Thursday, December 17, 2009

Every Windows user to get pop-up menu of internet browsers

Every person who owns a computer with Microsoft Windows is to be offered their choice of internet browsers in an automatic pop-up menu following an agreement today between the software company and the European Union.

I know liberals never like to see one sunflower grow any bigger than the others but this is plainly ridiculous - as one of the comments reads; "..when can I have a choice of a Ford engine in my Vauxhall car?" - and when has anyone ever been stopped from using whatever browser they want? Will Apple ever be obliged to let me use Windows Media Player to manage my iPhone? It seems wrong to punish a company for being successful when they behave exactly like everyone else. You know that if Steve Jobs ran a company with greater than 10% market share Apple would behave twice as aggressively.
I haven't used IE for six years but I don't think the EU should be able dictate to a company how they should configure their OS. Let's remember Microsoft are in the position they are because of market forces - they behave in a relatively ethical manner; they don't pollute, they don't use third-world slave labour and they don't do deals with brutal dictators.
Just sayin'.....

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Day of the Triffids

This is one of my favorite pieces of post-apocalyptic fiction. I read the book when I was a young teenager and really enjoyed the BBC production in my mid-teens. Good old Auntie Beeb have made the entire series available on YouTube (link above) at a very reasonable resolution. On my laptop the fullscreen playback is almost indistinguishable from the DVDs. Nice to see they've kept the 4x3 aspect that it was originally shot in.
Watch episode 2 - all the exteriors are shot in/around Primrose Hill near our workshop.

However, I read online this morning that the Beeb have a new production that they're showing over the holiday. From Wikipedia;
It is produced by Stephen Smallwood and directed by Nick Copus (EastEnders, The 4400). The script is by Patrick Harbinson, who has written episodes of the British dramas Soldier Soldier and Heartbeat, and the American series ER and Law & Order.

Filmed in the south-east of England, the new adaptation stars Dougray Scott as Dr Bill Masen; the confirmed supporting cast includes Joely Richardson as Jo Playton, Brian Cox as Dennis Masen, Vanessa Redgrave as Durrant, Eddie Izzard as Torrence and 90210 star Jason Priestley as Coker. Broadcast dates are 28 & 29 December 2009 on BBC1

So that's Christmas viewing for me sorted out!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Edit suite stories

Just a great group on Facebook - a good read every day. I know not everyone does the Facebook thing but this really is a reason to start!

Monday, December 07, 2009

I am not a climate change denier

The Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband has acknowledged that there is "further to go" to persuade people in both the UK and around the world that global warming is man-made.

Interviewed by Today presenter on Humphreys on the opening day of the United Nations' climate change conference on Copenhagen, Mr Miliband said that those who denied the existence of a connection between human activity and global warming were "profoundly irresponsible".

And he said that the Copenhagen conference would be seen as successful if it led to "a deal consistent with science" which saw global emissions peaking in 2020.

Also - read this article on

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Going to see Martyn Joseph tomorrow night

It's been a couple of years but looking forward to seeing the "Welsh Springsteen/Dylan/Bragg"!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Why beauty in art is important

Philosopher Roger Scruton presents a provocative essay on the importance of beauty in the arts and in our lives. In the 20th century, Scruton argues, art, architecture and music turned their backs on beauty, making a cult of ugliness and leading us into a spiritual desert. The link is to the page on the iPlayer.
Beauty is not popular among professional architects, just as the pursuit of beauty is not popular among visual artists: it suggests costly sacrifices, and a scaling down of pretensions for the sake of people whom they don't need to know. But the controversy over modern architecture remains real and important: for it reflects the need of ordinary people that appearances be respected, so that the place where they find themselves can also be shared as a home.

He crystallized some thoughts for me - I've always felt uneasy with art that has to assert it's own artistic relevance. I've always thought that true art doesn't need to be declared as such - a working man (who didn't go to St Martins!) should be able to recognize something that has artistic worth, he doesn't need Messrs Hirst and the Chapmans to tell him.
Whilst I was watching I did a Twitter search and was surprised how aggressive the people who disagreed with his thesis are - they just insult him rather than address what he's saying. I've stuck a quick sample at the end - some make for strong reading!
I suppose anybody who stands against an accepted orthodoxy gets flack - maybe it strengthens what he says!

emberson @Archispeak ....and as for Scruton and his cronies.....the talking dead?
sunwukung Roger Scruton in an unbearable old fart.
purpleparoxysm "as meaningless as a laugh, shout or smile" - i think that's your fundamental problem Scruton. What a twat and what an 'ugly' man & mind.
maty0609 Roger Scruton, get out of my face...This is rubbish you're saying...
Me-cold_2_normal Benjihotaylor Roger Scruton doesn't half talk a load of crap!
davidTrussler Ideas themselves cannot be beautiful, according to Roger Scruton, thus dismissing all Conceptual Art. Totally reactionary rubbish.
Daviesstock Watching some pretentious high-brow intellectual masturbating on the nature of Beauty, presented by Roger Scrotum, er, I mean Scruton...
NiteWaves roger scruton is a boring old cunt
danielnothing Roger Scruton: an arsehole?
unityzer0 fuck you Roger Scruton.
magnetite I think Duchamp's bog IS beautiful, Scruton you cock.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Quartz - excellent products AND tech support

I was around at a customers' today - their Quartz 32x32 HD/RS422 Xenon router had stopped talking to it's control panels. Normally that is down to the coax 'QBus' cable that runs around all of the devices - like old-school 50ohm ethernet-over-coax - is prone to having a break in the middle or loosing a term from one end. However - this wasn't the case. A quick call to their tech support and you get an engineer who knows the products - can tell you what each board-LED means and what low-level commands you can send over the RS232 to illicit diagnostic information. In short order I re-loaded the configuration and the whole matrix was back up and running.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Beware of your DVI's blanking width!

You think you know a certain signal standard but then some nuance of interpretation jumps up and bites you on the backside! Here are excerpts from an email conversation, mine are in italics, the manufacturer's in bold.

....we have a pair of VS-66HDMIs that pass signals fine at resolutions sub 1920x1200 but when you hit that resolution the output flickers and won't lock. Taking the router out of the circuit but using the same cables allows the monitor to lock to the signal fine. The two sources are; Apple MacPro with nVidia GForce GT120 graphics card Apple G5 with ATI Radio 9600 Pro graphics card. Suffice to say we've done the usual powering down etc and tried different cables in case something is on the hairy edge of spec but with different sources that seems unlikely.

Thanks for your e-mail, the details of which I sent off to our R&D people. I have now had a response, in which they said;

"When we mention 1900x1200 we mean narrow blanking. With regular 1900x1200 blanking the bandwidth is higher than the chipset capabilities."

When I asked if the VS-66HDCP matrix (6 x 6 DVI matrix) was any different the answer came back;

"They are the same and use the same chipset. You may be able to set the PC's output to narrow blanking."

So I guess the next question is whether you can adjust the PC’s to provide narrow blanking.

OK, thanks for looking into it xxxx. I had a chat with Apple Engineering late yesterday (we’re a re-seller) and they say that no stock graphics card that has shipped with either a G5 or MacPro in the last five years supports narrow DVI blanking at 1920x1200! In the case of nVidia cards that setting is exposed in the PC driver (I checked on a couple of Windows machines and that is indeed the case – although the installed default was standard rather than narrow blanking) but there is no way to get to it with OS-X.

It seems you should change your advertising to read ‘doesn’t support Macs at hi-res’ or ‘not for use with Macs & monitors greater than 23” display’ something like that. Given that an awful lot of people in the creative industries use Apple computers this isn’t an unusual requirement of a product and if someone reads the copy “Up to UXGA, 1920x1200, 1080p.” You’d forgive them for assuming that it will work with their Apple computer running at 1920x1200.

It puts us in a spot as we now have to source another pair of switchers to sort out our customer.

So there you go - I'm pinning my hopes on the Gefen equivelent. They seem to recognise that a lot of people in the TV industry use Macs!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

BBC iPlayer on the Wii

The Wii has been able to access iPlayer for ages via the rubbish browser it has but the launch of an iPlayer app (or channel in Nintendo speak!) means you have a proper interface and the Wii playback of MPEG4 video has been improved with the most recent system update.
I spent a while monkeying around with it this morning and it is excellent - the interface is really usable and the playback quality is excellent. This is the best iPlayer machine we have at home.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The birth of Radar

I went to an excellent lecture at my institute with a real engineering gentleman - Laurence Tandy. He reminded me of some of the senior engineers at the Beeb. He clearly had a lot of love for his subject and enjoyed talking about the development of radar from before the war until now. His subject is magnetrons which I've had brushes with when on placement at transmitters (when I was at the Beeb) but never really understood how they work. His explanation was excellent and I came away having really learnt something.
Along with his explanation of the various technique he related several incidents concerning the war and his time spent assisting Robert Watson-Watt - the father of radar. He started as an eighteen year-old lab tech in 1938 and worked his way up to Master Specification Officer for Microwave Power Devices at the government-run Telecommunications Research Establishment from where he retired in 1981.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The great 3G cable shoot-out

Thanks to Simon Hillman for tabulating them in a way that makes trends clear. The link in the title is the directory with the A1 plots.

The tests based on a pathological signal are more extensive and test for six cable types - three HD and three SD. Since we were trying to spot trends due to cable length we feel this is the most informative of the sets of data. Simon re-did a subset using only the three HD types and 1080/50P colour bars to test for jitter which (as you'd expect) doesn't vary to any degree with length but you can see the relative damage barrels and U-Links do.

The conclusions that spring out are;

  • At 3G using coax specified for HD 60m seems to be the workable cable length before attenuation becomes an issue and the eye closes below 400mV.

  • SD coax goes about half the distance - this seems counter-intuitive as most SD coax has a notional analogue bandwidth (+/- 6dBs) of 360Mhz - three octave less than HD coax. Clearly the signal recovery in the WFM8300 is at play.

  • The variation between the best (most expensive) and worst cable at HD before the signal becomes sub-optimal (i.e. worse than 3dBs attenuation) is less than 10m with Belden 1694 coming out on top.

  • The 8300 was still able to recover a signal at 150m with Belden but only 120m with the Draka DC DVC13C. At these length the mean time between corrupt video frames would be unacceptable.

  • The Condufil 1694-equivelent tracks the more expensive Belden cable very well.
As mentioned this was really a test of run-lengths for a practical guide to cabling TV facilities. In the bulk of the tests we used the correct BNC crimp connectors and the proper tools for the brands of BNCs (attached by an experienced wireman) - We did try and provoke jitter by mixing up connectors with cable but it seemed to make scant difference. It does seem for 3G HD video the newer style 4.5Ghz are to be preferred over the original HD-type cable.

In the end I suspect that these results will represent the best possible world as Tektronix gear is known to drive a coax line optimally and has excellent return loss on its inputs. Other manufactures are less so and if our experience with 1.48G 4:2:2 HD is anything to go by the massive variation in the quality of line-drivers and receivers will make these results meaningless. Nobody (particularly in these hard economic times) builds a facility with only Sony and Tektronix equipment.

Many thanks to Tom & Lee at Tek for the loan of the equipment and advice and Simon and Graham at Bryant for providing the various cable types, ends & tools. Please note all original information and test results are the property and copyright of root6

update: After IBC 2010 I had dinner with a couple of the guys from Condufil and they told me that the trick with high frequency coax is the consistency of the dialectric. The best examples use nitrogen to inflate the dialectric foam whereas budget cable is manufactured with a mechanical extrusion method. In their words this if the difference between Belden & Condufil vs Draka. This seems to be borne our by our tests.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

BBC cuts HDTV bit-rate

Data rates on Freesat have been ramped down - now below ten megabits per sec for H.264 - this is likely to reflect what Freeview HD will look like when Mux-B gets fired up from Crystal Palace this December.
Danielle Nagler, the recently-appointed head of BBC HD, admitted that the BBC had reduced the HD channel’s bit rate. She claimed that there was no evidence that a reduction in bit-rate reduced the picture quality.

I have to say that if you're the head of HD for probably the most prestigious broadcaster in the world and you believe there is no correlation between bitrate and perceived picture quality then you got the job under false pretenses as you know nothing about the technicalities of DVB.
Why didn't they give me that job! I know pretty much everything about SD, HD, DVB-T, OFDM, QAM etc etc!

It reminds me of the facilities (oh, and Quantel!) that used to claim 8-bits was better than ten!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

TriCaster - killed by Quicktime v.7.6.1

I had a very jolly morning at the College of Law on Store Street replacing a TriCaster Studio (the one with virtual sets etc.) - last job of the morning (or so I thought!) was to install the current rev of Quicktime to allow playback of ProRes clips. QT 7.6.1 kills TriCaster - I wound up having to repave the machine from it's restore partition which (interestingly) is a Linux drive that boots from Grub!

Monday, November 09, 2009

iPhone - burning my leg!

On Saturday morning when I was enjoying my pancakes I noticed my iPhone was roasting hot - there was a strip a few mm wide across the back of the device (where the Apple logo is ironically!) that was too hot to touch. I quickly powered it down and once it was cool it started up again OK - I cycled all the radios (WiFi, Bluetooth, 3G etc) and it all seemed to be working except the battery discharged in about half an hour (it had been full before the hot leg incident). Subsequently it would hold a charge for just a few hours and less than an hour if you made a couple of calls or listened to any tunes.
O2 swapped it out without any fuss (even supplied a complete new set of accessories - handy to have another charger!) and iTunes restore function leaves you with a 'phone that is in exactly the same state as when you last sync'ed - must less painful than the numerous Windows mobiles I've had over the years.
I can only assume that one cell in the battery pile had internally shorted and burnt out and that the 'phone is able to run on 5/6th of the voltage.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Bad movie transfers - part 2

In my effort to call out broadcasters for v.poor quality movie transfers for transmission my latest pint of bile is directed towards five and the terrible copy of Groundhog Day they put out on Sunday evening. I sat down to watch it last night and was amazed it passed any kind of QC process - 4x3 1" (or maybe VHS!) bump-up.
I watched the MPEG2 transport stream (i.e. I recorded it off Freeview without re-compression) and so it was the data as delivered.

Monday, November 02, 2009

RS422 - still with us! My notes

They print nicely - make them full page.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The curse of the 'Engineering Project Manager'

I heard this very moving report on the radio this morning - it concerns a fatal Nimrod crash in Afghanistan in 2006 and lays the blame at the engineering procedures for maintaining the aircraft.
I can see exactly how this happens - engineering managers who describe themselves as 'facilitators' - to whom everything is a hand-off to someone else and who won't be doing any of the design/build/test work themselves nor will they have any responsibility for the system once it's in and working. I always felt when I ran engineering in facilities that there was immense worth in the people who would be operating and looking after a system having a say (or complete involvement in) it's design and build. In effect me and my engineers owned the systems we devised.
I quite like LinkedIn - it's a Facebook for the over-40s! Anyway on your profile you can solicit recommendations from people who you've worked with in the past and these get displayed as part of your resume.
Now then, a few years ago I was sitting on two job offers - root6 (the one I took) and chief engineer at a rather large facility that was pioneering a tapeless workflow for their major client (a big international broadcaster). A ex-colleague was the caretaker engineer and a couple of days after what I thought was an excellent interview (secured me an offer) he called and warned me about what was essentially a poisoned-chalice. Their 'systems architect' had lumbered them with a build that missed one tape in six and took many times longer than realtime to transfer clips from the backup system to the editing SAN. Those two facts alone killed their workflow and for a year they were the biggest hirers of VTRs (on trestle tables!) in London. He hadn't seen all the pieces working together in demonstration and had taken the manufacturers' words for it - suffice to say they were all pointing at each other! Over the next two years they made it all work but it wasn't a happy ride for the facility or the client.
Anyway - I found a recommendation for this chap on LinkedIn - about what a bang-up engineering architect he was and delivered ahead of time/below budget etc etc. I just goes to show - don't believe anything you read on the internet and don't trust engineers who don't own the system they are delivering.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Eng Funds no.21 September 1988

Another BBC photo from a couple of decades ago! There's me in the back row. Mark Chambers (rear left) and I shared a flat - he worked in OBs at Kendal Avenue. Tim Cowin (between me and Mark) worked in Radio and Jim Binks (below Tim) now works at EMS.
Anyone else you know?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Electronics Graphics area from 1991

I was going through some old photos from work - this is BBC White City's first electronic graphics suite - you can see a couple of original series Quantel Paintboxes (the 6U one with the brown front panel that looked like every other Quantel box of the eighties!), Sony DXC3000 camera (their first broadcast CCD model), Questech Charisma (two channels, IIRC - not the curvy effect model), Abekas A64 disk recorder (sixty seconds of video!), Ampex Ace 200 edit controller, three BetaSP decks and a Revox 1/4" tape machine.
This was the first area I had a hand in - possibly my start in Systems Integration. We had the DVE, Quantels and A64 hooked up to each other over a 4x4 601 matrix - 8 bit digital video over 25-pin D-types so it was possible to do lossless bouncing between those gadgets.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Big companies and small SI contractors, pt.2

I have lost count of the number of pre-sales or project meets I've been in where a staff project manager from the customer's internal projects or procurement department will say something like;
How are you proposing getting those fibre cables between these two rooms?

Invariably it's the first time I've been in the building (where matey-boy has been working for years) and I normally admit I don't know - it's their building and I was hoping they'd tell us how to route the cables between the rooms. My standard response is;
We'll be guided by you

Which in the case of a meeting yesterday didn't cut any mustard! It reminds me of a Not the Nine O'clock News sketch;

No no Grandad, no clues!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

For a class-1 device you need a mains earth!

We had a monitor that was giving people mains shocks off the SDi BNC connectors. I opened it up and there was no earth from the mains inlet to the metal chassis. No then - if you want to have no internal earth you have to have a plastic case and one other layer of insulation between the user and any current-carrying conductors (that can be a layer of air - but the device must be 'double-insulated' AKA 'class-2'). I hope this was a manufacturing fault and not a design oversight!
It's not unusual for equipment (particularly with a resonant or switch-mode power-supply) to have the internal earth float at half-mains (with a very high-impedance to the power-source, no real ability to deliver any current), but that's why you need a safety earth connection if you can touch the chassis-earth (on the BNCs, for example) and not get a little belt!

before - oh dear! - after - much better!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Behaviour of big broadcasters with small SI contractors

There are four big independent broadcast SI contractors in the UK - aside from Sony, Thompson and Ascent's in-house departments the big broadcasters tend to put their studios, OB trucks and transmission-centre builds out to TSL, ATG, Megahertz and Gearhouse. Smaller contractors (like root6) live in the shadow of these guys.
Those broadcasters (and large broadcast facility providers) tend to have in-house procurement departments that are very close to their favorite SIs. They've worked with those guys in the past and know them well - they probably had a few years together at the Beeb in P&ID (planning and installations dept).

Anyway - there have been several instances where we've been asked to quote for a good size job (>£200k) with these customers. Because it's someone of substance you make sure you've got all your ducks in a row - all documentation is complete and the tender (by request) tends to carry diagrams, schedules etc - the kind of stuff that smaller customers would assume comes after they've placed an order with you. Inevitably they wind up placing the job with one of their favoured pals (even when, in the case of one job we were £80k cheaper - but not enough for the in-house project manager to want to use someone he'd not worked with before). In the case of that job I got a call from one of the freelance wiremen who was taken on (who we use as well) with the question "..why have you specified that for the mains supply in bay 2?" - I was astonished - they'd passed on all the pre-sales work we'd done to the contractor they (probably) knew they were going to use all along. They hadn't even removed my name from the AutoCAD diagrams.

In a sense it's all legal - tender conditions specify that everything you turn in becomes the property of the client but if they always want to only have the choice of the previous two contractors this is exactly the way to go. If they want smaller contractors to be viable alternatives and/or keep the big guys honest this is not the way to behave. It's disproportionately hard on smaller contractors and (no doubt) saves the larger guys because they benefit from the pre-sales planning we've had to do. If you don't think your existing systems integration contractor is providing value then let someone else have a crack rather than just using their quote as a stick to beat the guy who sees your work as his by right.

There are other people (aside from the four mentioned) who have built and run systems that have many hundreds of hours of terrestrial television delivery under their belts!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Eizo CG232W television monitor

I've been sent several monitors to look at over the last year that are essentially high-end computer displays that have been fitted with HD-SDi input and (with verying degrees of success) been sold as grading screens.
The first mistake that's often made is the amount of light output. The worst offender was the HP DreamColour range - peak whites at 500Cd/m2! BBC standard is to grade for TV at eighty and many film people are now setting monitors at sixty for long grading sessions. It is true that delta-E (the smallest perceivable colour difference on a standardised scale) decreases with overall illumination - at five hundred candelas per metre-squared you're nearly blinded. It might be fine for watching Toy Story but it's not what TV grading is about. I hear lots of colourist-wannabe's going on about how good a monitor looks without realising the most important thing is that a monitor is accurate - it conforms to the standard. Your TV at home should look good so you enjoy your movies etc. BUT your grading display should be brutally honest. Also - bear in mind that only about one in ten-thousand people have perfect colour memory (I don't) and so looking at a monitor for colour accuracy without a colourimetry probe (and not a £200 thing you bought for your Mac!) is pointless.

1. Whites - I'm so glad this display is kicking out a respectable sub-100Cd/m2! As mentioned we've seen several computer monitors that have been bent to look like TV displays that kick out many times more light than they should.

2. Blacks - Nothing special for an LCD - this looks like many LCD TV displays, the blacks are a bit lacking in detail. Ironically the cheap JVC DTV-20 series do blacks a bit better.

3. Interlace - the de-interlacer seems on par with the VuTrix Pro-24 - it struggles a bit with certain slow pans and zooms but seems to get captions (crawls and rolls) correct - better than the VuTrix. Some sub-frame events (fireworks going off, paparazzi camera flashes etc) upset it more than other monitors.

4. Resolution - looks fine. On a 0-15Mhz grating I can see the last section fine and there's no lacking in detail on real pictures.

5. Colour balance seems fine – next to a know good display both whites and blacks (well, 10% greys!) are v.close to D6500. It seems to track perfectly as well.

6. Backlight consistency – much better than the three VuTrix panels I’ve seen recently – as good as a Sony or eCinema DCM-23 (both >£15k panels).

I’d stress that I’ve looked at it very much as a TV monitor with my BBC / Illuminant-D eyes on. I’m not a film colour guy but TV colourimetry is my thing.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The failure of IT projects and the Y2K hoax

I've blogged about the Y2K hoax in the past and I think it provides valuable insights into people and how they operate. I listened to Stephen Fry's "In the beginning was the nerd" (still on the iPlayer) - a potted history of IT with particular emphasis on hardware and software designers. The interview with Ross Anderson was by far the most interesting part and I managed to get hold of the unedited interview which I've stuck on my server here.
One of the most interesting points he makes is the high degree of failure of IT projects - approximately 31% of computing projects in the private sector fail (that's a long understood number) - when a project goes so over-budget or when completed radically under-performs. In a sense, for privately funded projects you expect a degree of failure because if business leaders aren't taking risks they aren't finding new and profitable ways of doing things.
The horror I discovered is the rate of failure of IT projects in the public sector - more than 70% - and this from civil servants who should be more risk-averse than businessmen.
Anyway - he covers all of this in what is a very insightful piece.
It's a good job that traditional engineering projects don't have such a high rate of attrition.

Monday, October 05, 2009

ITV DVB-T stations - poor film transfers

Twice in the last couple of weeks I've sat down to watch a favorite film and realized what a terrible job ITV do when it comes to ITV 3 & 4 (actually - a few months ago the copy of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure I watched with the kids on ITV 2 was similarly afflicted).
The Scarlet Pimpernel (the 1982 romp with Jane Seymour and Anthony Andrews; "Sink me, your tailors have betrayed you"!) last week and Clint Eastwood Unforgiven about a month ago were both put out in 4x3 with very clear 1" C-format artifacts on them. Hasn't it been fifteen years since we started to do film transfers at 16x9? Wasn't that mandated by Ofcom when the Beeb saved DVB-T in this country from ITV's incompetence in the OnDigital debacle? Relying on telecine sessions you did back in the early nineties just won't do now - and even if you do have the cheek to just copy the 1" transfer to DigiBeta at least have the courtesy/engineering ability to line up the last VPR3 in your transfer area!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Windows - occasionally 110% accurate!

It does indeed need to close - permanently!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Good SciFi - Flashforward

2009 is turning into a good year for science fiction - District 9 had some truly original ideas and now Flashforward;
A mysterious global event causes everyone on the planet to simultaneously lose consciousness for 2 minutes and 17 seconds (137 seconds), during which people worldwide see what may be visions of their lives approximately six months in the future, April 29, 2010. The event results in deaths from accidents and leaves the survivors wondering whether what they saw will happen.

Sarah and I caught episode one last night which was entirely watchable until the last scene which left us both speechless! There is no violence or gore (to speak of) yet the idea they present in the final part was genuinely frightening - I won't spoil it any more but catch it on five's watch-again service (fantastic the UK is getting is a couple of days after the US) or score yourself a DRM-uncrippled version from the various torrent sites. On EZ-TV

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

BlackMagic's Broadcast Convertors & VideoHub

Having bad-mouthed the BlackMagic UltraScope a couple of weeks ago (it really is a waste of time!) I approached a recent job with some trepidation. For reasons of economy the customer wanted to use BM for glue products as well as the 16x32 VideoHub matrix. The VideoHub I knew from previous jobs and in the past I'd viewed them as too unreliable for TX or dubbing work (the three we put into a facility in 2007 crashed daily). However, we'd heard from the UK importer that they've moved manufacturing, improved QC and re-written the control software to make a much more reliable product.
So - we put this one in and I intentionally hooked one of the outputs to a ForA multi-tile display which has an alarm when one of the inputs drops. In a week I didn't hear the ForA complain once but we'll have to see if the reliability really is there.
The software has improved much since I last put one in - you control the matrix over a USB connection, but the controlling PC/Mac can re-share over TCP/IP and you can use the client software on many machines. In effect you can have a matrix control panel on every Avid or FCP - even at home over the web (if you open a hole in the firewall).
I think the only critique is the old TX/RX cross-over in the RS422 path. Proper matrices (Probel, Quartz etc) know when a device is a controller (typ. an Avid) and when something is controlled (typ. a VTR). The BlackMagic refers to these as 'workstation' and 'deck' respectively but this is silly if you're using a two-VTR edit pair (the recorder is now a 'workstation'!) or using an Avid in VTR-emulate mode (so the Avid is a 'deck'). This is one area where the VideoHub looses out to a matrix in that is doesn't have that proper control system. However - at a quarter of the cost of a comparable 'proper' setup it's a small moan.

The Broadcast Converters are a 1u 'everything-in, everything-out' box that you can 'wrap-around' a BetaSP machine (typically) and have it look like a DigiBeta - analogue to digital (for both video and audio) and back again simultaneously for not much money (less than a grand). It's a ten bit device and has the added advantage of HDMI for displaying on modern HD panels. My only criticism would be that although you can select which embedded/de-embedded audio group you work with it only has stereo analogue i/o (but on XLRs mind you!). All levels and input standards (composite/s-video/component) are controlled over USB which probably allowed them to keep the cost down. It is quite usable and you could see it being used as a control panel (on the FCP's or Avid's desktop?) rather than just for the engineer to dip into with his laptop. They really are hard to beat on features/economy and I'm impressed with the quality of the analogue signal handling.

So, it's not all bad news from BlackMagic (but the UltraScope is still pretty useless!)

Stop Press! I've just discovered that the Broadcast Converters don't pass the vertical interval! So - no VITC, caption data, widescreen switching etc etc - just the kid of things a Broadcaster would need! So - not the perfect solution I hoped for.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Philips SRU5170 universal remote

With some birthday money I got one of these chaps - I have to say I was very impressed having used/programmed Cambridge/Logitechs etc in the past. This one has an automated identification function that got everything (Philips DVD-R, XBox 360, old Aiwa VHS, Panasonic TV, no-name 2nd DVB-T tuner) but missed my home-brew PVR (bit of a stretch!). However - it was trivial to dig out the IR mini-PS/2 keyboard and programme the buttons for the PVR individually. So, lots of remotes banished to the cupboard.

Oh - and PC World have them on half-price at the moment - £24 and the Tottenham Court Road branch had loads in stock yesterday.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

3G cable 'shoot-out'

Three gigabit HD-SDi video has been around for a couple of years now but I've yet to see a comprehensive review of different cable types and how they handle the newer 1080p50 signals. Bryant Broadcast contacted me a couple of months ago and asked if I could conduct a test of the six cable types they recommend for HD work. So, I've borrow a brand new Tek WFM8300 (launched at IBC, not that I'd have known!) and have six drums of cable and all the BNC ends and appropriate crimp tools at the ready! I'll be measuring jitter, noise and the overall state of the eye pattern at 10m intervals from 200m down to 10m and then when we have a good feel for the various cable types we'll turn our attention to the damage that jackfields, u-links and BNC couplers do to the signal.
The image above is a screen capture of the machine with 2m of Belden 1694 cable - rated at 4.5Ghz!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Broadcast Service Centre

Today is my birthday - I'm 42 (the age Elvis was when he died!) and so it's twenty-one years since I started at the Beeb. As I think back over my time as a broadcast engineer I can honestly say the most intellectually challenging time was when I worked in maintenance at BBC Television News and spent a lot of time fixing VTRs/cameras/monitors/DVEs etc. There is a sense of real achievement when you get a VTR making good recordings and send it back on it's way to studio/editing/graphics/transmission department. I never understood electronics as well as I did then and although things are generally more interesting (video compression is definitely up there) I rarely feel that satisfaction whereas in 1990 it was a daily occurrence.

Anyhow - Broadcast Service Centre is one of the mainstays of the industry - if you don't have in house engineers who fix VTs (and I don't think many firms do now) BSC are good guys - properly trained engineers who do a good job quickly. Looking around their website I felt a pang of envy! David Reid who runs BSC is a nice guy as well. They also do sales and service of other equipment.

Monday, September 07, 2009

One DVB-T upgrade that's close to my heart!

This must be a new antenna in anticipation of DVB-T2 as The Wrekin has been carrying digital TV for years (my parents get their Freeview from The Wrekin). The Shropshire Star is their local tabloid and their pictures are quite good. You can see some a picture I took of the same transmitter a couple of years ago here and I couldn't miss the chance to quote a bit of Housman.
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.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Free internet tethering on iPhone without jailbreaking

Apparently O2 know about this but feel they couldn't go after anyone as their T&Cs specifically say unlimited data - how can they then say what you can use that data for? It reminds me of when broadband was just kicking off ten years ago and all the telcos had some ridiculous clause that you could only connect one computer to their aDSL! I was running a proxy server on my network back then and so I could legitimately say there was only one computer connected to their line!

Anyhow - This works like a dream, over USB and Bluetooth. Follow Richard Lai's walkthrough and you'll be in internet tether heaven in five minutes.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

James Murdoch - yet another reason I'll avoid Sky

I could hardly have avoided the ruckus at the Edinburgh TV festival because of the large numbers of mentions of it on Twitter. James Murdoch who runs Sky has not missed an opportunity to rubbish the BBC and the state of broadcasting in the UK generally. The first thing that caught my attention was his rather tenuous link between the pseudo-state run nature of the Beeb and Creationism in the US;

Creationism penalises the poorest in our society with regressive taxes and policies - like the licence fee and digital switchover;
It promotes inefficient infrastructure in the shape of digital terrestrial television;

He doesn't spare news and current affairs either;

And now, in the all-media marketplace, it threatens significant damage to important spheres of human enterprise and endeavour - the provision of independent news, investment in professional journalism, and the innovation and growth of the creative industries.

One of the funnier tweets I saw ran something link " can almost see the strings being pulled by his father".

Anyway - on the subject of news - does he really suppose that Sky News (or, heaven forbid Fox News) represent anything other than biased reporting coming straight out of the executive team at News Corp.? Something you can say about BBC News is that it is accurate and relatively unbiased. One of the things you often hear leaders of political movements against tyranny in other parts of the world say is that the World Service is the news source that kept them going. I've heard Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi say just that in interviews. Can you imagine if Sky or Fox News had the job of championing democracy in this world?

Regressive tax - The BBC offers remarkable value for money when compared to Sky and the ITV network. If you compare the £180 per annum cost of the BBC license fee with the cost of even the most modest Sky package or the £350 that the cost of ITV-based advertising places on the average family's annual grocery bill then you realise that the license fee is less of a tax than having to fund commercial TV. I have a choice if I pay the license fee - I do because I value the Beeb but I have several friends who don't have a TV in the house and so don't have to pay for the BBC but they do have to pay for commercial TV regardless.

Infrastructure - ITV couldn't make OnDigital work - they weren't willing to be in it for the long run and it took the BBC to make Freeview a success. Not everyone wants to pay north of £25 per month for a TV package and digital terrestrial makes a lot of sense. Added to this the relative poor technical quality of Sky's HD service against the superb 10mbit/sec H.264 pictures that can be delivered over DVB-T2 and you can see why I'm a bigger fan of Freeview (both technically and content-wise) than I am of Sky.
Sky has not been good for Britain - it represents the worst aspects of our society - celebrity obsession and trivialising of everything. Give me the Beeb (and particularly Radio 4) every day.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Framestore shuts DI department

About four years ago everyone was banging on about how Digital Intermediate work was so important - at the time we were building Midnight Transfer's (now defunct) DI dept. I suppose the most significant investment in your DI department is the scanner or the 4k telecine and with more films being shot on Red/D20/Dalsa etc there is little need for high-quality film scanning. By comparisson a Film Light grading rig is quite cheap and presumably if that's where all the work is going you can't fund the TCO of a Spirit 4K on the margins of the grading room.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

I want to like Blackmagic

If you’re tired of hard to use and ugly waveform monitoring, then you’ll love Blackmagic UltraScope. We have included all the features you need when editing or color correcting, and then, combined it with an elegant user interface that looks great when added to your studio!

The reason some things are hard to use is that they are complicated - like video test and measurement. The reason Fisher Price don't make television test gear is because it's not for children! Anyhow - I sat down to have a tinker with this new gadget (in fact it's a PCI-e card you put in a spare computer) - it then hijacks the Windows desktop and runs full-screen. I don't imagine anyone would be willing to sacrifice one of their Avid or FCP monitors (aside from the fact that you'd be taking at least a couple of lanes of PCI-e bandwidth and hence making a non-supported config).

It is surprisingly uninspiring - you get only what you see - you can't move anything around or zoom in either direction. You have no measurement graticules and non of the features that are necessary in a modern rasteriser. It really is just the facade of a waveform monitor but when you look harder it is kind of useless. Seriously - save your money because this is pretty pointless. It might make a nice display for reception.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Back from holidays

Not much going on on this blog because I've been in Spain for the last two weeks.

Here are some of the power things I noticed there;

  • Mains sub-stations often attached to pilons - in small villages the 11kV transformers weren't in small brick buildings surrounded by a wall but were attached may 15m up on the tower.

  • Electricity meters - mounted in cavities in walls and finished with a perspex front panel - your meter can be read without them ringing your doorbell.

  • Our holiday main hook-up was of a much higher standard than I've ever seen in any British camp site - proper IP67 box with MCB & RCD per positions and the site manager came and inspected our mains before he'd turn us on. He was quite tickled that I had my Martindale death-tester to hand.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

It's the domain that serves up all Microsoft ads - the ones in MSN Messenger etc.

If you use OpenDNS (or any other kind of domain filtering) it's another way of stopping adverts. You could even stick it in your hosts file;

Stick it to the man!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Contemporary MPEG4-derived video codecs

For some applications, getting it wrong – or not fully optimal – the first time can be very expensive. For example, when making a semiconductor, it is very expensive to re-make masks. Plus, of course, if the semiconductor has already been put into another device, such as a camera, or mobile phone, or set-top box – it is too late (except perhaps for software workarounds). Also, in the field of semiconductors, there is a trade-off of extra silicon area for more advanced processing, versus the cost of designing and supplying a larger chip.

Another excellent primer from Tek - well worth reading if you're involved in digital video delivery.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Loudness Measurement

This how to guide highlights the benefits of the Loudness Measurements software on the WFM6000/7000 series and WVR6000/7000 series products.
Until NAB this year (when Tek introduced this update) the predominant way to measure perceived audio loudness was with some propriety instrument like the Chromatec (approved by Channel Four). Tek have done the right thing and not only followed Ofcomm's new guidelines but they've devised a scale that is as easy to read/understand as a PPM.

Hopefully they'll do the same thing with PSE measurement and put Harding out of business!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

War Story - vintage Nick Park

Early Nick Park animation from 1990 - an old gentleman shares his rememberences of WW2. Sorry for the poor quality - I found it on an old VHS tape in the back of the cupboard! The old chap reminds me very much of my father-in-law!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

These things should ALWAYS be opt-in

You may already have heard about this but early next week all UK mobiles will be on a directory which will mean that anyone will be able to access your numbers. It’s easy to unsubscribe but it must be done before the beginning of next week to make sure that you are ex-directory. You may want to suggest it to all your friends and family who have UK mobiles or they could be swamped by unsolicited messages and calls.
Click the title link to start the privacy-ball rolling!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Google Chrome Operating System

Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS. We're designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds. The user interface is minimal to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the web. And as we did for the Google Chrome browser, we are going back to the basics and completely redesigning the underlying security architecture of the OS so that users don't have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates. It should just work.

So not Windows then!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Root6 training

This stuff seems to be getting some traction! I always wanted to diversify a bit and although we've not run many courses yet I'm looking forward to more. The last one I did at Bertorelli's last month was well attended and I got a lot of good feedback.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Too busy to blog this week!

Looking forward to a weekend with some old college buddies (one of whom is getting ordained!) and my folks - barbeque!

Friday, June 26, 2009

BBC reveals salaries

Aside from the usual media brew-ha-ha surrounding BBC salaries I was disappointed to see that in the hot-50 there is only one engineer! He's John Linwood who is a software guy (ex-Yahoo) - so not one broadcast engineer (i.e. someone who has fixed VTRs/lined-up cameras/calibrated monitors/installed Media Composer etc etc.) in the senior layer at the BBC.

That says something - it wasn't always that way.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

HD Masters, day 2

# Wow, there are more than 1,000 cable providers in Germany.2:39 PM Jun 24th from TwitterFon

FreeviewHD upgrades will follow digital switch over. Thankfully Crytal Palace (last analogue TX site to go, by necessity) will upgrade early12:26 PM Jun 24th from TwitterFon

Television worldwide is a $25bn business anually. By comparison HP's printer turnover is $28bn! Puts our little industry in perspective!12:17 PM Jun 24th from TwitterFon

All tests suggest that H.264 is twice as efficient a codec at HD than MPEG2. Freeview HD will be 10mbit H.264 - SkyHD is only 12mbit MPEG2.12:08 PM Jun 24th from TwitterFon

The guy from the DTG is telling us how tight the conformity testing for the next gen of STBs - FreeviewHD using DVB-T2 etc.11:33 AM Jun 24th from TwitterFon

High frame rate TV (300 fps) does look fantastic with the resolution being maintained even on very fast pans.10:47 AM Jun 24th from TwitterFon

Don't let people talk at trade conferences who have never worked on real broadcast television!10:18 AM Jun 24th from TwitterFon

The chap who is talking about file-based workflows has talked for twenty minutes without once making reference to TV aquisition or delivery!10:16 AM Jun 24th from TwitterFon

Actually the first session is the BBC HD coverage of last year's Olympics. Very interesting - makes me wish I'd stayed in broadcast.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

HD-Masters, day 1

Super HiVision is 24Gbit/sec for 8k resolution pictures
NHK have been developing the next generation of television and this is the second year I've seen them demoing SHV. The pictures are breathtaking - the footage they showed of London Bridge shot from 800m away allows you to see the expression on people's faces as they cross the bridge. Given that it's sixteen times the pixel count of 1080-line TV this is one for the future - a real 'slow burner'!

Hmm - old big media are patting themselves on the back! Podcasting anyone?4:51 PM Jun 23rd from TwitterFon

Watching Red vs Sony F35 footage- the Red looks suprisingly video-like against the F35 which looks filmic. Wierd- Red is 1CCD, Sony is 3CCD!4:11 PM Jun 23rd from TwitterFon

Just seen 5mbit AVC bs BBC Dirac codec - amazing how good they both look at 1080.3:58 PM Jun 23rd from TwitterFon

Bill Whiston (BBC sound supervisor) showing how he mic'ed up and mixed the Proms last year - good stuff.3:10 PM Jun 23rd from TwitterFon

Afternoon session - DolbyE1:54 PM Jun 23rd from TwitterFon

Just seen my old BBC mucker Graham Collins (now @Omneon) who tells me he's pre-sales & "Head of keeping it real"! end-to-end solutions, ha!11:53 AM Jun 23rd from TwitterFon

I didn't realise that ATSC (DVB T standard in USA) only supports MPEG2. Seems like terrestrial HD in the US will be only as good as SkyHD11:13 AM Jun 23rd from TwitterFon

HD-DVB T in France has been legally required in all TVs since Dec '08 - it's a pitty we haven't had that. New UK TVs still only have MPEG2.10:46 AM Jun 23rd from TwitterFon

Every European broadcasters' insistance that 720p is as good as 1080i reminds me of Quantel's insistance through the 90s that 8 bits is best10:11 AM Jun 23rd from TwitterFon

The 3D lobby think they can monopolise every conversation about media technology9:58 AM Jun 23rd from TwitterFon

Watching footage of U2 performing on the top of BH - shot in 1080i on the Sony EX1 and 950 - can't spot the difference!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Virgin Media's traffic management and my old cable modem

I've banged on about Virgin in the past and how they have great bandwidth when it works but terrible customer communication and technical support.
They recently introduced a traffic management system that ramps down your bandwidth when you've spanked the connection (that you paid for) between 16:00 and midnight. What they didn't tell anyone was that if you're an old Telewest customer the model of cable modem you have (Scientific Atlanta WebStar if you're wondering) isn't compatible with the traffic management system (it's all done using a QOS protocol that only recent-model modems support).
Now I know why iPlayer, YouTube etc. wouldn't work every evening (much to the annoyance of the kids) - I was getting only 150Kbits per sec, not 20Mbits! Hopefully the new cable modem will solve this.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Twitter & broken DNS

I'm on Twitter and my DNS records aren't working for

but (same as it ever way!) is ok, as is

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Simon & Emily's baby girl is here!

Born today at 09:30, 3.1Kg - congratulations to both of them!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Never use second hand fibre parts!

We include the following footnote on all of our quotes;
Customer sourced components - we appreciate that you may be able to source and free-issue parts that cost less at purchase time than we have quoted. However, we will stand by the quality and usability of components we supply. In our experience we have come across customer-supplied parts that not only prove less reliable but take much longer to install. In these cases we will have to bill for any excess wiring days caused by free-issued parts.

We did a job a few months ago where the customer insisted on supplying fibre pigtails and splice-protectors. The pigtails (OM1 LC-ends in case you wondered) were of a very poor quality and took many goes to splice properly. In the end we disposed of them and used our own stock (including the splice protectors). However - we hung onto the protectors (they looked fine) and used them on a job last week. When we fired up the calibrated laser tester (-19dB(m) at 850nM in case you wondered!) we found we were getting >20dBs of loss on each circuit. It turns out the girth of the protectors was too big for the splice-bridges and so the increased pressure on the fibre-joint meant the junction was compromised. We had to re-do ten desks worth of duplex wallboxes.
The name of this purveyor of sub-standard fibre parts that have bitten us in the backside twice now? See here!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

3G HD-SDi standards

Yesterday I was doing a day of training - Root6's Video101 (you can grab my slides here) was what I was doing, but the day started off with a presentation with my old pal Lee Ballinger of Tektronix. He went through SMPTE372 and the now sixty(!) transport formats it covers. A 3G payload can carry many variations of Y Cb Cr / RGB / XYZ colour, framerates etc. You can even send two 1.48G HD-SDi streams down one side of a 3G connection - this is being refered to as SMPTE 292B (an extension on the original HD-SDi spec).
One of the things I'd not realised was inter-link timing discrepancy - it can be a max. of 40nS (not long!).
Anyway - Lee's presentation will be available as a video on Root6's site when Mark pulls his finger out and edits/encodes it. Whilst there you can check out me banging on about 10-gig ethernet.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Remove Microsoft .Net Framework Assistant From Firefox

The reason most people use Firefox is that they want to leave IE behind. The .net framework (along with ActiveX and JavaScript) are just some of the reasons IE has historically been the most unsecure of browsers. I use Firefox because it's trivial to blanket-block active content unless I allow it (on a per-domain basis).
To have Microsoft install (without asking me) .net support in Firefox via auto-update is unforgivable. I don't want unrestricted active content running on web pages and I don't want MS making less secure the alternative software I've chosen to use in the face of their poor security.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

First few days with the iPhone

These are the apps that are staying on there - many more have been tried!

Monday, June 01, 2009

The ghosts of smartphones past....

I've never owned my own mobile 'phone - it seems that my bosses have placed more value on being able to contact me than I've placed on owning my own handset. I suppose that there can't be many people who were in a positions where having your own 'phone was too expensive but mobiles were common enough for it to be a valid business tool. Engineers five years younger than me would have not thought twice about getting a cell 'phone.
Anyhow - we just switched over to iPhones at work and so I thought I list the last ten years of smartphones I've had - I suppose once 'phones could receive email and do data they became smarphones.

The 888 came out in 1999 and was the first handset I had that could do data - it had a built in GSM modem (at a mighty 9600 baud!) and would tether to my PDA (an HP Journada) and allow me to do email on the bus! It was also built like a tank and the battery lasted for days! It didn't have anything like a browser however.

The R380 was unusual in that the keyboard flipped away from the landscape touchscreen to reveal a very wide aspect display that did have a WAP browser and an email client. I used to browse Yahoo's news feeds on the train on the way back from the Big Brother studio in 2001. Like the 888 it was solid (although the flip out keyboard needed replacing once) and had excellent battery life. The keyboard was just mechanical - the buttons pressed on the touchscreen and the 'phone clearly knew where all the buttons were.

The original SPV was the first Windows Mobile (phone edition) handset on the market (I think) - it had GPRS data (2.5G if you will) and could run an IM client as well as browser and email. It struggled to playback MP3s whilst anything else was going on, but I used it for a year in 2003. Battery life was appalling and (like every other Windows powered device I've ever had) it crashed often.

The E200 was a bit better - a touch faster and it had a camera built in (my first handset with that). Build quality wasn't good and I recall most of Root6 having to get replacement handsets. The battery life seemed worse than the original SPV.

The C500 finally hit the sweet-spot of pewerful enough processor (for the OS) and decent battery life. This was the best 'phone-edition version of Windows Mobile I ever had. It was robust and the battery life was tolerable. I used one for a year and a half around 2005.

The M1000 was my first Windows Mobile PDA-format 'phone. I think it came at the end of Windows Mobile 2003 and so was man-enough for the OS. I love 'phones that do lots of stuff - camera, MP3 playback, document viewing etc. The slide-out keyboard was suprisingly usable.

The M5000 was a step backwards AFAIK - it had a cute little laptop form-factor and you could swivel the screen so that it was hidden in use - so you couldn't see who was calling! Terrible battery life along with a new version of the OS meant it struggled to be usable. One nice thing about it was that it had a 640x480 screen which meant video playback was good - I used to drop MPEG2 files straight from off-air recordings and they played back faultlessly.

The HTC Hermes suffered like the M5000 in that it was the first of their handsets to have Windows Mobile v.6 (they'd reverted to numbers rather than years) and so was too underpowered and (like most them!) the battery life only just lasted a day if (like me) you used it for a few calls, some emails and a podcast or two. I wasn't sorry to see this one go!

Until last week the HTC Kaiser was my PDA-phone and I felt that (with the possible exception of the M1000) it was the only Windows Smartphone that really cut the mustard. It was powerful enough to do everything, battery life was tolerable and the included TomTom GPS was excellent. I stopped using my car's GPS in favour of it - kinda ironic that now I have an iPhone (no turn-by-turn GPS) I'll be digging that one out of the bottom of the glove box!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

First reply I've got in ages!

Dear Mr Crawley

Thank you for your e-mail regarding 'Who's Watching You' as broadcast on 25 May.

I understand you were unhappy with camera techniques used in this programme and note you felt it detracted from its premise.

I can assure you that I've registered your comments on our audience log. This is the internal report of audience feedback which we compile daily for all programme makers and commissioning executives within the BBC, and also their senior management. It ensures that your points, and all other comments we receive, are circulated and considered across the BBC.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact us.


BBC Complaints

---------Original Message-------------

Although the programme was interesting the shooting style was very distracting. Whip pans, pulling focus once a shot is established and reframing the shot whilst a person is doing a piece to camera really detracts from the documentary content. It's fine for pop promos but not for a prime-time documentary. You can stick a Z1 on a tripod you know!
It also looked like it was graded by a colour-blind person.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Friday, May 22, 2009

Leaf Networks - better than Hamachi

I've written about Hamachi as a lightweight VPN solution in the past and for a year or more I used it every day to access files at home and provide an in to friends and relatives machines who I do tech support for. Not having to worry about opening ports on routers etc. is fantastic but recently Hamachi got unreliable and now I can't make it work for more than a few weeks without upgrading (due to their new license) which is a pain as suddenly you can't VNC to the machine you need to upgrade!
Anyhow - I've been playing with Leaf for a few days and it seems a much more solid solution. It also has the advantage of having routing built in so you can use it to expose other machine on the target network over the VPN tunnel. As well as allowing LAN play across the internet for XBox games that don't support Windows Live I imagine any embedded devices you don't want to expose to the world over an open port would be usable from wherever you've got your laptop (insecure wireless in a coffee shop, for example).

Monday, May 18, 2009

Quote from Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails fame)

"One of the biggest wake-up calls of my career was when I saw a record contract. I said, 'Wait - you sell it for $18.98 and I make 80 cents? And I have to pay you back the money you lent me to make it, and then you own it?"

Also see Counting Crows do a RadioHead.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Citrix and virtualisation

I've been interested in virtualisation for some time - I think it's the way things have to go not only at the lap/desk-top but also in the data centre. For personal computing it represents a way to truly secure Windows and at the server it allows a much more efficient/scalable computing.
Citrix are an interesting company - their WinFrame system for Windows is the optimal solution and so when they start talking about virtualisation you have to take notice. The link in the title has a very interesting video that you should watch.
....most interesting was Citrix's demo of their new virtualization solution XenClient for the Mac. Virtualization is the process by which you can run multiple operating systems simultaneously on a single computer. It has been frequently used on the Mac to run Microsoft's Windows in conjunction with Mac OS X. Citrix first started publicizing their plans for a new kind of Virtualization called "Type 1 hypervisor" back in January.

The technology promises to offer a faster and more secure virtualization environment than existing solutions. Parallel's and VMWare's solutions are considered "Type 2 hypervisors" which must run under a host operating system such as Mac OS X. While this simplifies the implementation, it also results in potential security vulnerabilities as well as a performance penalty due to the added level of abstraction. In contrast, "Type 1 hypervisors" run directly on the "bare metal" hardware.

Previously; VMWare Server, VMWare and Ubuntu, XP SP3 & Parallel.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Telcos and dark fibre

My institute's magazine is superb - unlike most industry/free rags it is readable and reminds me of how good Scientific American was in the eighties. One of the best articles last week was on the amount of dark fibre there is in the world. The link (above) is to the article;

The telecommunications industry built too much fibre-optic network capacity during the 1990s. Companies such as KPNQwest, FLAG, Global Crossing and Tyco borrowed too much money and laid too much fibre, and suffered the consequences. Is that over-capacity still present? It’s not clear.

This diagram is missed out of the HTML version of the article.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Balanced to unbalanced audio - wiring?

Simon, one of our wiremen asked me the following question;
...why do we always cut-back the black core when wiring FST into RCA (phono) connectors?

Back when all broadcast gear drove balanced lines with a proper rep-coil (a 1:1 audio transformer) you could safely bodge-unbalance a balanced line by shorting the cold to the screen and you get full signal across half of the sending rep-coil and everything worked. Nowadays not all equipment drives a balanced line this way - may bits of gear use op-amps to derived the +ve and -ve going halves of the balanced pair (via the inverting and non-inverting inputs - think 741 Op-amp). If you pull one of the signal cores to ground you effectively short one bit of silicon and it sits there warming up. That may not be a problem, but in the case of Avitel distribution amplifiers (well, after 1995) they driver stage burns out after a few months (long after the SI engineers have left!). This exact problem bit my backside when I worked at Oasis TV and all the monitoring switchers in the machine room had unbalanced inputs.
The only downside of using my method is that you loose 6dBs of level, but probably into a piece of equipment that wasn't calibrated (like a DVD recorder or TV). I think that's a worthwhile compromise to avoid the possibility of frying the backplane on audio distribution amps (or suchlike).

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How can you soar like an eagle when you're surrounded by turkeys?

Graham made that observation!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Channels Four and Five

I must have made a subconscious connection last week when I saw Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth film on Channel Four. I made that entry about incandescent bulbs. Although I was glad they showed it I wish Channel Four would be true to their climate change denying past - remember The Great Global Warming Swindle which Channel Four commissioned, transmitted, released on DVD and stood by when Ofcom found it to have misled the public? I made a rather excellent (in my opinion!) blog post here where I also mentioned bulbs(?!)
Anyway - I used to watch Channel Four a lot ten years ago and Channel Five never - the situation today has almost entirely changed with me watching Five a bit and Four rarely (I did rant on about it after Christmas).
Now then, we do a lot of work for Five and their engineering department are a really nice bunch of guys. I was in their main transmission suite last Wednesday and was surprised to see that although promos, stings, ads and other interstitials come off server main programme segments still come off tape. I did my heart good to see a stack of DVW-500s!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Best Ringtone

I like a good comedy ringtone - something that is distinctive and makes other people smile. Here are my most recent ones - feel free to download and use them;

So much better than some dime-a-dozen R&B hit!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

VNC on the Mac

I've been bugging my colleagues for a better VNC client than Chicken of the VNC but nobody knew of one! It turns out that Remote Desktop (which has VNC as a subset protocol) also includes a lightweight client (in Leopard). From Finder do;

Go > Connect to Server and enter VNC://machine-name-or-IP

and enjoy the love - it is a lot more responsive than Chicken as well.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Planned Obsolescence and the end of tungsten bulbs

Planned Obsolescence is a terrible thing not only from a consumer's point of view but also it's terrible for the environment. I have an uncle who worked for Osram and he always felt uneasy about the practice (that was very common in the manufacture of incandescent light bulbs) of pumping a transient high current through the bulbs as they came off the production line to ensure they failed after an average of 1000 hours. Without that final conditioning (sic!) a tungsten filament bulb will last tens of thousands of hours. In fact some companies sold those bulbs for many times the price in industrial quantities to users for whom sending a person down the sewer (for example) to replace a bulb hugely outweighed the price of the lamp.
I'm glad the compact fluorescent has put pay to the tungsten lamp, and hopefully LEDs will be the next evolution - they consume a tiny fraction of the current for the same light output.
Let's hear it for the rainforests!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Established standards Apple play fast 'n' loose with

  • RS422 - Of only minimal interest to the average user but RS422 is used extensively in television equipment. It is THE remote control protocol for driving VTRs/Telecines/effects machines etc. When Avid, Media 100 and IMmix VideoCube started delivering offline editing machines based on Macs in the early nineties they use the onboard RS422 serial ports to control the VTR and it works (just!). RS422 is a balanced serial standard where the Tx and Rx lines of an RS232 ports are balanced (either in a rep-coil or op-amp driving the line). Merely by providing a Tx pair and strapping one side of the pair to GND isn't good enough!
  • USB - I know the iMac was the first machine to popularise this now-ubiquitous interface but why do Apple provide USB cables with that little lump on the inner edge of the socket? I have to reach for a set of pliers every time I use an Apple USB extension!
  • SCSI - Apple have NEVER used the approved connector - from the very first Mac they used a 25-pin D type and when SCSI reached the v.3 spec (40MBytes per sec) with 50 or 68 pins for balanced working Apple pulled the same stunt as RS422 - balanced with one side of each pair tied to GND!
  • PCI - it's why you have to buy an Apple-specific version of any card more complicated than a USB card!
  • DVI - What was all that stuff with the Apple Cinema Display connector? It was just DVI in a different (more expensive) form.
  • EIDE CD/DVD drives - I lost count of the number of times I had to buy an Apple replacement optical drive that was a standard Sony/LG part but with APPLE FIRMWARE! A £50 drive that costs £250!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Tektronix - why they really are STILL the best! pt.1

I often say that customers only ever avoid buying Tek because they can't afford them - nobody ever says "...I need a Hamlet/VideoTek/Leader etc." because it's the best solution, rather it's cheaper than Tek. However - in the last year they've had the WVR/WFM 5000 range which puts pay to even that.

Anyway - last week I went to their Vision '09 day - a kind of pre-NAB training day for users and dealers. They ran four sessions.

Upgrades to WVR/WFM-series 'scopes

  • ANC data - the HD-SDi ancilliary data stream can now encompass user-defined type. So, you could make a new ANC-type called whatever you like and as long as you know the pre-amble values you can have the Session Data page watch for those packets. Very useful if you wanted to individually mark the output of encoders and then check to see which machine made an HD-SDi stream. I suggested it to Root6's Dev team for Content Agent.
  • Dolby information - On the Audio Session tile you can now see the values for the DolbyE metadata - Dialogue Normalisation, Dynamic range and Downmix. You can also check the the guardband figure to see if the embedded DolbyE data is locked to video.
  • Black/Frozen - this is a new parameter in the video QC section - previously you could check for extended periods of silence on the audio but now the instrument can check for frozen or extended periods of black - it's window'able as well so you can check if the lower-third financial ticker (for example) has frozen despite the studio video continuing.
  • Infinite Persistence - you can turn any display into a storage 'scope - useful for checking for those extreme events that occur rarely.
  • AFD - a few more vertical-interval signals (although they're now rolled in with the ANC data) can be detected - widescreen flag, V-chip, etc.
Overall a superb set of features which come for free (just download the updater) - WFMs can do it off the USB socket on the front, WVR machines over the network. This will all be available after NAB.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Why I'm an engineer

I don't know if it's due to my being well and truly into my forties, more grey hair or the fact that I (nearly) have three teenagers but the last few months have found me pondering where my career is going and what's it all about. A couple of things caught my attention this week that really affirmed to me the importance of engineering in it's many forms.

1. G.K.Chesterton - a couple of years ago I banged on about one of my favorite books - The Man Who Was Thursday. Here is a fragment from chapter one where the hero Syme makes his first stand against the anarchism of Gregory;
Is it not also epical when man with one wild engine strikes a distant station? Chaos is dull; because in chaos the train might indeed go anywhere, to Baker Street or to Bagdad. But man is a magician, and his whole magic is in this, that he does say Victoria, and lo! it is Victoria. No, take your books of mere poetry and prose; let me read a time table, with tears of pride. Take your Byron, who commemorates the defeats of man; give me Bradshaw, who commemorates his victories. Give me Bradshaw, I say!"
"I tell you," went on Syme with passion, "that every time a train comes in I feel that it has broken past batteries of besiegers, and that man has won a battle against chaos. You say contemptuously that when one has left Sloane Square one must come to Victoria. I say that one might do a thousand things instead, and that whenever I really come there I have the sense of hairbreadth escape. And when I hear the guard shout out the word 'Victoria,' it is not an unmeaning word. It is to me the cry of a herald announcing conquest. It is to me indeed 'Victoria'; it is the victory of Adam."

2. Marc Koska - In 1984 Koska read a newspaper article predicting the transmission of HIV through the reuse of needles and syringes. Koska was fascinated by the problem and vowed to do something about it. He studied how drug addicts used syringes in the UK, went to Geneva to learn about Public Health Policy, visited several syringe factories, studied plastic injection moulding, and read everything available on the transmission of viruses like HIV.
After a year of intense study, he concluded that syringe manufacture was the key to the problem. Koska designed a syringe (K1) that could be made on existing equipment with a small modification. It was made from the same materials and could be used in the same way as a normal syringe so that healthcare professionals would not have to retrain. K1 syringes cannot be used again so the next patient will also have a sterile and safe injection.

There is a very good interview with Koska on Radio 4's Saturday Live - you can catch it one the iPlayer.