in one of two cases: One, it hasn't seen the address before, boom, then you're going to ask again; or, two, the TTL, the time to live, has run out on the cached result. In this case a single request would be generated. If the result is the same as the cache, no second request necessary. If it has changed, then it would be verified with another request.

So what he's saying is you'd only have to make that second request if something seemed out of the ordinary or was a new address. Assuming that DNS records rarely change, the number of additional verification query packets related to TTL expiration would be very low. The question then becomes, how often are DNS lookups a complete cache miss, that is, no record exists, expired or not, because that's the only case when the 2x increase would occur. Is that often enough that you get a cache miss? Is it still a problem? So is he understanding the idea of debounce properly?

STEVE: Well, kind of. First of all, I liked his clever notion that, if a DNS name server had an entry in its cache which it was going to verify by asking again, then if it got the same answer, and we know that, I mean, the whole concept of DNS is that it's a distributed database, so chunks of the current mapping between domain names and IP addresses are able to float around on servers that only periodically check in to see if there's been any change. So that's a really nice tradeoff. It means that there's no, like, sort of central server that bears the brunt of everyone asking questions. But the tradeoff is that you don't get instantaneous updates in the event that an IP address changes. So, for example, I know you and I, Leo, have from time to time needed to change the IP address of a domain and there's this notion of it needing to propagate through the Internet. What that really means is that all spread around the world are, in locations where people have accessed a domain recently, there is a slowly expiring copy. And as long as it's not yet expired, then when questions come to that server, they'll be answered from the cache rather than going back and having to re-resolve it immediately. So it's a clever, beautifully clever solution. So he's noted that, in the event that a name server has some data in its cache, when it sees that it's expired it could only make a single query in order to verify that what's there is still current. And if the result it gets back is different, then that raises its suspicion that, oh, wait a minute, maybe I need to check this a few more times to increase confidence that I didn't get a spoofed response.
The one thing that this misunderstands, which is why I really liked the question, is that what it was that Dan Kaminsky realized was that you could force servers to make queries rather than waiting for their caches to expire. That was the brilliant gotcha that occurred to him. It used to be, I mean, if you - like three months ago, before this whole DNS spoofing nightmare arose, you could put DNS spoofing or spoofing DNS or something into Google, and you'd get pages and pages and pages. I mean, this notion of spoofing DNS is not new. But everyone believed that you had to wait for the server's existing cached record to expire, and then you could make - as soon as it expired, it's not going to replace it all by itself. It's going to wait for a query. And then, upon receiving a query, it checks the record to see if it's expired, thereby launching its own query out to resolve that name.

So the idea would be you would, you know, you bad hacker person would sit there, wait for the record to expire - because when you ask the server, it tells you how much time there is left remaining on that record. And that's a cool thing, too. If you think about it, it has to because then you might be caching that record, and you don't want to start at eight hours again. You want to understand how stale the record is so that your own cache will expire at the same time that the cache of the source of that record was. So anyone asking a DNS server - you can tell I've been living in DNS for a couple weeks, and I've really got this stuff now on the tip of my tongue. Anyone talking to a DNS server, querying it, knows how much longer it'll be before one of its records will expire. So they're able, as soon as that happens, that's when they launch their query to it, knowing that it's having to launch a query out, and then they rush their spoofed response back in. That's the traditional way. And that limited you to one shot at replacing a record, only every TTL interval. Which is typically one day. A standard Internet time to live for DNS is a day. So once a day you had a tiny window of opportunity. Clearly this wasn't a huge problem.

What Dan realized is you could ask it for a bunch of nonexistent machines in a domain, forcing it to constantly ask upstream for that domain's name server if this machine exists. And you could sneak in a response to that request that carried replacement name server records. And of course that's the nature of the attack. So Paul was right that, if we didn't have what Kaminsky realized happening, then you could do verification essentially in a cost-effective manner, only duplicating some queries if a domain was asked for that was not in the cache, and then only again if a verification that the IP had not changed from what was in the cache came back with a different answer. So I think Paul was clever, but that doesn't solve the problem that we've just had.

LEO: Could you rewrite the way DNS works so that you couldn't ask for these multiple updates? I mean, isn't that a bug, too?

STEVE: Oh, yeah. I mean, there's all kinds, well, I'm sure right now, Leo, there are firewall vendors, you know, corporate firewall vendors madly adding code to their firewalls, and they'll have new bullet points on their new brochures in a month saying "Special next-generation DNS spoof-proofing for your corporate DNS server." So there's all kinds of things you could do that would, I mean, make it really obvious that, you know, here comes a flood of responses in response to one query? Okay, that's wrong. I mean, it stands out like a sore thumb. But right now nothing is aware of that. So I'm sure there are - doubtless firewall vendors are madly rushing to get theirs to market first because essentially one query goes out and 10,000 come in. It's like, okay, maybe I'm going to ask that question again.

As mentioned previously OpenDNS suffers none of these issues and protects you from ISP snooping via the Phorm or NebuAD 'services'(!)

If you go back and listen to the last couple of Security Now podcasts you'll see that the thing that DNS server writers (who maintains BIND?) are going for is to increase the entropy in their DNS look-up requests (and hence DNS responses which is where the poisoning can be inserted) - Randomising the transaction ID and the UDP-port number means that the chance of the spoofed response being accepted drop but the real clever hack that requires no changing to the upstream DNS is the one Steve spoke about last week;

STEVE: This is the galactic hack. I don't know if I can think of something that is more a hack, more sort of like, oh my goodness, but clever. And so, I mean, this is the definition of a hack. And it works without any additional overhead, without any additional packets, without any additional anything within the existing infrastructure of DNS. So, and remember that, as I said toward the beginning of the show, what we want is more bits. The idea being, we want the query that the resolving name server sends out to contain more entropy, more bits of randomness which the responder will be able to easily send back, such as the matching query ID and the matching port number, but also something else. What more could it possibly send back within the existing definition of DNS? It's referred to as the 0x20, or the 0X20 hack. It refers to the 20 bit because that is the difference in an ASCII representation of text between uppercase and lowercase.

LEO: Right. You add that bit, and it's uppercase.

STEVE: For example, 41 and 61 are the hex for upper and lowercase A. The difference being that 20 bit. So get a load of this. The DNS spec, the original RFC that everybody wrote to and coded to and follows, says that case is not significant, but it will be preserved. Meaning that - and you'll notice this. You could do in all uppercase, or in all lowercase, or in any random combination of upper and lowercase, and you'd get to And I notice that, like, is capital T, capital W, lowercase I, capital T; right? And that works. The point is, case doesn't matter. But in a DNS query and response, case is preserved, meaning that when I issue a query, the response I get comes back with the same case of the alphabetic characters as I issued. Yet the authoritative name server that is checking to see if it's got a match within its records, it ignores the case, doesn't care if the alphabetic characters are upper or lower, to find a match. That gives us more bits.

LEO: Oh. That is clever.

STEVE: Oh my goodness, isn't that just incredibly cool? What it means is that the querying server can randomly upper and lowercase all the alphabetic characters in its query. So, you know, we've got So we've got, okay, www, there's three; com is three more alphabetic characters. Plus however many alphabetic characters are in the name. And more if you are several - if you have several domain, dotted domain names. All those characters can have a random case. They will go to the resolver that will - I'm sorry. They will go to the authoritative name server that will ignore your wacky casing that you've done.

LEO: Right, because it's case insensitive, yeah.

STEVE: But it will return your - it will return in its reply, it returns the same case that you sent it, which means you can - you the querier, who is trying to be spoof-resistant, can verify...

LEO: Oh, if it's the same one you sent.

STEVE: In addition to. So the domain name - basically the response echoes the query and adds the answers. So you get back what you queried as part of the answer.

LEO: Plus the dotted quad. But now if somebody's in the middle, if they're doing a man in the middle, they're going to see your randomly capitalized query. So can't they just copy it back?

STEVE: Oh, Leo, DNS is completely hosed by man in the middle. Man in the middle...

LEO: Oh, this doesn't protect against that. This - okay.

STEVE: No, no. In fact, man in the middle is a single query attack because if you're able to see the query and block the reply, you simply respond because you know exactly...

LEO: Okay, all right, all right. So this only is good against cache poisoning.

STEVE: Well, this is good - well, and which is the problem that we're trying to solve. This is good against a third party trying to guess queries in order to spoof replies. What this means is the query is now much more difficult to guess by the number of alphabetic, you know, two to the power of the number of alphabetic characters in the name being queried. So, for example, there could easily be 10 alphabetic characters - www and com gives us six. Seven, eight, nine, 10, so even a four-letter domain would give us ten additional bits. Well, 10, that's another 1,024 possibilities. So we've just added 10 bits of difficulty, looking up www and a four-letter domain, and many domains are much longer than that. So it's just, I mean, that is a hack. I mean, it's like, it's ugly, but it works.

LEO: So that's just something you obviously have to patch the DNS servers to do.

STEVE: You don't have to patch the authoritative name servers. That is to say, they're already programmed to echo the incoming packet's case and ignore the incoming packet's case.

LEO: Oh, so it only would have to be the querying servers you'd have to change.

STEVE: Right. So, I mean, just as we - we just changed the querying servers this month so that they would do reliable source port randomization. So we would just need to change them again if the decision were made or if anyone wanted to make the decision, or you could imagine this would be, you know, all this stuff is open source, in the case of BIND, for example. So you could have a BIND compile time flag saying I want this server to employ the 0x20 hack, and then your build of your BIND would issue queries with random alphabetic case on all the alphabetic characters, thus making itself far more difficult to spoof. And the beauty is it would automatically work with all the other servers on the 'Net that don't need to be changed. So this is something that individual, for example, BIND users, companies, ISPs, end-users, could easily do when this is an available compile-time or run-time option of BIND that just makes that one server much more resistant to spoofing.

LEO: Easy thing to add. But it would be a patch. You'd have to change the send, and you'd also have to remember that and the query and look at the result and make sure that they matched. But that's an easy compare. That's pretty fast.

STEVE: Right. So we're talking, exactly, we're talking additional code. Already obviously there is code which verifies that the incoming port and the incoming transaction ID match up with what's expected. So you just increase the expectation to verify that the incoming reply had case of its alphabetic characters that matched what you sent out, which is what you were expecting. Right now, no servers, as far as I know, care. So all you need to do is to add that they care about matching returning response case, and then randomize your outgoing case, and you've got a much harder to spoof server. Just you. You don't need anything of anybody else. Your server is now substantially more difficult to spoof.

Sorry to cut'n'paste so much from another source but Security Now really is essential listening if you are at all interested in the inner workings of the Internet.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Why work when you can have a meeting?!

I have been in some awfully boring and unproductive meetings. I think some of the worse reasons are:

  • People like to blow their own trumpet - there are always people who enjoy the sound of their own voice more than actually getting things done.

  • Implied responsibility transfer - I worked on a project a few years ago where the customer's project manager would get all the subcontractors together once a week and for hours (really - often four hours or more!) every trade had to explain what they'd done that week and how it impact the project. I think he hoped that any conflicts would magically be resolved because everyone would in part be responsible. The only outcome was that the only people who attended were those who weren't working hard on the site!

  • If, like me, you're not very vocal with people who's discipline isn't yours (broadcast electronics in my case) then meetings are a terrible way to transfer knowledge. I end up not saying much (when perhaps I should) and the manager/bean-counter/sales-person talks a lot more and nobody gets the info they need.

Anyway - some of this is covered superbly in Oliver Burkeman's column from today's Guardian.

Almost everyone hates meetings, and yet the idea of doing away with them is seen as revolutionary, or ridiculous. Jim Buckmaster, chief executive of the hugely successful website Craigslist, has a simple policy - "No meetings, ever" - but if you're a manager, you're probably already thinking of reasons why you couldn't do the same. An important new book, Why Work Sucks And How To Fix It, proposes a total shift in how we think about office life, but one part is considered so startling, it's singled out on the cover: "No meetings." Senior executives find at least half of all meetings unproductive, studies show. Yet still they happen. "Meetings," writes the humorist Dave Barry, "are an addictive, highly self-indulgent activity that corporations and other large organisations habitually engage in only because they cannot actually masturbate."

Why Work Sucks And How To Fix It reports on an experiment I mentioned here during its earlier stages, at the US electronics chain BestBuy: a "results-only work environment", in which staff could work where and when they liked, so long as their jobs got done. The first casualty was meetings. "Why do we spend so much of our business life talking about the business we need to take care of?" the authors write.

There are several reasons why meetings don't work. They move, in the words of the career coach Dale Dauten, "at the pace of the slowest mind in the room", so that "all but one participant will be bored, all but one mind underused". A key purpose of meetings is information transfer, but they're based on the assumption that people absorb information best by hearing it, rather than reading it or discussing it over email, whereas in fact, only a minority of us are "auditory learners". PowerPoint presentations may be worse. The investigation into the 2003 Columbia space shuttle disaster, caused by a fuel tank problem, suggested that Nasa engineers might have been hampered in addressing it sooner because it was presented on PowerPoint slides, forcing the information into hierarchical lists of bullet points, ill-suited to how most brains work.

The key question for distinguishing a worthwhile meeting from a worthless one seems to be this: is it a "status-report" meeting, designed for employees to tell each other things? If so, it's probably better handled on email or paper. That leaves a minority of "good" meetings, whose value lies in the meeting of minds itself, for example, a well-run brainstorming session.

Countless books advise managers on how to motivate staff. But motivation isn't the problem. Generally, people want to work; they gripe when things like meetings stop them doing so. Indeed, a 2006 study showed there's only one group of people who say meetings enhance their wellbeing - those who also score low on "accomplishment striving". In other words: people who enjoy meetings are those who don't like getting things done.

Monday, August 11, 2008

My boys and their music

Joe and Dan have been doing some music at the EC1 project here in Islington. Our local council paper ran a feature on them here.
Use right-click & save to grab the PDF

Friday, July 25, 2008

Malwarebytes Anti Malware

I fell foul of this particular bit of malware yesterday - Joe called me to say that a download (a new map for Gary's Mod) had scanned fine (by AVG) when it arrived but on running the installer it became evident that it had arrived with a trojan! AVG detected it but was unable to sanitise it. My other favorite antivirus (the open-source ClamAV) was the same. Panda Antivirus (which we're meant to use at work) couldn't even detect it (yet alone stop the infection).
Malewarebytes Anti-Malware was the only thing to touch it.
The Internet today is full of scam sites, otherwise known as phishing sites that try to sell you products. These products can be potentially harmful to your computer. They install malware, provide false feedback about your computer, and can slow down the computer drastically. These products are known as rogue applications and come in a variety of forms - from anti-malware applications to registry cleaners and even hard drive utilities.

However - once removed the machine had been left pretty impotent.
  • In an attempt to stop you running the Microsoft Malicious software removal tool it overwrites the ActiveX engine - try and run any Software Updates without that!
  • It overwrites all of the previous System Restore points. Damn!
  • It drops browser helper objects into both IE and Firefox to ensure that you're seeing their websites forever!
These people are very clever - I'm off to re-pave a WindowsXP machine!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Bill Mallonee: Lower Case

This is our first full-band, studio recording in two years! A joy to make. We're proud to offer this mini-EP, "lower case!"
These songs have been in my head for a few months. String of Pearls, Sober Up and Sad Parade all felt like a bit of a long-lost dialogue with my British-pop twin brother. Only they aren't so "pop." Melody is in the forefront. The lyrics run the gamut from intentional "trippiness" to the heart-break and plaintive. The arrangements, while on the surface sounding simple, are both economical and complex. No note is wasted, no strum superfluous. Multi-layered guitars and string arrangements abound; Muriah's keyboards and harmony vocals are precise and engaging. It felt good to finally see a few new songs "realized" after two years of no formal studio recording, a rarity for me.
These sorts of songs contain the elements that drew me into the harmonic richness of the later-era Beatles and their American offspring such as the Byrds, Big Star with a salute to Robyn Hitchcock on Sad Parade. Enjoy!

It seems like ages since we had some new studio songs from Bill and Muriah but this little collection makes it worth the wait. The standout track for me is String of Pearls but all three are excellent. Hopefully this is a pointer to a new long-player? Is that a real Mellotron?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Scene Double 25pin-15pin SVGA

The guys at Scene Double are very helpful - we use a lot of their extenders for sending SVGA a long way and we had to make up a replacement 25 pin (D) - 15 pin (HD) cable. I emailed Ray;
I wondered if you could let us have the pinouts so I can quickly knock them up a new cable.

He replied with suitable engineering forthrightness!
I would not advise knocking up cables with mini coax.

Job done!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Humyo - storage in the cloud

It's a very fashionable expression at the moment - I saw a reference to cloud computing in The Guardian last week! Anyway - I've been looking for a service and was about to go with Amazon's S3 (probably using Jungle Disk) when I read PCW's review of Humyo. I'm not sure how they manage to offer such a good free service (perhaps they'll go bust soon! The curse of Web 2.0) but the paid-for account is only £30 per year and you get 100gigs (as opposed to thirty on the free account). As a place to stash a photo backup it's hard to beat - the browser is very usable and their server extracts all necessary EXIF data to catalogue your pictures as best it can.
The online media player is also superb - keeping CDs online means you can listen anywhere.
I think the only significant limitation of the free account is that they limit the upload bandwidth - it's going to take a couple of days to upload eight years of photos! I think I may go for the paid account just to get the desktop client that handles automated backup and drive mapping.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Joe was on Question Time

The Schools Question Time programme is the final product of a far wider education initiative to help schools nationwide by supporting the citizenship curriculum, helping improve students' public speaking and listening skills and engaging young people in society and politics.

Schools across the UK, with pupils aged 14-19, were eligible to enter the challenge.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Live from Abbey Road

What with Later with Jools Holland being off the air now it's good to see that there is one live music show that values musicianship over style.
Muse, Radiohead & Paul Simon are the acts I'll be watching for in this series - here are the songs I captured from Muse's performance on that show in 2007.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Building Reliable Networks with the Border Gateway Protocol

By Iljitsch van Beijnum 0-596-00254-8

Kip very kindly bought me this book after having seen a previous post and it is a very good read. If you want to understand how big networks talk to each other then BGP is the way to go and Van Beijnum treats it as a way to cover all WAN protocols current practices.

Friday, July 04, 2008

The HD Masters, part 3


Image acquisition as well as the production/post process for all-digital cinema was discussed at some length. It seems to be coming increasingly clear that single chip (i.e. Bayer-filtered) cameras are not regarded as suitable for high-end imaging. In fact Sky has said that for this reason the Red camera is not acceptable for programme makers. As an aside I recently saw some Red pictures at a facility that is cutting a drama for the Beeb and they were having great trouble getting rid of the noise (and hence v.objectionable compression artifacts) in the blue channel - you'd not suffer that with a three-chip camera.
With this in mind it seems that the Sony F23 and Thompson Viper will carry the bulk of D-Cinema work for the high-end.

Schubin's Metropolitan Opera

Although the man himself didn't talk about it several speakers made reference to how the New York Metropolitan Opera has been transmitting it's live productions to European cinemas for the last couple of years. There was much talk of liberating theatre owners to do much more innovative programming with HD football coverage, music shows and the like.

3D imagery

Although I've always found 3D imagery a bit intense and (for me) it detracts from a good film (rather than adding to the enjoyment) there has been a lot of development work going on recently - the Dolby systems seems to be the one that will be widely adopted. The Hanna Montana concert movie was shot for $9m and took $65m in first week in only 800 theatres! There are more than twenty 3D films in production/post at the moment but they mostly seem confined to the pre-teen market.

NHK's SpaceCam!

An "Earth-rise," or the rising Earth over the Moon, was first captured by the Apollo project. The Earth rising image taken by the KAGUYA on November 7, 2007, was not a full Earth-rise (i.e. not all of the globe was seen in shining blue.). This time, a "full Earth-rise" was taken by the onboard HDTV cameras in faraway space, some 380,000 km away from the Earth. It was also very precious because it was one of only two chances in a year for the KAGUYA to capture a Full Earth-Rise when the orbits of the Moon, the Earth, the Sun and the KAGUYA are all lined up.
The shooting was performed by the KAGUYA's onboard HDTV for space use, which was developed by NHK. The movie data was received at JAXA, then processed by NHK.

One of NHK's project engineers walked us through the modifications they had to do to a Sony 950 to make it work in space - this for me was probably the most interesting session of the conference. They then showed us the final movie and it was fantastic.

There were several other interesting sessions including how the BBC Bristol's Natural History Unit has moved over entirely to electronic acquisition. They had some stunning footage from the next BBC animal show 'Life' - the sequence of dolphins herding fish off Madagascar was amazing. Get the BBC HD channel (or download from your favorite torrent site!). Over all I think 2008 is the year HD breaks through - with Sky and Virgin offering services and FreeviewHD and FreeSat just around the corner things look good. However - getting back to what Mark Schubin said about what is technically appropriate I heard an interesting comment;
A well authored SD DVD played on a decent up-scaling DVD player gets 'dangerously close' to the quality of 12Mbit DVB H.264

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The most coherent thing I've ever read in The Independent

'Interfering' state

We all resent the 'interfering' state – until we need it; Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Steve Richards is right when he says "people still look to the state in their hour of need" (Opinion, 1 July), but he does not mention the other side of the coin – nobody wants to live by its rules. We talk of tax as a burden rather than a responsibility or a contribution. We are not going to have the government tell us what to eat, how much to drink, what to do with our money or where to live – but when the Christmas club founders, the bank collapses, the rains come or cancer strikes, we ask why we weren't warned, why we were allowed this option, why firms were allowed to build there, what about our entitlement to the latest expensive drug – and so on until we hit our sixties and can campaign to have the state pay our care bills while we plot how to avoid inheritance tax.
We want accountability without bureaucracy, crime prevention without surveillance, discipline without enforcement, improved public service without higher taxation. We bewail the loss of community spirit while insisting that our every personal preference be fully respected, and never stop to consider to what extent these wants are compatible.
I used to laugh at the cynic's saying that a liberal was a conservative who had been to prison, while a conservative was a liberal who had been mugged, but it seems sadly true now, when principle has been forgotten and we seem, as a people, to be driven by expediency and selfishness.

right-click, save-as - my server is still not doing MIME types properly!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The HD Masters, part 2

"I want my 1080P"

I'm glad that the Beeb and Sky got behind 1080i as a start with 1080p as the eventual intention. Here are a few of the observations the speakers made on that subject;

At high compression rates (especially sub 8-Mbits MPEG4) progressive pictures look better than interlaced - A lot of the broadcasters who got behind 720P bang on about this but it seems a poor reason to settle on a technical spec that is 'better' because it avoids the current limitations of the technology better than a visually better option.

For production purposes 200Mbits should be considered the minimum. JPEG2000 is very good at these data rates and subsequent delivery at H.264/AVC-MPEG4 (even at 8Mbits) shows no artifacts.

Sky are assuming that as soon as 880MBit HDCamSR machines (Sony HDW-5800) become commonplace they will specify 1080P as their delivery spec.

Part of the 1080P spec included 24P! EBU tech document 3321 covers this.

BluRay has of course been 1080P from the outset - the chap from the 'packaged media' (the new name of DVDs?!) industry body told us that they assume they have a five-year head start on the broadcaster and they intend to make BluRay a premium format using this as their main marketing point.
Currently BluRay (both disks & machines) are outselling DVD (for a comparable point in the format's life, say 1997) by six to one.

Coding, Mux & delivery;

In the past decade the venerable MPEG2 transport stream has done good work - but a combination of newer codecs - some variant of MPEG4 - probably the AVC or H.264 codecs (which subjectively halves the required bitrate at both SD & HD) and better multiplexing (moving the QAM64 and DVB-T2 transmission) means that there could be a lot more space for channels. However - with the analogue switch-off nearly on us and the whole country buying MPEG2 decoders & TVs another change (without the associated benefit of moving to HD) seems unlikely.

The representative of OFCOM did a good presentation of how Mux-B will be liberated when the analogue switch-off is complete. This will be a dedicated HD Mux and since it will start with DVB-T2 power, QAM64 channel-packing and AVC we'll be able to pack four 9Mbit HD channels in. One will go to the Beeb and the others will probably be awarded to ITV-HD, Channel 4 and five-HD.
As the other Muxes move over the DVB-T2/QAM64 (but remaining at MPEG-2 TS for compatibility) - remember OnDgital was QAM64 and it wasn't until the Beeb re-launched as FreeView that they switched to QAM16 for more reliable coverage. The T2 spec allows for more transmission power and any current Yagi aerial will deal with that.

Currently none of the manufacturers offer a StatMux for MPEG-4 - BBC R&D have one they've built themselves and Sky reckon they'll be testing some prototypes before the end of the year. Since Mux-B becomes available Q4 of 2009 it seems there is a bit of time.

HD Production observations;

There were several broadcasters in attendance - here are a few of the things they said;
The EBU maintain that for the current crop of manufacturer production codecs at 1080i nobody should go below 185Mbits - that's the highest data rate that Avid DNxHD offers and you can drive Avid ProRes a lot lower! Where does that leave DVCProHD?!
France-2 had a very interesting set of footage from the Roland Gaross tennis last year. They had the same court shot at 16x9 HD and 16x9 HD shot-to-protect 4x3. The latter was so much busier as the cameraman tried to keep the action the centre of frame. It was all a lot tighter focused and I realised how much more like the world 16x9 is. Of course when you come to transmit stuff shot-to-protect 4x3 the codecs fall apart!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The HD Masters, part 1

I went to this conference last week and it was superb - lots of interesting speakers and demonstrations. I made copious notes and will blog them over the next few days - click the HD Masters 2008 tag for all of them together

Opening notes;

In 1988 I saw my first demonstration of HD at Television Centre - organised by Metro Video (remember them) they had recorded nature and football footage using the Sony 1250 line 1" analogue VTR (30 Mhz RGB recording). At the time I'd never seen such clear electronic pictures - I can remember telling one of my fellow trainee engineers that it "....was like looking out of a window".
After that my next brush with HD was in 1994 when the company I was working at did the OB for a job at the Royal Opera House for NHK - it was a five camera shoot with five ISO Sony HDVRS-1000 machines - again, a 1" format with decks that looked like BVH-3000 machines. There were several engineers from Sony to cosset the machine and again, the pictures were splendid! The Cameras (Thompson, IIRC) were tube models (which at the time we were getting used to CCD cameras in our SD studios - mostly BVP-7s) and they had an 'old master' quality to them - very rich blacks.
Anyhow - after that, aside from a few graphic/film-type jobs I was involved with I didn't do much HD work until HD was firmly established around six or seven years ago. SInce then it has, clearly, been on the rise with new formats (SR, HDV, Red Camera etc etc.) and what with Sky/Virgin et al offering paid for services for the last year or so and the Beeb's successful DVB-T trials from summer 2006 (which I captured and watched avidly) it seems like 2008 is the year HD goes mainstream.

Mark Shubin;

If you've not listened to The Schubin Report and you're in television engineering then shame on you! Mark is an old-school engineer and gentleman who has a real handle on not only the technology but the importance of where it all fits into the workflow and how people are in and around TV. He gave the opening presentation and talked a lot about how we have to let go of old assumptions about human vision - the Lechner distance (what most eye tests have been based on for a century) doesn't quite tell the whole story and for most living room SD would be adequate on sub-50" displays if our vision was only as good as 1 arc-minute. Tests have revealed this not to be the case with the perception of reality being greater at 1080 than 720 than 576 lines. Mark is a great proponent of what is technically possible against what is appropriate and he use the best expression I heard all conference; "...if you can tell the difference then you're lying!" in relation to colourimetry.
He also had some great examples of how people are 'trained not to tell the difference' - the best example was the opera singer who was used as the voice in the thirties to demonstrate how good wax cylinder recordings were confessed that she'd trained herself to sound like the recordings of her during the 'blind' tests!