Monday, March 31, 2008

Virgin Media's free TV service?!

I had a rep from Virgin call me to say that in perpetuity they would give me the penultimate TV package for £1 a month! 99 extra channels.
I told the woman that my kids watch too much TV as it is and I'd rather they provide a reliable broadband connection. She seemed genuinely surprised at me not wanting The Jewelery Channel and Bravo!

Sunday, March 30, 2008


OpenDNS is a free DNS resolution service. It provides the following two recursive nameserver addresses for public use, mapped to the nearest operational server location:

* (
* (

Often it's higher performing than your ISP's own DNS servers, that tend to be unwanted stepchildren of ISPs. DNS is not a very sexy thing for them to be offering, so they tend to be hosted on the oldest/slowest servers. The real killer feature of OpenDNS is the filtering they offer, which being at the domain-name resolution stage means you can point your router at them and your whole network is protected from phishing, porn and other dark back-waters of the internet.
For ages I ran a proxy server inside my network but it got very tedious and since I've offloaded every other function (mail serving etc.) this seems like a good replacement (and no software to run in my network).

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Virgin Media's tech support

I moaned about Virgin Media's tech support last year but when my connection was on a go-slow last week I discovered that you now have to pay 25p per minute to talk to tech support. Fantastic, I thought, a payed-for service will mean that it's worth having and I'll get to talk to a proper network engineer and not some person who is flipping over laminated pages. How wrong can you be?! The first thing the chap insisted was that it must be my router at fault - I told him that I'd swapped out the router with no change in performance - typically 40kBits per sec. He then told me to directly attach my PC to the cable-modem - never a good idea to come out from behind a NAT router, but we'll let that one go.

Anyhow - I told him that I'd already tried both a Mac and a Linux machine but there was no change;
Sir, we do not support Mac OS or Linux

So, you don't support the one OS that your entire network runs on?!
Sir, you must open Internet Explorer and delete all your cookies

And this is going to improve my connection speed how? How long before you advice my to re-install Windows?
Sir, that is step number five, now we must do things in order

I then told him that my neighbour (who also had Virgin) was suffering a slow connection;
Sir, my system is telling me that you have a perfect connection

It seems that Virgin's tech support have neither the tools to diagnose nor the expertise to fault-find any problems and the fact that everything he suggested was entirely without any merit leads me to believe they are just trying to keep you on the line as long as possible without any hope of resolving the issue.

And this you pay for!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Tektronix WVR7100 & NTSC gamut in HD

Talking about NTSC colour gamut on an HD recording seems a nonsense (how could something in 709 colour space have any relation to composite legality?) - however, since Sky take delivery on HD-Cam (and increasingly SR) they insist that all recordings also conform to a composite colour space. For those recordings in 29.97 and 59.94 it's an NTSC colour space they need to also conform to. This seems a bit daft to me - knobble your nice HD production so we don't have to worry about it. Surely the best way would be to transmit the HD and then stick a legaliser across the down-converted output rather than making the HD master conform to a small colour space so that down-conversion is easier. Talk about casting your pearls before swine!

Anyhow - one of our customers uses Tektronix WVR7100 rasteriser waveform monitors and has been QC'ing for delivery to Sky and noticed that with an NTSC master (either SD or HD) the Tek consistently throws composite gamut errors. The second screen-grab shows that the legaliser feeding the Tek has had the colour gamut wound right down (see how cropped the two diagonals on the arrow-head are) yet the 'scope continues to flag errors. It even does this with monochrome material!
So - I have to get on to Tek. The problem isn't there on 24, 25 or 50i material, just NTSC-derived stuff.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Connectix cat6 component tolerances

We recently completed a data job for a big customer and when they came to plug up their VOIP 'phones they discovered a problem with the cat6 cabling/wallboxes we installed. After lots of head-scratching and pulling the modules apart I discovered that there has been a batch change - notice the different colour of PCB. The newer modules (yellow PCB) have a stronger spring to close the dust cover (second picture).

Now, when you plug in certain brands of pre-made patch cords the stronger spring pushes up on the RJ45 and forces it back out of the socket by a small amount - maybe only a milimeter. This is enough to make the connection unreliable.

It thankfully seems to be a batch issue as only a few of the thousand modules I bought seem affected!.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


I had a really informative demo at CVP. I'm normally quite dismissive of all-in-one solutions that promise the Earth for a low-low sub-ten-grand price. I've seen NewTek's boxes demo'ed at trade shows for a decade but never seen them in a television facility or an OB truck. I always assumed that it was a very clever demo that avoided all the hard stuff (have you ever done that at a trade show?!). The expression Graham uses is 'suspiciously cheap'! Anyhow - I had a Bruce Springsteen moment when I got to spend an afternoon playing around with the TriCaster.

Now not suggesting you build an LE studio around it but it does include everything a small studio would need - six component video inputs, two virtual VTRs (with a rundown scheduler), eight input switcher (re-syncs all i/p's), DVE, keyers, mattes, caption generator/graphics subsystem and a virtual studio model.
When you design your set you tell it how things are scaled and if you then cut a real camera between three virtual positions it re-sizes the talent accordingly so - with only three cameras you can cut between maybe nine virtual shots and it really works - it seems like you have three cameras looking at each shot. It records an AVI to it's internal drive as the safety record and the virtual set knows all about plasmas etc (so you can play in as if it really was an in-shot monitor) - an in-set monitor is one of the things you can have in the model of a studio and you assign it as a destination and cut live feeds (cameras, VTs) or virtual sources (GFX, Virtual VT sources) to it and if there are any 'shiny' surfaces in the set - table tops, glasses of water etc. they pick up reflections of cameras sources, plasmas etc.
iVGA is another unique feature where the system can take a real-time VGA feed over the network. It will scale or follow the mouse for presentations and the quality was superb. I can't think of another gadget that allows you to do that without using a scaler.
I was blown away - I kept looking for the SGI workstation behind the demo booth!

I'm hoping to base a little three-camera web-casting studio around one in the next couple of months.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Edit suite at Channel Five

This is one of the dozen or so we recently put in at five - many thanks to their senior engineer Stuart for these pics.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Ward Cunningham and Wikis

Floss Weekly this week was a stormer! Ward Cunningham invented Wikis back in the early nineties whilst working on SmallTalk workstations at Tektronics (not their video test and measurement division!). The original C2 Wiki is still up and running and discussing agile development and extreme programming techniques. Ward makes the point that if you can't explain some point of technical development to your grandmother/bartender then you've over-complicated it. He is very humble and I enjoy listening to him speak.
In 2001 my chum Richard Drake was developing a commercial application for Wikis using his Clublets software. In fact I used clublets to run engineering at Resolution (that Wiki is still being served - but for how long, and how much is still there?). That particular engineering log has outlasted the company! Rik got me into the whole business and he knows Ward.

So, now we live in a Wikipedia world and everyone knows about Wikis - I'm still a fan and am trying to move this venerable blog over to one. I did mention it a couple of weeks ago and I've made some progress. Although the wiki isn't running on my Linux box yet I am staging it on Apache on that machine but the data lives on my wife's G4!
See the new colour scheme here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Disruptive Technology

I listened to a podcast that was reviewing the new SDK for the iPhone. One of the apps they claimed to have seen was Amazon's store where you can use the 'phone's camera to scan barcodes and instantly see the price/availability and even order. If I ran a bricks & mortar store I'd be less than happy!
ComSkip is the ultimate example of disruptive technology. Like universal suffrage, pay equality, and the end of slavery the establishment will object to disruptive changes but society adapts and carries on. I look forward to a world that is free of the lies of advertising.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Whole drive encryption and disk performance

I've been interested in volume encryption for a while. TrueCrypt ticks all the boxes. Being a piece of security software it should be open source (you don't want any back-doors after all). One thing peaked my interest on a recent edition of Security Now! - Steve Gibson discovered that booting Windows off a system partition that has the TrueCrypt driver installed gives a system that has a significant improvement in disk performance; I wrote a little batch file using that EndTimer tool and the Windows defrag and Vopt and Windows defrag. I ran those three in sequence. With no encryption, Windows defrag took 8 minutes and 35.765 seconds. Vopt took 4 minutes and 31.046 seconds. And then a final Windows defrag took 1 minute, 54.765 seconds. Okay, so just look at the first number, 8 minutes and 35 seconds. I did it; I did it again. That is, I restored the image, ran the script again, and it was 9 minutes and 1 second. So, you know, about 8 minutes and 45 seconds on average. And the difference are just we're doing a lot of head-seeking. And so where the disk's rotation happens to be is going to affect timing a little bit.
They say on their web page that they've got 100 percent pipelining of some sort. Apparently once upon a time it was too slow, and boy did they fix it.

I intend to start using TrueCrypt - so I'll blog about it when I've got it figured.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Friday, March 14, 2008

Notes to self - RS422 and balanced audio connectors

I've just finished a job that another SI had done some initial work on. Unfortunately (and although they had used cat5 patch panels) they hadn't used the pinouts that everyone else (Probel, Quartz etc.) uses for sending RS422 over cat5. Anyhow - here are the details in case you ever need to convert. Also - it's best to use the signal earth (pins 4 & 6) rather than the chassis ground (pin 1) - especially if you're running between areas.

Another thing - it's best to use 1/4¨ jacks on mixer inputs as increasingly mixers only have a subset of inputs with XLRs!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

End of Netscape - browsers I've used.

With the demise of Navigator last week I got to thinking about the various browsers I've used over the last fifteen years - I'll stop short of 2002 - there are reviews aplenty online regarding IE5, IE6, FireFox and Safari.

  • Lynx was the first browser I used back in the 1992/93 - I used to have to dial into work (BBC Television News) and then telnet into one of the PDP-11 machines that ran the Baysys network. I could then run the text-only browser where all the links were numerically annotated (this was under DOS v.5 so no mouse!). Happy days!

  • Netmanage Chameleon came as part of the Planet Internet suite - the ISP I was using in 1994. I bypassed Mosaic because Netmanage was so usable - I'm amazed that it didn't make more a of splash because it wasn't until Navigator v.2 or IE3 that I thought there was a reason to not use it.

  • Netscape v.2 was the browser I started using in 1995 when Planet Internet went bust and I starting using Force9 as my ISP. At the time I was still using Windows 3.11 at home and IE2 was still inferior.

  • IE3 corresponded with me jumping to Windows 95 at home and NT4 at work in '96 - at that point I thought IE was a nicer browser than Netscape.
After that it's a clear run from IE3 to IE6 and then some pre-v1 FireFox after 2003. As I've blogged about before I love FireFox - so much better than IE6 or 7 and definitely more enjoyable than Safari.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

My core competancies - what we tell prospective customers!


Workflow and environment design

We are ideally placed to design and implement small and large machine rooms and editing/production facilities. Fifteen years of operational engineering experience in studios, post, transmission and outside broadcast as well film/DI environments.


Based on customer style we can produce full AutoCAD documentation for any system.

Cable Scheduling

Because we understand how wiring teams work we can produce cable schedules that ensure builds are done economically and in a timely fashion.


PAT & general electrical safety testing & training

We are entirely familiar with current IEE regulations and can design as well as test electrical installations. Essential for a safe and reliable facility.

Custom Engineering

Bespoke panels & custom circuitry

Monitoring panels, custom metalwork and wooden enclosures. We can also design and implement analogue and digital PCBs for audio and switching work (for example).

Extending GPIs, serial ports, analogue signals over IP networks – LANs & WANs

If you need to extend contact closures or analogue signals over a network (local or the Internet) or get machine control via RS422/232 over a long distance then we can build custom PCBs to achieve this. Typically we have extended temperature sensors and alarm conditions between servers rooms in distant locations.


Consulting, monitor calibration etc.

We can calibrate colour displays to any required standard (EBU illuminant D, for example) and advise on colour management systems.

Fibre and high speed networking

Single mode & multi-mode bespoke loose-tube cabling and termination of all standards OM1 & OM3 Testing to recognised standards Cat 6/7 for gigabit and 10-gig N/Ws - testing to all standards. Unlike other SIs we can provide optimal solutions that will last and scale. We run multiple fusion splicers (we always deploy bespoke cables, never pre-mades) and all our wiremen and engineers are trained. We can audit existing installations using calibrated laser/test meters and advise on suitability for higher speed SAN working.

We are the only SI that has many thousands of fibre circuits and ten gigabit ethernet runs installed in London.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Belkin Skype handset - died and fixed (again!)

This is the third one of these handsets I've had and when they work they are great - Skype actually offers pretty darn good results - very little latency and surprisingly high vocal quality. Per Steve Gibson's suggestion I use a dedicated port for Skype (any port above 1024 will do), and open that port for UDP connections on my router. This eliminates the need for Skype Supernode support and seems to reduce latency. However - these handsets seems to develop a fault where when I connect my Skype phone to my wireless router it connects, however I receive a message telling me that the phone is unable to connect to the internet. When this happened again on the current handset I realised I was outside the 12 month window and so packed it away with a sigh. I checked their website for any firmware or suggestions but nothing. Now - three weeks later and I thought I'd take it around a couple of the root6 premises and see if it connected to any wireless APs there - it couldn't. As I was really packing it away I looked on Belkin again and guess what - well, see here, two firmware updates - the most recent saying it fixes this fault, and it did - hurrah!
One little aside - I'd never connected the handset to a Windows PC before but until I let Windows install the generic, USB driver for it the updater utility wouldn't see it.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

10-gig Ethernet article from TVB Europe magazine

After the sessions at the Broadcast Live show (last month) and the Root6 Tech Breakfast (this week) my rambings about ten gig ethernet and OM3 fibre appear in TVB Europe magazine - see the article here.
Cabling for high-speed networks seems to be my shtick at the moment.
You may need to do Save As - for some reason my Linux box ain't serving up MIME types properly!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

10 gig ethernet and Force10

This morning was the first of the Root6 tech breakfasts where I had to wax lyrical about cat7 and OM3 fibre. I think it went down well. I got to chat to the guys from Force10 networks who we've recently started to represent in the infrastructure/chassis-switch market. They score over Cisco et al. in that the latency across their backplanes is considerably lower (typ. figure of 300nS for full stateful inspection and packet forwarding). The told me an interesting thing about Cisco - apparently none of their current 1gig and 10gig port offerings are non-blocking designs! They can't guarantee that their switches won't max-out under heavy load and start turning packets away! I couldn't believe it - if you've paid for n number of gig or 10-gig ports (which, at 10-gig is still around $1k per port) you expect n x 10gig of backplane bandwidth - not with Cisco. Everyone else - Extreme Networks, The Foundry, and of course Force10 promise this, but not Cisco.

Just imagine if Mr Probel sold you a video router and you discovered that it couldn't maintain 1.5Gbits of video per port for all ports simultaneously - you send it to the workshop for repair!