This is the blog of Ant Miller, senior research manager and dilettante geek at large at the BBC.
I wail moan and cuss about the challenges and fun to be found here.
These are my personal opinions, and not those of my employer. Or anyone else here for that matter.

Friday, November 11, 2005

The broken crest of a wave

Had a visit a few weeks back to the EMI archive at Hayes, near heathrow airport. It's a fascinating place- not only do they hold the paperwork and the masters for almost a century of music recordings, but they've also a small museum. A museum of what? Well they have early TV cameras, Radars, magnetic resonance imaging kit, and of course many beautiful old gramophone. As we explored the place I noticed a picture on the wall of the site some seventy years ago or longer. Where we stood has once been a station, two schools, vast offices designing and managing the worldwide distribution of state of the art music replay devices, lumberyard supplying the raw materials, pressing plants. As the years rolled on the expertise in that place spawned countless innovations- and during the second world war the engineering expertise on this site was a huge part of the technological war effort; testament to this is a map on the wall that was found in a downed Luftwaffe bomber. The EMI plant is very clearly marked!

Today though, for all the fascinating museum exhibits, the archive has a melancholy air. The company that spawned so many revolutionary technologies, and had the nouce to exploit them all, now just makes music. In fact all it does is invest in recording music, and then licenses it's IP and markets it. The EMI that was a fully vertically integrated entertainment system, with diversification and innovation at every layer is now a far smaller and more specialized operation.

Look around and you'll see the other bits of what was EMI- Vodafone, Marconi and many others were once spawned under that umbrella. Perhaps some of them can still innovate and succeed. I think, perhaps not- they are tied into their core market, know their specialization, and do that pretty well. In the great capitalist scheme of things this evolution has probably brought a very great deal of profit for a very great deal of shareholders. But is it better as a company?

It's struck me since my visit that here are parallels today with the story of EMI (a story I have only the most cursory familiarity with). Entities like Sony are today stretching through the whole delivery stack, from content to the ear via products and services. They're not the only ones.

Are IBM and the BBC now slipping down the back side of this wave: shedding creativity and innovation? From inside the beeb it does feel a bit like it. I understand the pressures that lead to the drive to shed areas that technology has left behind- would it have made any sense for EMI to have kept the cabinet making part of the business into the early 21st century? Probably not, and similarly the loss of some area's of the BBC make sound sense.

But think what goes with that- IBM no longer have indigenous laptop designers and builders who can innovate with them- the BBC no longer has the indigenous IT expertise to innovate and run it's own digital asset management system.

Some people are still integrating, still growing, so I think the cycle still holds. I'd like to see it begin to loop back around here- just not sure how.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Spoken Word/ Annotatable Audio

I was stunned and then shrug shouldered happy to hear about a BBC project doing almost exactly what another BBC project was doing. Only different, but so similar it's amazing. Anyway take a look at Tom Coates' brilliant last project at the beeb, then look at the Glasgow Caledonian Spoken Word project , which is spokily almost the same functionality but done a bit differently, and as an education aid for legal students, but is largely the same approach to the same question.

Now to get really spookey- both have BBC input with, until this week, practically no, zero, nadda, knowledge of each other! Fantastic!

I shall work harder at this whole KM thing. Got a way to go though.

And a final p.s. in case anyone thinks this is inappropriate etc., you're wrong. Keeping this a bit private would rather perpetuate the error. I'm trying to fix things here!

Monday, October 31, 2005

Breaking barriers.

I realised the other day that the IT service we (the archives) get is not the same as other departments get. I knew about the integrated telephony and IT service the HR had sorted a few years ago- this is very handy. For instance if you have a telephony application that depends on a desk top client, a joined up service for your desktop and phones is good sensible stuff. And when only one company is delivering both you have to wonder what sort of idiocy kicked in when we got our contract signed. Ah well I thought, next time we'll get it right.

Then I found out about the New Media set up- Siemens, the new owner of our old IT crew, have subcontracted the desktop support to an outfit called Lapworths. And they will build anything you like. This is rather like running a steam train service, and finding out another part of your steam train organisation is allowed to use jet aircraft.

Often I find aditional barriers to doing my job, and I have to take these barriers onboard, and work with them, and learn to bend and adjust my aims. And then, every so often I fond out that someone elsewhere in the organisation has seen these rules for the abitrary whimsical nonsense they are, screwed them up, and binned them.

I shall do likewise.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Fnar translations

Genius to be found here:

Friday, July 29, 2005

happy week

Horray into london three times and didn't get blown up at all! Yesterday's festival of flourescent jackets at Clapham junction was a tad surreal -seriously up to a dozen cops on every platform all day- but no obvious guns. Brighton station not so nice- two blokes with HK 5.56mm assault rifles do not make me feel reassured- and knowing the sort of mess those things make, I can't really see them being very useful in a crowd.

Anyhoo- the Glasgow Caledonian pair are back up north after impressing many with their Spoke Word a/v teaching tool. It's good to see people coming in and rocking the boat- shaowing us that there are plenty of ways to skin cats, and we shouldn't be too smug about our current feline peeling activeties.

Also R has bought a very natty sony mp3 player- sadly though it won't tak drag and dropped MP3s off a pc unless that PC is running Sony's own drm savvy application. Unless that is you install a new OS on the device. I got as far as finding the exe files for the new OS but she decided she'd rather not fillet the software on her shiny new toy just yet. Harumph.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Dusting off

It's Reith day plus four now, and I didn't lead a revolution. I have spent the week talking to loads of people all around the place though, and there has been just enough grass roots common sense, bravado, gumption, imagination and sheer go for it bloody minded ness to convince me the spirit of the duffer is still with us.

I think new tools are helping too- Blogs, Wikis and the whole punktechsuite is allowing peole to begin to rewire the whole place under 'their' noses.

Nice day in Brighton today. Lunch at Brighton Rocks was lovely.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Hemispheric exeunt

A few more minutes now and we'll be leaving this side of the planet. Next stop will be Singapore- further than I've ever been- other side of the equator? possibly! I ought to know, but it's not something I've needed to track previously.

The flat seems ok- it seemed to behave itself and stop falling apart yesterday just after lunchtime, so Jo should be fine. It's good to have a flat sitter, reassuring. Especially with a boiler that flakey.

Right, no more reithianess for a month- all chilled stuff- I'm not even going to hunt down mr witten and his greenstone people. Promise.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Something we haven't covered

I met a very nice lady in Edinburgh last year- she rented her apartment to us in the middle of town. It was very nicely firnished and very central, I can recommend it as a base for the festival. She had an unusual name, which turned out to be from her husband, an Iraqi doctor who has lived int eh UK since the seventies to avoid the predations of Hussain. She has plenty of family there now, and a more lucid and engaging condemnation of the actions of the US/UK forces could not be imagined.

For months now I have recieved email updates and passed these on to friends in output areas, but the reaction isn't there. I fear that there is exaustion, and that bar a few areas where the journalistic spirit is still kicking hard (in well defined limited areas) there simply isn't much fight left in this place.

Our semi- independant bretheren

Around the place at the moment are posters for UKTV content- this
seems a little odd. there is little or no public service rationale
behind their production, it's just the sort of programming that has
lowered the standing of the BBC in the audiences eyes, and it's only
available on sky- a mendacious and pernicious stain on the airwaves in
many ways.

In these troubled times a few staff members are less than happy with
this promotion, but then again many are unhappy with a challenge to
their role in producing this content. I've used strong alarmist
language in my commentary on this episode and it isn't really
appropriate to repeat it, but the intent was hyperbole, not
necessarily accuracy. In these troubled times though, umbrage was
taken, and probably rightly so.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Granfalloon Posts transplanted:

Granfalloon was my old blog- but a combination of typos and what not mean't it never had a proper URL, so now it has gone. Bye bye.

Here are the edited highlights of a short but happy blog:

Monday, March 21, 2005

The Birth of a Cult

And that got such a good response that I decided to start a cult:

Do you want the best for the viewers and listeners?

Do you believe in the redemptive power of public service broadcasting?

Then join me.

Be a Reithian.

I am starting a cult, based upon the principles of Lord Reith, and hope to garner members from across all of broadcasting and new media. I plan to hold an inaugural swearing in of the first 100 members on 2LO on Reiths birthday, the 20th of July

Still thinking of a suitable oath text- here's the first draft

I (name) do solemly swear on this the pattern of 2LO, to use this and all and every subsequent communications technologies to the fullest of my abilities to fullfil the highest aims of public service broadcasting; to inform, to educate and to entertain; to bring the best of everything into the greatest number of homes, in order to make better homes, better citizens and a better world for us all.

The circuit diagram as redrawn from the mechanicals in 1972 is here:

Is the BBC Evil- a post that got responses

We were having a typically active discussion on the work boards and I posted this:

There are certain behavioral principles that emerge evolutionalrily in community based organisms- one of them is altruism. The game theory science illustrates it beautifully, but I'm no game theorist, so here goes with a friday afternoon outline:

If i assume you're nice, and act so, and you assume I'm nice, and act so, then we will be better off than any other two people we might be in competition with, even if one of them is really nasty. Weirdly, I'm also statistically better off if I assume everyone is nice, because I do so much better when I do meet nice people. Nasty people bugger me up, but so long as there are enough nice people around, I'm good.

Niceness, or a prevelance may be in our genes, a bit, but we're a flexible bunch, and we can be made nasty with just a few nudges in the right direction. A broadening wealth gap, a prevelant cultural approval of wealth and the corollary dispising of poverty (relative poverty that is, not the real ricketts and asthma stuff that still kills kids and old folk- that we just ignore) all change behavior.

Is there a lesson- yes!

We should build and foster cultural institutions that foster good citizenship, and have a clear conception of what that is. the institutions should know this in their very fibre.

This should be the BBC.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the BBC was put here to make the world a better place.

Flying into Austria- Thoughs on coming in to land

I think we're coming up on the alps now- the broad flat cloud quilt of northern europe is rucking up to the south, and more billowy forms are tumbling over jagged peaks in the distance. The sun is blazing from an indigo deep sky- the back of my hand is hot as I write this, and my eyes are squinting against the high altitude glare off the page.
We're dropping, slowing, gently. To our right the mountain puckered clouds creep closer; the ridges below are hidden, but for the highest and most distant. The ghostly powder blue of the shadowed flanks of the clouds reminds me of pictures in the Tate of Jerusalem. Landscapes by the Preraphaelites. Its a dusty hot blue to me- but it must be freezing out there.
A quick glimpse of brittle black mountain- so stark!
Lower, slower, feels faster somehow. Banking left, left, left I see sky deeper and wide.
Snowy fileds and dark forests- a scattered patchwork. Ski runs? Fire breaks?
Slipping between layers of clouds, filmy above and fluffy below.
Slight judder, first hints of the ground below.
Sinking- a valley wider and green, and gone again- in to cloud. Heat of the sun is gone.
Clouds a truculent grey.
Final approach- judders- looks flatter- had beenn wondering where they'd put an airport.
Bit bumpy now. Whoops.
All grey. Bank right, spidery dark streets and houses scratching between woods.
Do wolves live here?
Bank left- grey grey grey.
Tight judder- braking- smoother.
Level- low enough to see cars, gardens, trees, windows.
Quite flat out there.
Mittel Europe in Dunkel Grun and Weis.
A river- the Danube?

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Leaping, landing, leaping again

Right, well Graz was great- very very nice spot. The meeting was useful- though some areas seem a little slow in development things like front ends can cometogether very quiickly once functionality is settled. Would have been nice if it was further along, but there you go.

Spectrum was thought to be very interesting- lots of archives are in a position where spectrum covers there current ctiveties, and though it gets weak in the purely digital domain, the prospect of having solid standards for managing assets as they go through a digitisation process is very attractive. These are just the sort of standards that help projects get funded.

The town is really interesting- loads of old imperial building, even older town hall, and a great cultural scene including the very groovy Kunsthaus alien thing:.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005


Mid flight- or the moment under the moment

Tomorrow I fly off on a business trip, and saturday I move house, and in two weeks I go on a sabatical to New Zealand, and last week I ran a very large event, and just at the moment I feel like a pinball, or a log ball pass down the pitch- a hospital ball that could land anywhere, bounce anyhere, there or everywhere.

I think my life, my sanity and indeed my very existence as a cogent physical entity is entirely due to the manifest beauty and serentity of my wife.

Head vs Wall

Had a hard core week presenting the big project to loads of people, and thought great progress was being made. I actually got to speak to the 'makers', bypassing a collosal barrier.

However, the channels closed up again over the following six days to the pint where today I had to call someone to tell them I wouldn't be able to email them the crucial business analysis documents they needed in order to do the make.

Two steps forward...

There was a time, not so long ago, when phrases like 'you can't just make it happen' and 'its not worth the trouble' became anathama around here. What a lovely crazy scary time that was. Please let those times return.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Semantic web conference

Just when I thought my involvement in this conference's organising commitee had become a real strecth of my experience and how what I did for aliving was totally irrelevant and I should just back away quietly, the register points up this project at southampton: Southampton Classical Music Search . Amazing- this is just what I was working on in the archives the year before last! so I'm stiriing it up again withe the crew of grain to see if we can get back on the webby wagon.

Getting a bit open toed

I'm on a RN board, quite open minded surprisingly, and nuclear disarmamaebt has come up recently. Looks as though there is actually not much support for keeping the bombers for much longer- which was a pleasnat surprise. I sometimes wonder if there might not be a hippy in the heart of every englishman.

Progress on the meetings

Looks like all but one of the Crete programme commitee are on board. Wonder if I can find a heavy weight replacement for the columbia guy from around here? He's abig hitter, and the semantic web is a narrow field, but I'll have a hunt about.

KW is coming along well. Not sure on the numbers at the moment, but it's a good lineup- MS just got onboard. I think I could do with some accademics now, and maybe a few more archives... Need to make sure there are some good beeb bods.

Right, here we go, blogging. Hmm, this'll be nice, extra typping every so often.

I think I'll use this as a bit of an aide memoir. So, things to do:

  1. Invite the committee for the crete thing, including sheffield bristol ibm and columbia
  2. make sure the content is there for the sam site.
  3. get the invites out for the KW workshop
  4. Umm,
  5. that's it for now.