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.