Thursday, June 23, 2011

Two location-based things I'd like from my smartphone

  1. Location aware mute; I'd love to have a silent setting that unset itself when you moved more that (say) 50m from your current location. I have often put my iPhone into silent mode for a meeting and then noticed later in the day that I've missed several call because I forgot to take it out of that mode. Also - time-based silent-mode. I'd like my 'phone to auto-silence every Sunday 10:30 - 12:30 'cause I'm in church (for example).
  2. Location aware alarm; I've often missed a train stop because I've fallen asleep listening to a podcast or music. Why can't I set an alarm that rings in my earbuds when I get within five miles (say) of a location? Also - the ability to announce the time every ten minutes in the earbuds would be great.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Unlike other digital currencies, Bitcoin avoids central authorities and issuers. Bitcoin uses a distributed database spread across nodes of a peer-to-peer network to journal transactions, and uses digital signatures and proof-of-work to provide basic security functions, such as ensuring that bitcoins can be spent only once per owner and only by the person who owns them.

My introduction to Bitcoin was via Steve Gibson's "Security Now" podcast; (check out episode 287 here). Along with the Wikipedia article my interest was peaked. Bitcoin seems to be a real, credible digital currency that is cryptographically secure. However - a currency needs to appeal to more than engineers and the economists are up in arms about it - read the very entertaining exchange here.

For the moment Bitcoins are trading for 1 BTC: 20$

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Estimating the time a job takes

For the last eight years I have spent a lot of my time quoting for broadcast installation builds. From small single edit suites to £1.5m broadcast editing centers I think I have a good feel for how long most jobs take. I recently did a search of my arrogated purchase orders folder and discovered I've bought more than 500 equipment cabinets, nearly 1000 video jackfields, and just over 100 kilometers of bulk fibre optic cable - all in the last eight years!
Anyhow - I often get quotes thrown back at me by chief engineers who assume I'm trying to fiddle them and they will typically say;
You've quoted ten days for a wiremen to wire those audio patch panels back to krone blocks; I'm sure my guy could do it in seven.
Even as a chief engineer he's probably only built one or two big machine rooms in his time. He might think he has experience of wiring technical facilities, but I've hired and paid wiremen to do many hundreds of audio panels in recent years. Possibly more than all the panels every chief engineer in Soho will oversee this decade! I know how long things take.

Anyway - for the last five years I've done an audit at the end of each year to compare the number of wiremen and engineer days each job used against what I thought when I quoted. It turns out that I naturally underestimate the time required by around 25% - If I quote 100 wireman days it'll be nearer to 130 when all is said and done. This isn't down to me not knowing how long each part of the job takes - it's a function of wasted time;

  • Client won't provide passes to everyone and so guys have to wait idle in rooms or go looking for the pass.
  • Deliveries are late, guys are idle
  • Customers change their mind, but not enough (or it isn't politic) to warrant a change order
  • Faulty parts - we always have to replace those for free!
  • Various other things you didn't expect.
So - I've made it my habit to still estimate the number of days as I think it should be and then add on the 25% extra. Consequently my quotes have been getting a lot more accurate over the last few of years. I also discovered the same effect with parts but in the other direction; I always over-estimate the amount of cable/connectors required by around 10%.

So far I haven't done anything about that!

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Tektronix WVR5200

During a manic day I was fortunate enough to bump into my old Tektronix mucker Tom Perry who had a new WVR5200 in his rucksack and gave me a quick in-the-street demo! It seems like a much more complete instrument than the current WVR5000 'scope and I can't believe it won't cannibalize their WVR7000 and 8000-series business. The things that stood out for me are:
  • Much improved four-tile monitoring with four inputs that can be configured as 4 x SDi (270M, 1.48G, or 3G - yes!) or 2 x dual-link. With four discrete inputs you can display all four at once.
  • An SDi o/p that can be any of the inputs OR a test output with bars or pathological signal.
  • Audio loudness - and up to 16 channels via embedded groups
  • Full Java control (the 5000 lacked this)

So I think this is excellent - the only thing missing is physical layer measurements. Some of the better features are paid-for upgrades (license key) but at £4.5k this represents superb value.
I shall write more when I've had one in to evaluate.