Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Pirate Bay

It's very amusing to follow the story of The Pirate Bay - one of the largest Bittorrent trackers on the internet. They are based in Sweden and it looks as if they really are operating entirely under local law. Hosting the torrent files is not akin to hosting copyright material and although you could argue that they are aiding in the commision of crime they aren't holding any copyright data themselves.
This reminded me of an arguement about MP3 that ran something like this; There is no MP3 file that ALWAYS corresponds with the "input" uncompressed audio. In fact, depending on how you set your codec (and the codec you used) there are an infinite number of possible MP3 file "outputs" from any give WAV "input" (or whatever source format you use) file. So it then appears that music companies are laying claim to having copyright to any possible permutations bits and bytes that make up any MP3 file because any combination could have been encoded from the data thy hold copyright on.
I'm being a bit obtuse - I appreciate that music is more than bits and bytes and pirating movies isn't really on. I suppose it just shows how copyright is playing catch-up with this online world that we live in. If you have a chance read the legal threats page on the Pirate Bay - they really are sticking two fingers up to Big Media! It's a funny read.
...Please sue me in Japan instead. I've always wanted to visit Tokyo.
Also, I'm running out of toilet paper, so please send lots of legal documents to our ISP - preferably printed on soft paper.
No, but seriously. That's simply not how international law enforcement works. Using the same logic, a country where web sites are forbidden could press charges against you for having one.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Alex's new baby

Good news - Alex and Danielle have given birth to a healthy baby girl - Saskia. If I show this to my Sarah she'll get broody......

Friday, June 23, 2006

Mark's show video

Tony keeping it real (as ever!)
My colleague Mark Lloyd made a stop-motion show reel for the Broadcast Live Show - it ran on a big screen on our stand and shows (amoungst other things) Tony, Stuart and I building the racks - it's seven minutes long and encoded as (wait for it!) DivX!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Linux, Windows & MacOS (2nd week with the Mac!) - Game development

If you have any interest in open source software (who which modern person isn't?!) then FLOSS weekly is a great podcast (part of the mighty Leo Leport's stable). This week's features Ryan Gordon who ports games across platforms (typically from Windows to Linux & MacOS) - he has some really interesting insights into the process of software development, particularly in reference to graphics APIs - Direct3D, OGL & SDL and how Vista will be much for OGL-centric. It reminded me of a video I saw on Channel 9 where they use Doom and then Quake as the test code for virtual machines.
Anyhow - here is a guy who knows each OS more intimately than most developers (he really has to get under he bonnet!) and his view is that each has good points and each has very bad points. I'm starting to realise that being a fan-boy for any OS (even Linux!) ain't useful. Having this little Macbook means I'm using OS-X a lot more (typically at the weekends, but having got VPN and an Exchange client working during the week as well) and perhaps getting good at many OSes can make me a better engineer - particularly where networks and SANs are concerned.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

TV Gamma curves

Got the following from Nick, one of my colleagues who is the lead developer on our ContentAgent machine;
Hi Phil,

Random question; but do you know anything about the maths for plotting gamma curves? I have to match the UI for gamma correction in the enclosed mock-up, but have no idea what equations are involved. Any ideas, or what web sites might help?


my reply;

I started composing a very confusing reply but thought that there would be a good Wikipedia page, and indeed there is!

In a nutshell the formula is;

Vout = Vin raised to the power of the reciprocal of the gamma value (typ. 2.2 for PAL) - this works for value between zero and one and I think most algorithms apply that and then scale to 8 bits (don't forget the offset of 16) or 10 bit (don't remember the offset!).


Monday, June 19, 2006

Cheeky cheeky!

I'm at a trade show and I noticed some naughty person who is using a laptop to try and capture logon details from unsuspecting WiFi users - what do you call a WiFi phishing attack? I often see these in Starbuck and the like - normally with an SSID like Starbucks_Free-WiFi!

Friday, June 16, 2006

Lets's talk legless

If you're at the Broadcast Live show next week in Earls Court make sure you swing by the Root6 stand and say hello - I'm currently pre-building the demo systems in the workshop and we have some good stuff this year - two types of fibre-SAN, several flavours of editing workstations (on both Mac & PC!) and Root6's legendary tech support and systems integration staff on hand.
Graham will also be demoing a Baselight-4 which always wows them. We have the new Blackboard control surface which is an amazing piece of equipment to see.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

My first week with the Mac.....

I thought I'd note down a few observations about the new laptop. I fully intend to use it in both Windows and OS-X modes and so far have been (mostly) pleased!
  • The keyboard looks very tacky but is in fact a joy to type on - much better than my old Dell.
  • Battery life is fine - under OS-X (with the proper power-management drivers) I get four hours of general stuff done, under Windows it's less - maybe two and a half.
  • Display - best image I've ever seen on a laptop, no question.
  • Weight - fine, a bit lighter than the Dell.
  • All of the built in gadgets (webcam, IR remote, audio etc.) work fine under OS-X but under Windows it's a bit of a different story. The webcam is absent and the audio is kinda incomplete. See this thread on - basically you get audio out of the built-in speaker and out of the headset jack, but plugging in your earbuds doesn't mute the speaker! The microphone doesn't work and plugging in a mic isn't there either. I suppose BootCamp is still very Beta, but they need to roll up some drivers for the gadgets to work under Windows. Actually you can make the audio to work - it involves lots of messing around with different versions of OEM drivers. I did it and eventually got it all as it should be but it left things a bit unstable with spurious error messages on boot-up. Your mileage may vary - see here. Because I Skype a lot I got one of these which works fine under Windows (and you can leave the music/radio-stream playing while you chat!).
So after a few days of fiddling around with audio drivers I also realised that my NTFS formatted Windows partition was on read-only in Mac land. My Mac HFS+ partition was invisible to Windows and so transfering files between OSes had to be done via a thumb-drive! So, I took the decision to repave the Windows partition. One thing I wished I'd realised was that it is ONLY BootCamp that can write a new master boot loader on the Windows partition. The procedure is to boot to OS-X and let BootCamp re-claim the space, re-partition and then let the system re-boot with the XP+SP2 CD in the drive. It took me a few times around the cycle (assuming I had a corrupt XP CD!) before it dawned on me.
So now I have a FAT32 Windows partition so I can read/write Excel files (for example) in both Mac & Windows.

A few things that make it easier;
  • KeyTweak allows you to re-map the break key on, say, the F12 key. Means you can do ctrl-alt-del when you need to!
  • is a Windows keyboard definition I brewed (I've rolled it with an MSI installer so you can put it on your machine easily). Out of the box Windows installs with a standard US keyboard which is fine bar the pound symbol (shift-3) which shows as a hash and it also has sticky-quotes, which I hate. My keyboard definition sorts both of those.
  • iMouse solves the single-button track-pad dilema - very good, although apparently these Macs actually have a rocker (it feeds like it has a left and right click) which will be livened up some time soon.
  • There is USB imaging device that although recognised isn't available under Windows - not a big deal but whenever software tries to touch it the machine blue-screens!
    I can only assume it's the built-in camera. When I let Skype try and pick it up the machine bombed spectacularly and if you leave Skype with video enabled it bombs on every re-boot! It's best to disable it from the device manager, perhaps BootCamp v.2 will have it working!
Now I'm no Mac fan-boy but I do like this machine - runs Windows well (about twice as quick at encoding DivX video than my 2.0Ghz Dell - the dual-core is a real step forward). Since we install so many machines running Final Cut and XSAN I really need to be on top of OS-X and this is a great way to immerse myself in it.
Finally - I was in the Apple Store here in London picking up a spare power-supply. The young chap who helped me was very good - I wish all retail outlets were that agreeable. Anyway - he was asking me what model I had etc. and when I mentioned it was my first Mac he stopped, touched me on the arm and said (in a very ernest tone);
Can I tell you, the feeling of excitement never quite goes away,
Dude, it's only a computer!
No, it's not only a computer.

I didn't have the heart to tell him that the first I did was install Windows, and Linux ain't far behind!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Mains hum

I spent the day at a facility we built a year ago trying to find the source of mains hum on a lot of their technical distribution. I've blogged about such things a couple of times before - here and here and always hope that people will accept advice about best practise and how to avoid such things.
Anyhow - eventually I tracked down the source of their problem - I had installed small isolators on those monitors (plasma TVs actually) that were powered off the domestic mains but one wall-mounted display had managed to snag it's video co-ax on the mounting bracket and hence grounded the screen to domectic earth before the cable hit the isolator. Even though I could only measure about 0.15v between the two earths it was enough to put big hum-bars on pictures (and pretty much every feed in the building!). I fixed the cable but as a bit of a belt'n'braces move I put video hum-buckers right in every feed leaving the machine room to equipment powered by the "cooking mains". That way even if cable damage occours in the future the isolator will protect the integrity of the technical earth.
I was there for six hours and didn't get offered a cuppa once - and we were doing it as a friendly favour!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Photos of my new Mac

For that "out of the box" experience - Rupert & Gee look on admiringly!

Nearly there! - Ah, normality is restored!

Death Star Firepower

Exactly how powerful is the Death Star? With a little bit of physics and a little bit of math, we can determine just how much power you would need in order to blow up a planet.
Let's start with what we know. The Death Star is capable of destroying any inhabitable planet in the galaxy, blasting it into rubble and hurling the rubble into space at fantastic speeds. This is one of the central defining events of the Star Wars trilogy. In fact, not only did we see the planet Alderaan destroyed in a cataclysmic explosion, but we also saw Han Solo arrive a few minutes later, only to see nothing but a light "meteor shower." This indicates that not only was the planet destroyed, but most of its mass was already dispersed far away from its original location.

What a great article! I particularly like how the summerise the results; ...we have now determined a lower limit (2.2E32 joules) and upper limit (3.7E32 joules) for the gravitational binding energy of an Earth-like planet. If we want to improve the accuracy of our estimates even further, we have to account for the planetary density gradient in the planet.....

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Hanover/Hamburg confusion & GPS receivers

I had to go to DVS in Hanover last year here and due to a bit of travel confusion arrived at the wrong airport! Thankfully the GPS in the hire-car got us the few hundred kilometers without incident and at that point I realised how cool it was. The unit in the BMW was running Destinator and it was really usable. Over the weekend I noticed that MicroDirect had the Packard Bell GPS400 on special at £124!
It arrived yesterday and after the obligatory update to latest firmware I took it out for a spin. It works really well with a loud clear voice and accurate navigation. Version 5.5 brings proper postcode entry as well as faster lock (it never dropped below seven satellites locked - it needs four to maintain accurate positioning). The 3D map is a joy to use and I think with the decent accessory kit it represents brilliant value for money.
Another good thing is that (being just a Windows CE PDA - 266Mhz StrongARM processor) you can install alternative navigation packages. TomTom 5 works well (apparently) as does OziExplorer. It also has the obligatory MP3 player and Photo viewer but I'll not be wasting any time with those!

Saturday, June 03, 2006

More Mellotron nonsense

Radio 4 had a great documentary on the the fabulous keyboard instrement made so famous by Genesis et al.
Sampledelica, History of the Mellotron.mp3

Friday, June 02, 2006

More thoughts on Skype & why you should forward your port

Sarah saw this flyer in our local supermarket this week - if they are pushing VOIP in Sainsburys then it must be close to breaking through as a killer app. The Netgear handset still ain't available, but there seems to be an increasing number of telephone-like gadgets that hook up to you PC - I got a DECT handset working last year but it wasn't easy and to be honest I've not used it much (having to remember speed-dials etc.) - see what I got up to here.
Having said that I do use Skype daily - although the firm I work for has no prohibition on using work 'phones for personal use I feel you should do your best to not squander other folks money and consequently I only use Skype for calls to friends and family.

Anyhow - one of the things I found makes a difference is forwarding the port you particular Skype installation has randomly chosen. The reason for this is that we pretty much all live behind NAT routers and for a peer-to-peer protocol to work you need some users to be supernodes
The Skype system automatically selects certain users with fast CPUs, good broadband connections and no firewall issues to be "supernodes", through which other users may connect. Skype can therefore utilise other users' bandwidth. There are some 20,000 supernodes out of many millions of users logged on.

So if you're communicating with another Skype user and having to traverse two NAT routers (his and yours) the call has to go via a supernode - the two routers have no way of letting each other know what Skype ports are required to be left open. The way to avoid this is to port-forward your Skype port in your router and then there is only one NAT taversal taking place. Now if you run your network DHCP then you may have to set the MAC address of your PC to always get dished the same IP address, but once that's done it's trivial to look up the port being used (in Skype's Option>Connection settings) and then set that as a static UDP route in your Netgear/DLink/whatever box. If you have more than one Skype client then you need to repeat the process for each computer - but since Skype allocated a random UDP port on install (in the range 1024-65535) it is unlikely you'll get two the same on a class-C subnet.
The good thing about this is that once you've done it you'll enjoy better throughput with any other Skype user - they don't need to have even have heard of port forwarding.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Automatix 6.1 for Ubuntu

"Automatix 6.1 is now stable (works on both Breezy and Dapper x86)". This will install a plethora of software, codecs, and plugins that many users manually download and setup themselves after installing Ubuntu.