April 2007 Archives
April 23, 2007
I'm in Cleethorpes. Or rather, I'm in an hotel in a village just outside Cleethorpes, in a place that's probably more correctly Grimsby. Since my last post, I've:
- Struggled to get my brain working again, and into a new project.
- Entertained Flossie in Glasgow, briefly.
- Taken her (back) to Leeds, to meet my parents (again). She'd previously taken my mother to Gilgamesh at the Playhouse, which as ways of introducing oneself counts as plain weird. But hey, it worked.
- Accompanied her back down to Cardiff, where a week's holiday was somewhat interrupted by Other Stuff, as follows:
- Participated in Demostorm, a slightly muted but nevertheless hugely fun flurry of science demo-based activity. There'll be videos and things, honest.
- Panicked about SciCast, which kicks off in earnest tomorrow, with a formal launch event on Friday. Eek!
- Cooked some extremely good food. If Wendy or Dan are reading this, I'm actually talking about the bangers and mash the night before, sorry.
- Arranged for my car to be collected next week.
- Been included in some group emails with senior bits of the US Marine Corps, and co-opted onto a Task Force. True story.
SciCast is proving tricky to sort -- we originally had a plan for a part-time admin assistant, and we were right about that. But the real pain is having to get everything sorted by the launch day on Friday, when we have a few press trogging into a school near Rotherham to watch an MP being made to look mildly silly by 14 year-olds.
You'll notice I'm not linking to a website. That's because... er... it's not done yet. Yes, this is a matter of [cough] some concern.
But meanwhile... well, Flossie's fab.
[Comments are still hosed, by the way.]
April 12, 2007
Utterly amazing video of a guy doing things that just shouldn't be humanly possible. Via The Gupta, who's back into blogging again and posting far too many good things to be healthy.
[Video of particular interest to John, I suspect, who in a previous life -- if memory serves -- designed several of the original games in Gladiators. Strange but true.]
Spool back a few posts to my [cough] announcement of TransLoading: Uploads in Disguise. Then read this article about a new technique from Carnegie-Mellon University. Then tell me I'm not something like a genius who's wasted round these parts. Go on, dare you.
[update: it occurs to me that the CMU technique should have been called 'Differential Torrent,' shortened to 'Difforrent'.]
April 11, 2007
Today, for the first time, the delightful Flossie met my parents. Tonight she's taking my mother to a telling of Gilgamesh at the Playhouse in Leeds, and she's staying with them until tomorrow.
Those of you who are paying attention may have worked out that I'm in Glasgow. This circumstance is... unsettling. Perhaps even nerve-wracking. It could all go so, so badly wrong.
Ah well, too late to worry now.
[update: Dad has sneaked online via his bedroom PowerBook to email the following:
Mum really enjoyed Gilgamesh & the company.
When they came back I serenaded [Flossie] with a CD of music on the Oud.
Mum's tea seemed to go down well (Chicken Chasseur)
So far so good !
...which is more forthcoming that what I got out of Flossie herself. Tsk.]
April 9, 2007
Charles Hope and Ian Betteridge discuss whether journalism is a craft or merely information gathering; Giles Turnbull answers them rather succinctly. Though ironically, I think they'd each take something different away from Giles' story.
As for me: I've been making television for a dozen years or more, but I've enough respect for journalists that I've never considered myself to be one. Curiously, I sometimes think what I write here at The Daily Grind is closer to journalism than anything I've done in TV... but I still don't think of myself as a journalist.
[still no comments here, annoyingly. Ideas on how to avoid mt-comments.cgi spawning hundreds of instances when under attack welcome.]
I left university in 1994, which in those days meant losing the email address I'd used for three years. Still, 'firstname.lastname@example.org' was never very catchy. For a while I managed to hang on to 'email@example.com', which was much cooler -- heck, it was on a supercomputer! -- but I needed 'net access so I could Telnet into it and use pine.
There weren't any internet cafés back then, but I did have Quern, a charming little PowerBook 165. Greyscale screen, undersized keyboard, oversized trackball, and a 33MHz 68030. Banzai! I found a cheap(ish) modem for it, and I signed up with Demon Internet, one of the fledgling dial-up internet service providers around at the time.
The service was initially great, then mostly terrible: Demon were one of the first ISPs to hit scaling problems, and they had horrible growing pains. For the most part, however, they were communicative. Once I'd seen a few 'flavour of the month' ISPs hit similar problems a few months later, I elected to stick with Demon since, on average, they were OK. Besides, the demon.local newsgroup was a hoot.
One advantage of Demon was getting a proper subdomain all to my lonesome. Rather than firstname.lastname@example.org, with Demon one was email@example.com, which presented much more flexibility, but also a challenge. What would I use as my account name? I ended up using the name of the PowerBook, Quern. Hence: firstname.lastname@example.org.
At length the PowerBook died, and was eventually replaced. Several times. But the Demon account soldiered on, as a backup email address, an emergency dial-up account, and for a neat little fax-to-email gateway they offered. I used it from at least four different Macs, and from my Newton.
By the time Quern IV came along, however, the account was a bit pointless. WiFi still isn't pervasive in the UK, but Bluetooth dial-up over mobile phones is now less hassle than finding a phone socket and remembering to pack a cable. I never did bother setting up Quern IV to talk to Demon directly. I completely forgot about it instead.
Which was a bit stupid of me, so last week I cancelled my Demon account entirely. www.quern.demon.co.uk: gone. The old Pondlife Newton user group site: gone. My last connection to my old email address: gone.
I'm a bit sad about this. It's a bizarre coincidence that Quern IV should have chosen the same week to effectively die, too.
April 6, 2007
Comments at The Daily Grind are down again; Dreamhost have disabled the scripts. This time around they've sent personal and quite informative emails explaining themselves; I've no complaint with their actions, which are clearly intended to ensure the stability and of the (shared) server, and maintain something like quality of service for my co-sharees.
I'll need to poke around a bit and see what I might do to avoid being so darned popular with the spammers. Quite frankly, if this is what being in the top 200,000 blogs is like, heaven help the top 20,000... but anyway, in the meantime, save your thoughts, they're not going anywhere.
Back in June last year, I wrote a post while whistling up the East Coast Main Line, but then refused to cough up the couple of quid necessary to actually publish from a moving train. Thanks to one of those happy accidents of ticketing, however, I'm today travelling first class. Thus, there is no escape from my meandering.
This week, I meandered back to Dublin, where we signed off the last couple of shows in the series. There are still two to finish onlining and one show to dub, but that's all stuff I'll have to leave to one of my directors -- to all intents and purposes, I'm finished. Which, finally, has given me that end-of-project bitter-sweet ennui I enjoy so much.
From Dublin to London, where I briefly caught up with the quite barking Jack, who has spent the week filming no squirrels for CBeebies, and his splendid girlfriend Cassie, who appears to be collecting basins from Blue Peter. All too soon, however, I had to hoof it across London to pick up the SciCast gear...
...via Regent Street, and a pilgrimage to the Apple Store. There, I:
- Compared the various laptop screens. I'm not entirely impressed with the display on the MacBook -- the viewing angle is rather shallow, particularly vertically, and I wondered if this was a side-effect of the glossy coating. However, looking at MacBook Pros with and without the gloss, side-by-side, it's clear that it's the MacBook's screen itself, and not the surface treatment. Viewing angles on the larger Pro screens are significantly better, and indeed contrast on the glossy screens seems much better.
- Fiddled with an Apple TV demo unit, which was fairly impressive -- particularly on the display Sony Bravia telly via HDMI, which was very lovely. However, I was less than impressed by the quality of the videos. I'm know I'm a tough customer, but I'd expected less compression noise. Freeze frames were pretty bad, and while the quality was considerably better than, say, Torrent Xvid downloads, it certainly wasn't DVD standard, let alone HD. I should have asked what the sources were -- I wonder if I wasn't seeing pukka HD H264? Stills looked a little over-sharpened but otherwise very impressive indeed, and the interface is quick enough and very clear. Impressive, but I'd need more convincing about video quality.
- Bought some cables. Ah, what joy to find the whole spread of miniDVI/DVI/VGA/TV/etc output cables, along with Apple's very funky thin FireWire stuff. They do an ultra-short very thin 6-pin cable for a tenner, which is a Great Thing.
So: I'm now on a train, lugging three cameras, three MacBooks, most of a radio mic kit (minus a crucial cable, uh-oh...), and a few other bits & pieces up to Glasgow.
100 miles/hour and 20Kb/sec, just North of York. Really rather impressive.
April 1, 2007
Quernstone Technologies Ltd. today announce the forthcoming availability of their latest breakthrough software: TransLoading. "Uploads in disguise," as the technique has been dubbed, breaks the asymmetric barrier to deliver a significant improvement in ADSL upload speeds.
"The technique is, at its root, absolutely facile," said Quernstone Technologies' Chief Grinder and Interim Graphic Design Lead Jonathan Sanderson. "Recent breakthroughs in ADSL provision have led to download speeds in excess of 8Mbit/sec, yet upload rates have long been pegged at a tiny fraction of that. TransLoading revolutionises the broadband industry by offering a middle ground between download and upload."
The patent-pending TransLoading technique is believed to involve a simple web application acting as a proxy to a custom upload script. When invoked, the web app begins streaming random data to the client, with the client comparing the downloaded bytes with the intended upload, and signaling when a match is found.
"Since download speeds are typically more than eight times greater than upload rates," explained Sanderson, "it's trivial to deliver 8bits of download data and use merely one bit of upload to signal a successful or unsuccessful match. With current ADSL technology offering up to 32 times more download bandwidth than upload, TransLoading: Uploads in Disguise can offer upload speed gains of more than 400%. By... um... downloading instead."
The radical 'download everything your upload could be, then tell the server which one you meant' approach of TransLoading will initially be offered as a proof-of-concept implemented as a TextMate bundle.
"We pretty much live in TextMate," Sanderson said, "implementing TransLoading in anything else just didn't make any sense."
Full commercial licenses and industrial partners for the TransLoading initiative will be announced on a subsequent date.
"We see this as a breakthrough product," said Sanderson, "And we're going to have a shitload of videos to upload this year, for which ADSL... uh... really blows. So we're praying this works. If not, we're going back to posting DVDs to mates who have proper bandwidth."