Saturday, December 22, 2007

Advice to the young at heart

In the fifteen years since I left the Beeb I've employed & supervised a dozen engineers and a couple of runners/work experience types. Some of them have blown me away with how keen they are and other have totally underwhelmed me with their eagerness! If I had any advice then it would fall into a few categories

  • Timekeeping - the difference between being a few minutes early and a bit late equates to maybe ten minutes extra in bed but from your supervisor's point of view it is a world of difference. Are you serious about what you do or are you just showing up so that you get your pay cheque? The Micawber principle applies. Also - the people who I've known who are easy about their timekeeping at the start of the working day tend to be sticklers come the end of it.
  • Are you aiming to give your best or merely doing as little as you can get away with? I know modern employment law encourages the latter - all this business of verbal and then several written warnings means that lazy people can gauge where the bar is and then stay just above it. The irony is that people who set out to impress the boss with how hard they work invariably enjoy their labour more and the day flies by.
  • Do you try and better yourself during the quiet periods - if you're an engineer then no doubt there are areas where you know little and knowing more would make you a better, more rounded individual. In my line (broadcast engineering) I've known lots of people who do what they do and nothing else - vision engineers who never stray into the workshop to do some equipment maintenance, Avid support engineers who never take an interest in systems design etc. If you call yourself a television engineer then you should (as a matter of course) be able to (or at least aiming yourself towards) rack a studio camera, build and configure an Avid/FCP workstation from scratch, re-head and align a VTR, calibrate a grade-1 monitor and configure a variety of internet routers and firewalls. Specialisation is for insects.
  • Take your employer's IT seriously - I knew one engineer who religiously backed-up his pr0n and illegal MP3 collection but never bothered with his work - when his laptop's drive died we lost a load of customer data, but at least the filth and music was safe! After all - someone else is paying for the computer and bandwidth and if you're doing more personal stuff on work time than actual work then something is wrong. Also - if you're serious get to know all three modern OSes - knowing Linux as well as the MacOS and Windows inside out can only make you better at IT in general. Those engineers I know who have bothered to move out of their Windows comfort zone are all the better for it.
  • Spread all you learn around - trying to cultivate a guru status makes no sense - do you really want to be the only engineer who gets the call at three AM?!
  • Take electrical, chemical and mechanical safety very seriously. If you're responsible for PAT testing a system do it twice. If you can test something both by measuring it and then using the system it's intended for then do it - nobody likes to have to return to a system that should have been left working.
  • Finally - don't view anything as being beneath you - if something needs doing and you can then you'll be all the better for getting it done. Have you got a couple of hours to kill and the workshop needs sweeping - I do it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

What you get from another systems integrator!

Thanks for Paula at MPC for sending me this one - it's the comms room of a big, well known TV facility.
Tony and my boys nearly feinted when I showed them this.....

Friday, December 14, 2007

Absolute Zero

On BBC Four over the next couple of nights - looks very interesting.
This two-part scientific detective tale tells the story of a remarkable group of pioneers who wanted to reach the ultimate extreme: absolute zero, a place so cold that the physical world as we know it doesn't exist, electricity flows without resistance, fluids defy gravity and the speed of light can be reduced to 38 miles per hour.
Each film features a strange cast of eccentric characters, including: Clarence Birds Eye; Frederic 'Ice King' Tudor, who founded an empire harvesting ice; and James Dewar, who almost drove himself crazy by trying to liquefy hydrogen.
Absolute zero became the Holy Grail of temperature physicists and is considered the gateway to many new technologies, such as nano-construction, neurological networks and quantum computing. The possibilities, it seems, are limitless.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Sticking it to the man

  1. No Sweat make alternative, fairtrade versions of Converse Allstars (they've been owned by Nike for the last four years) as well as other trendy items.
  2. Radiohead - the current album In Rainbows is one of the best recordings I've heard this year - and all without the involvement of a record company.
  3. ComSkip - If you know me then you've heard me bang on about automated removal of adverts from recorded transport-streams. I believe television advertising is morally wrong - it is all about distorting the truth and tantalising the poor. ComSkip means you need never see a TV ad on your PVR again. The new version works on live shows - i.e. while a programme is being recorded.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What a hard dance the SaMBa is!

I recently installed Leopard on a late-model G4 for use as a media machine at home and I have to say it works really well (I wish the step-upgrade to Vista had been as nice!) but I've discovered a few things about how Samba/SMB/CIFS works under various OSes;
  1. Leopard gives you a warning when you share a folder over SMB - something like 'your password will be stored and shared as plain-text' - very good I thought, warning you about the problem of pre-Kerberos SMB (v.3 SMB in Windows?) - but no - it ONLY supports Kerberos authentication! This effectively limits you to using only post Win2k boxes to access Leopard. My PDA can't pluck files off Leopard and the Mac can't get files off my Linux-based NAS.
  2. When you mount an SMB share from Leopard using an XP machine (jn the case of my MediaPortal PVR) it will only accept the first authentication approach - i.e if you're not logged into the Windows box with an account that Leopard recognises then you can't supply any other credentials. Since Leopard can't integrate into a Windows domain this is a major drop-off.
  3. Vista won't talk to pre-V2 Samba servers - apparently the rumour that SMB 2 in Vista was engineered specifically to 'f**k with Samba' might be true! Listen to the edition of Floss Weekly (in the title link) - you'll learn more about Samba/SMB/CIFS than you currently know.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Friday, December 07, 2007

Master of all I survey!

It's the Root6 workshop looking a bit tidier than normal. Thanks Mark - your panoramas are becoming a mainstay of my blog.

Monday, December 03, 2007

10 gig ethernet over cat5e?

It's a question a couple of people have asked me now. It is even the case that Intel and Alcatel have suggested they may have a line-conditioning chip that will allow it over sub-10m distances, but my response is;
The problem become apparent when you consider that 10gig over cat7 runs at 600Mhz (strictly speaking you need 22Ghz to carry 10gig data - Nyquist limit and all that) but 10gigE uses QAM and OFDM modulation techniques to achieve this. Now, cat5e cable is flat'ish to 100Mhz and cat6 to 250Mhz.

By the time gigE came along it was cheap enough to incorporate a QAM16 modulator and OFDM encoder on the network card and so they could start getting away with sub-Nyquist bandwidths. 10gigE takes this to another level with QAM64 modulation (similar to aDSL and DVB-T) and a verterbie decoder. But, even then it really does need the 650Mhz of bandwidth to achieve 10gig speeds over 100m of cable - the guys at Tyco reckoned that doing 10 gigE over cat5e would only ever be feasible over sub-10m distances, even with heavy-duty line-conditioning chips.
The strength of an IP stack is that it will tolerate lots of line noise and packet failures - the network card may reports that it's seeing the 10gig heartbeat but if you're dropping half your packets is it worth it?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Up on the roof

He's as cheesy as you like but I do enjoy James Taylor - from his 1979 album Flag;
When this old world starts a getting me down
And people are just too much for me to face
I'll climb way up to the top of the stairs
And all my cares just drift right into space

On the roof, its peaceful as can be
And there the world below don't bother me, no, no

Thank to Mark for passing on this composite picture he took from the roof of Channel Five's building where we are currently working.

Saturday, December 01, 2007


Saturday evening and I'm blogging from the workshop.....

Ho hum,

Anyhow - for the few hours I have had at home this week I discovered Synergy - what a superb utility. It lets you easily share a single mouse and keyboard between multiple computers with different operating systems, each with its own display, without special hardware. It's intended for users with multiple computers on their desk since each system uses its own monitor(s).
Redirecting the mouse and keyboard is as simple as moving the mouse off the edge of your screen. Synergy also merges the clipboards of all the systems into one, allowing cut-and-paste between systems. Furthermore, it synchronizes screen savers so they all start and stop together and, if screen locking is enabled, only one screen requires a password to unlock them all.

It is better than relying on VNC's keyboard/mouse transport - it doesn't suffer any of that systems lag when re-drawing the screen. I have it working between an XP box and a late-model G4 that I've just put Leopard onto. If you intend to use it under Linux or OS-X and grab it from SourceForge you'll have to install it yourself and spin the .conf file which is involved but do'able. It took me about an hour to get working using the XP machine as the server (i.e. where the keyboard and mouse is attached) and the G4 as client. As soon as I had I discovered SynergyKM which is a GUI that makes Mac config a breeze.