Friday, August 31, 2007

Test outputs from the Fluke DTX1800

This is a single page of the test results from Simon's mamouth test of all six-hundred cat7 circuits at one of our current jobs. You won't believe how much data that machine collects on each feed!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

SmartRipper is dead, long live DVD Decrypter!

For the longest time I have used SmartRipper as my tool of choice for ripping the VOBs from a DVD and effecting CSS descrambling. It is fast and you can re-map streams or only rip a single stream if you choose. It can do sub-sections of a transport stream by timecode and does one thing very well - it isn't in the business of trying to re-compress the MPEG2 data or anything and it has served me well. The other day I got the DVD of Amazing Grace out of the library and wanted to watch it on my PVR (which doesnt have a DVD drive) - normally I'd just rip the VOBs across the network to it and watch it. However - it features the bad sector RipGuard protection system - in fact when I did try it in a set-top DVD player it burped and jumped many times during the movie. Anyhow - I had to use DVDDecrypter so I could watch the movie on the equipment I own.
As ever - DRM is an annoyance to legitimate users who've paid for the content - pirates will always find it easy to circumvent copy protection.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Fluke DTX-1800 cable analyser

The Fluke DTX-1800 Cable Analyzer provides a bandwidth 900 MHz that supports video distribution, Class F and 10 Gigabit Ethernet. Its transmissive LCD display with backlight makes for easy viewing. Its rotary knob makes learning easy and operation simple, keeping you in the know as to what test mode is selected. The USB port facilitates high-speed transfer of data.

This is tester that we've just bought to test the big 10-Gig ethernet project we're doing - see a previous post here.

Testing for ten gigs over copper isn't yet ratified so we use a slightly ad-hoc method;
10 Gig testing should be performed to ISO11801 ClassEA Channel (not permanent link) testing using PiMF 600 patch cables. Tyco recommend using a set of 2M patch leads for 500 tests and keeping them referenced to the tested ports.
On the DTX setup it will be ISO ClassEa Ch 25N1255. This is the latest draft standard for 10G cabling system performance. There is currently no permanent link standard to work to as the permanent link requires component performance parameters which have not been defined yet.

I'll post an example XML-export in the next couple of days.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The welfare state is not there for the middle class

I have been a socialist since my late teens – a member of the Labour party and trade union since I started working after university. I believe in the welfare state, I really do - the principle of access to healthcare and education universally and freely available at the point of use marks the UK as a world leader.

Four years ago my mum trapped a nerve in her shoulder - she was in agony and effectively disabled. The waiting time to see the specialist was weeks and months for the operation. She couldn't wait days to get it sorted and so we paid for a consultation and then paid three grand for the operation - she was restored and has been fine since.
Now - both of my parents have paid tax for decades and never been on benefit - my Dad served in the army for thirty years entering as a private in the late fifties and by the time he left (the best part of thirty years later) he was a Captain - he was decorated (LSGC medal) and worked out his career for the MOD as a welfare officer. He raised two kids, stood by my Mum when their marriage hit a rocky spot and always did the right thing. He spent his entire working life giving to the system and serving his country - but none of that matters now.
Three months ago he suffered a stroke and although he has regained his speech and some mobility I've been horrified how little the system has for him. There is no help for getting the house adapted - my Mum has had to raise the cash for a stairlift and adaptions to the bathroom. She has even had to pay for the wheelchair because they have to means-test you and that takes six weeks - she couldn't wait six days for one so that's another expense.
But, I could forgive all of this were it not for the fact that if they want to make use of the health authority's care assistant service they have to pay £12.90 per hour. All this is because my Dad gets a modest military pension on top of his state pension. I suppose in his case he's contributed too much to the system to expect it to help him when he needs it.

I have four friends who are teachers in state schools and they are among some of the most dedicated, capable people that I know. Since there is not a statistically significant difference between average pay rates for state and private schools it seems unlikely that the difference between the success rates at A-level (and subsequent university entry) are down to the ability of teachers. In fact the one teaching friend I quizzed about this made the point that it isn’t the cash you bring to private school that makes them better at teaching it’s your middle-class aspirations. Her contention is that to have a class of children that are teachable you have to have a class of parents who want their kids to do well and will support the teacher. If her class arrive without pencil cases or homework done then she is immediately at a disadvantage. Worse still, if she has to discipline a child for unruly behaviour and she knows the parents will be in the next day shouting and threatening her in front of her class she might as well write that day off as lost. In her view too many of her days are lost thus.
My own experience is that I was good at the things I was doing with my Dad at the weekends – Lego, Mechano, and building crystal radios made me interested in maths and physics and I wound up as a broadcasting engineer. My parents had an input into my education that was an order of magnitude more significant than my school. Whichever way you slice it parents are more important to the work of schools than any amount of money or teacher ability. It seems like the elephant in the corner of the room that no one dares mention is the fact that you only really value the things you have to work and pay for and sixty years in a liberal democracy where nobody really has to try if they don’t want to has bred two generations of people who don’t value education.
Until my eldest child was in year five I would have scoffed at the idea of sending any of my kids to a private school – aside from lacking the ability to pay I saw it as morally wrong that I should buy advantage. However, when my wife and I started to visit the available state schools in Islington we realised that our eldest (who had suffered with moderate bullying at primary school) would not flourish in any of the schools we saw. Since our main motivation for our kids was that they enjoy their teenage years we started investigating alternatives – namely home-schooling or moving out of London. In the end the firm I work for gave me a large enough pay rise to cover the school fees and we wound up sending him to a small international school – his brother has gone there as well. They are exposed a much larger section of humanity and have a great time. I work freelance some weekends and we’ve scaled down our lifestyle to cover the costs but even so about half of my take-home pay goes into school fees. It’s hard, but we found that when it came to our children their happiness (and academic adequateness, not even excellence) was more important than our white middle-class liberal guilt.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Nevil Shute

I've enjoyed Nevil Shute since I was a teenager. However - this year I've read three of his books that I'd not had before. It seems that until 2007 I'd been fortunate to read his exciting and gripping books and not the ones full of tedious detail! Thinking about it a bit more reveals the common thread is Australia! Here are the three;

  • A town like Alice - A few years after World War II, a young woman, Jean Paget, who was working in Malaya when the Japanese invaded, tells her London lawyer the story of her time in Malaya during the war. She is one of a party of European women who were marched around Malaya by the Japanese, since no camp would take them in and the Japanese army would not take responsibility for them. Many of them die on the march, and the rest survive only by the charity of the local villagers. Up until that point the book is a thumping read and is the main basis for the film of 1956. Once the characters get to Australia it becomes slow and boring!

  • Beyond the black stump - The story concerns a young American geologist, Stanton Laird, working in the Australian outback in the field of oil exploration. He is befriended by a local farming family, the Regans, and develops a relationship with their daughter Mollie. Over the course of the explorations (which prove unsuccessful), he notes the unique lifestyle on what amounts to the Australian frontier, and falls in love with Mollie. The two wish to wed, but Mollie's mother insists that Mollie first see how the Lairds live in their Oregon town, Hazel, which was once on the frontier, but is no longer. My word - is this one hard going!

  • On the beach - The story is set in what was then the near future in the months following World War III. The conflict has devastated the northern hemisphere, polluting the atmosphere with nuclear fallout and killing all life. While the nuclear bombs were confined to the northern hemisphere, global air currents are slowly carrying the fallout to the southern hemisphere. The only part of the planet still habitable is the far south of the globe, specifically Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, and the southern parts of South America. From Australia, survivors detect a mysterious and incomprehensible Morse code radio signal originating from the United States. With hope that some life has remained in the contaminated regions, one of the last American nuclear submarines, the USS Scorpion, placed by its captain under Australian naval command, is ordered to sail north from its port of refuge in Melbourne (Australia's southernmost major mainland city) to try to contact whoever is sending the signal. Sounds like it should be un-put-downable but the Australian effect is there - tedious beyond belief!
Having said all that I do think Shute is one of the best authors of the twentieth century and so here are three recommendations to get you going;

  • Marazan - Philip Stenning is a commercial pilot, trained during the First World War. After his engine fails, he crashes and is rescued by an escaped convict, who turns out to have been framed for embezzlement by his Italian half-brother who is smuggling drugs into England. The story tells how Stenning plays a key role in breaking that drug ring.

  • Pied Piper - The story concerns an elderly Englishman, John Sidney Howard, who goes on a fishing holiday in France after the Second World War breaks out, but before the fall of France. Entrusted with the care of two British children, and overtaken by events, he attempts to return to England and safety. His journey is hampered by the unexpected speed of the Nazi invasion of France, and by the fact that he continually finds himself entrusted with the custody of more and more young children. Eventually, he is stranded in Nazi occupied France and he is fully aware that, as an Englishman, he is an enemy to the occupying forces.

  • Trustee from the toolroom - The plot hinges on the actions of a technical journalist, Keith Stewart, whose life has been focused on the design and engineering of scale-model machinery. He writes serial articles about how to create scale models in a magazine called the Miniature Mechanic, which are extremely well regarded in the modelling community--as is he. He is called upon to hide a metal box in his sister's and brother in law's boat just before they plan to leave in it to emigrate to Canada. Until they are settled in British Columbia, their daughter, Keith's niece, is to remain with Keith and his wife. His inlaws are lost at sea in French Polynesia. After the deaths are confirmed, Stewart is consulted by his inlaws' solicitor, who has found almost no money in the estate. His brother in law has converted his wealth into diamonds, to evade export and currency restrictions which prevent capital from leaving Britain. His guardianship of his niece is now permanent, and he becomes her trustee (hence the title), but where is her money?
I nicked some the the descriptions from Wikipedia.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Management style