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, December 15, 2006

Eating my words

AHHHHAAAHHAhahaha ha ha ha , hem, herr, hurr, hmm. Oka, so was it just a few weeks ago I said RDA was simple project, just a little filler of a task, something to keep me busy I suppose? Yeah, well, erm, that was then. Ten days into running the project we have taken on a two month delay, thrown out ll the design documentation, realised the requirements are no where near, and embarked on a complete restructure of the project.
What's even more entertaining is that we have decided between all of the project partners that the only way to hit even this new, later, launch date, is to work like madmen until the middle of january, then drop absolutely pristine, faultless, impecable, detailed to the minutai specification on the developers, and then wait for them to deliver.
The DTI stuff is coming a rather distant second right now- and christmas parties are like landmines in my road.



Thursday, November 23, 2006

What am I doing these days?

Perhaps a dull post, but a worthwhile one- what on earth am I being paid for nowadays?

Radio Digital Archive is something I'm taking on next month- it's a fairly straightforward project to capture a small proportion of Radio 3 and 4 output and get it into properly searchable archives completely digitally. In spite of it's limited ambitions there are some real challenges though, largely due to the mix of legacy kit involved. Um, legacy sounds like it's ancient, which it isn't. It's more that the kit for the radio networks has all been installed slightly differently for each network, and the metadata in particular (the stuff that let's you know what you're looking at/listening to) varys in slight but significant ways. Anyway, it's great to be getting back into the heart of the BBC's real ops again.

Meanwhile the extramural projects continue- Prestospace (you remember, the big EU funded project) has been busy ish- we held a couple of training/briefing days for archives this month, at the Globe theatre and at Kings Colledge. Between the two events we spoke directly to over sixty archives from across the UK and europe, and explored all sorts of issues from project planning and funding to figuring out whether to use disk or data tape to store your assets.

Next week the two DTI projects we applied for kick off- Yes we got funding (horray!). Bugger, there's only me to work on them (and I've now got RDA too!). Our kick off meetings are in Havant Monday and Tuesday, then Wednesday it's this conference at the IET , which is likely to be extremely interesting, but I am very much concerned that I won't have a clue what to say. I've got the second presentation slot I think, talking about what archives want out of multimedia formats. Quite.

Friday next week will be great though- Matthew Addis and I are off to Dublin to run a workshop for the 'British and Irish Sound Archives' looking at managing preservation projects. It's the last jaunt I've got before the RDA thing means I'm not mean't to do conferences, so I intend to make the most of it.


Is the name of the wiki for this great event I went to yesterday; the AHRC/BBC summit looking at the open archive.

Congratulations to Rowena, Brendan and Johny for their sterling work. Really facinting discussions, and I think some great progress in exploring how the open archive trial will work for audiences in academia and beyond. Hopefully some help for the public value test for creative archive too.

Incredibly funky venue too- Home Sweet Home. Perfect for the 'open space' conference structure that was brilliantly run by Johnnie Moore.

Bit cobwebby round here

It's been a while, but perhaps it's time to blog again.

Probably best to lots of little ones....

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A big question

Struck me the other day walking in the sunshine;

Why should the decendants of the best gamblers get to consume the majority of the worlds resources?

It sounds extraordinary when put like that doesn't it? But in essence this is the situation that capitlism leads us to. Gamble on life, and win, and you get the lions share of the goodies. Inheritance of material wealth has taken a fairly simple principle with real benefits and turned it into an incredibly skewed social model, and much of the principle of modern government and statehood in the west at least is predicated on preserving just those inherited wealth mechanisms.

Clear as Mud

Last week I was invited along to a meeting to explore how we could work better with our outsourced IT people. It's a couple of years since the controvercial sell off of what was a large and rather specialised department, and it would be fair to say it's been a mixed couple of years. Not least because a whole new dept was created to manage the relationship, and it did feel that a certain degree of difficulties were associate with that.

Anyway, all the mal-communication and horridness is, I hope, behind us, and in the hallowed halls of the English Speaking Union, just off Berkley Square (a perculiarly old school institution, and a most odd choice of venue we sat and met with the Siemens and BBC technology group people who are 'here to help'.

Umm, not really sure what they told us on reflection. There is a lot to be told (and I couldn't put it all in a blog post), but the picture I got was of a cake half baked. Whatever they have done to the BBCT that was, they're not finished doing it, as the org chart I saw was full of abitrary and rather opaque structural distinctions. I have notes that read like an attack of Accronymitis- ORS SRS TIAG etc.

They tried bless them, but there is no big picture shown, and no one who seems to have the confidence to describe it. Still chinks in the armour did appear, so better keep pluging away.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Digital Rights Management

One of these days I should sort out a seperate work/life blog arrangement- until that day....

Last week I was invited to a conference on DRM at the IET (previously the IEE) in London. I wasn't speaking, but in the end the turnout was so small, and the Q&A sessions so long, that I got to yabber away for ages. Anyway, this is a mildly edited review of who was there and who did what:

Andy Liegh of the BBC explored the theoretical and historical background to cryptography- and the lessons from history he wanted to make clear are that:

* Pretty much any code can be broken. Bar one time pads. But they aren't appropriate fr broadcast.
* Only KEYs matter, time and money spent on keeping any other part of the system secret is wasted- this may have intimated that open source is a perfectly valid platform for DRM.
* Key management is a nightmare, and it's at its worst in the situation that digital tv broadcasts find themselves in.

Jim Wilkinson of Sony BPRL explored the various current technical 'tools' available to do DRM. This was an excellent introduction to the current available options.

* Fingerprinting (visible and invisible)
* Watermarking (robust and fragile)
* Message encryption
* Key exchange
* Message validation

Adrian Brazier (assistnt director, comms ad content industries, DTI) spoke about the governments planned role in the field of DRM, and in general indicated that there was a strong aversion to applying blanket regulation in this area. He highighted the key govt reviews in progress and which of these might impact DRM or copyright.

Len Withall of NDS (the people who do the cards for Sky boxes) spoke about his firms role in DRM and anti piracy. Len is a colourful character and his firm has been succesful in keeping the SKY encryption secure, but that's only a part of the who content custodianship landscape. NDS do more besides though, but weren't being s public about that.

Dr Myles Jelf of Bristows (lawfirm with IT and engineering specialism) gave a facinatng outline of the legal framework across the UK, europe and to a limited extent the world that DRM operates in. Much case law and precedent at present, and strong, flexible, globally applicable solutions that respect copyright and access exceptions seem unlikely for the foreseable future, even across europe. Myles is clearly brilliant, and very urbane and friendly. Lawyers can do that.

Simon Wakefield of Deloitte did a fairly standard consultancy futurologist schpeil, but in his Q&A session the discussion really got going about the applicability and extensability of content ownership models across developing media landscapes.

After lunch we had Ted Shapiro from the MPA- he's the top lawyear for hollywood in europe. Doesn't mince his words, enjoys getting easy wins in an argument, very fast talker, and has profound insight on (and some contempt for) for the way national governments in the EU hav tried to legislate for DRM. He'd easily come across as a bogeyman to many, and I think he's had run ins with Cory Doctorow.

Jill Johnstone from the national consumer council presented a case that current DRM implementations were being far too restrictive on consumer access to content. Hers was a somewhat lonely voice, but she had good points to make regarding exceptional access conditions and how these may be being eroded by stringent DRM implementations. She like everyone took pot shots at the Sony DRM debacle. In fact throughout the dy ythe technical, legal, and commercial error of the sony approach was routinely disected.

David Lancefield of PWC did an economic review of the role of DRM- looking at promotion or regulation. A high level pseudo legal philosophical review.

Finally Mark Jeffrey, a microsoft programme manager and raporteur for the ebu oulined a drm framework for use f media wihin the home that could offer a great deal of benefits for the future distribution of content. Called DVB CPCM this manages an authorised consumer domain and manages an end to end root of trust allowing more constent to be legally released to paying consumers. Mark was a facinating speaker and would be a brilliant contributor to future workshops.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Comet watching (nearly)

Originally uploaded by meeware1.
Last night we returned to Herstmonceux to see the comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (73P) from the observatory science centre.
We only just made it for 8pm, and then we had a little explore around and met up with Pete and Ali, who'd come up from Eastborne in Pete's Frazer Nash- a very fun way to travel! We had a lecture from Dr Brian Hunter of Queens University Canada, who works at the Castle next door, about comets in general and this one in particular. And then in the lowering gloom, we were told that the telescopes were working (including the one with the moving floor!), and we could go and take a look.
However, sadly the weather was closing in a tiny bit, and high altitude ice crytals were making viewing of the comet unlikely. Indeed, once back outside there was a beautiful and very obvious halo around the moon, never a good signfor an astronomer.
So rather than see the comet we saw Jupiter and Saturn and the Moon through the various instruments, but this was perhaps a bonus. Large planets display a most alluring amount of detail when seen through these large telescopes- Jupiter's bands and moons, and Saturn's rings were all clearly visible, at a range of brigtnesses and resolutions. In spite of the fact that most of the kit at Herstmonceux had not been designed for visual use (most were designed with complex scientific analysis of light in mind, or accurate measurement of angular distance) the evening proved quite magical.
For me the highhlight was to be in the dome of the 26inch Thompson Telescope as the floor descended at the conclusion of viewing- the wood panel walls slid smoothly upward with the scope itself as we and all the other viewers sank back down to floor level- a quite bizarre and dreamlike end to a very weird and wonderful evening.
Many many thanks to the staff and volunteers for a great evening. We'll be back for the meteor barbeque!

Monday, May 08, 2006

A mighty erection!

Steps added, Sunday the 7th
Originally uploaded by meeware1.
Blimey didn't I have a very hands on break! Shortly after popping the rejuvenated (and now very healthy) throttle body back into Lottie, I was given the go ahead to build the first bit of decking in our garden. This is a very big deal. Gardening is a stress point in our marriage- a topic which can raise ructions like no other. In essence I am a 'strip it all back, and rebuild totally' heavy lifting hardlandscaping gardener, whereas Rowan likes plants and living things and see's little need to blitz the place and go through a year with the garden looking like day four of the Somme.

Therefore getting the go ahead to build a deck is a major development. Also it indicates that at least tacitly, she is beginning to forgive me for nearly killing her when a set of shelves I put up fell down... on her. So, a few weeks back we hurtled back from a weekend in Whitstable (foggy, but good fish) to get the wood from the Brighton Wood Recycling centre and to host a night of jolly mead fueled japes with Jen and Monkey. Monkey stayed around the next day (with his mighty power tool collection) to help me get the frame done. Over the next few days I decked it, and we put up trellis, and yesterday I finished the steps, so here at my flickr page is the set of images abot building the deck.

Massive massive thanks to Monkey for his inestimable help, and constant good humour and can do willingness.

Next step, getting a massive deck outside the kitchen to dine on, and break the linearity of the garden by introducing a meanderings sense of adventure in the journey. Like I've half a chance!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A very pretty corpse

Went to Herstmonceux for the day and a delightful day it was too. The castle, though extensively rebuilt in the early 20th century, retains it's charming character and the grounds are well kept too. It's great that it's still very much a working institution too- Queen's University of Canada has its international study centre here, and in term time the place is all abuzz with students and faculty, and even when we visited they were setting up a reception for the Canadian High Commissioner. Also on the grounds is the Observatory Science Centre, Herstmonceux, occupying a classic peice of post war high quality British Architecture- I really hope it's listed as it combines the excellence of workmanship and aesthetics that the best of the UK can manage along side the hilariously excentric and impractical that we manage- at night astronomers would regularly find themselves stumbling into the lily pond placed centrally within the unlit compound.

There is a note of sadness to the centre though. Althought the castle itself and many of the other building the Royal Observatory built on the site during its residence are still in active use, and the observatory continues to provide excellent facilities for visitors and amateurs, the institution that founded it, one of the oldest scientific institutions in the world, was disbanded entirely in 1998. The functions of the once pre-eminent faculty are still ongoing, but again it strikes me that this was another example of the dying stages of an institutional life cycle.

The Royal Observatory had had a clear purpose when founded, a purpose defined by the limitations of the technology then available. It totally dominated the collection, interpretation and disemination of knowledge and expertise within its feild, and in a way this is another example of vertical integration (pace EMI of the 1920s, Sony of today). Key to this was the fact that all the science could be done in the UK, and that the end user of the knowledge was intimately intwined with the establishment- it was a department of the Admiralty, and ships were the end users of the astronomical data they produced.

So why is the RGO no more? Almost everything that could have changed did change- the science advanced to the point where a UK sited base was far less capable than one on the top of a mountain in, say, the Canaries, so that moved, leaving the Sussex Observatory something of a white elephant. More than that though, the science of cosmology marched on, demanding ever larger and more elaborate instruments to verify it's findings, so that the last soely UK financed telescope was procured in the seventies. The users marched on too- the Admiraly and the observatory became officially independant in 1965, and by the eighties astro navigation was an increasingly secondary tool behind the emerging sat nav kit. Astronavigation is still the fall back, but GPS is pervasive, cheap to buy, and requires far far less training to use. For the moment, we're pretty pally with the providers too. (It's not as if astro nav is any more independent from the USA- the almanacs are joint published with the US).

Still, it does seem sad that an institution that drew together such excellent science, and in such romantic surroundings, can have fallen from it's golden years so quickly. There is still n astronomer royal, but no flat in a castle, no extensive research staff, no rights of passage for astronomers allowing the formation of a proffesion wide esprit de corps. It may not matter, or it may. It's only eight years since the great institution disolved away into a collection of tourist atractions and disparate research functions in other instiotutions with different agenda. I suspect it'll be at least an orbit of Saturn before we begin to see the hole left.

A personal account of the rise and fall of the observatory.

The Observatory is having a special weekend to observe the 'String of Pearls' mini comets as they approach the earth on the 12th and 13th of May from 8pm to midnight (weather permitting!).

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Speed trials

Originally uploaded by meeware1.
To Newhaven this afternoon, to recommision the Water Pippet after the winter. Seeing as the car boot sale was off we went over and met up with Goeff after lunch, remounted the engine and set off up the Ouse for a quick spin. I hopped off at the new dredger quay to film her running up and down, and to see if the trim was ok. The new engine is a bit lighter (and sooooo much quieter) and Goeff noticed the bilges were only getting wet forward. Looking at this shot I'd say she was well trimmed, but we might shift a little ballast aft when the anchor line gets looked at.

Nissan Micra throttlebody circuit

This is the bit I soldered. Those three resistors on the right join up with the plug via three joints that are rather dry and matt in this shot. A bit of reheating, suck off the old solder, and resoldering and the car is back in action. It's been a little jerky this morning (we went to a car boot sale that was cancelled when we got there) but now seems to be running smoothly, and hasn't stalled since last night when we ran down to Asda. I think all the compensatory adjustments that have been made 'till now have her running a bit rough and rich. A quick retune and she'll be fine.

I hope!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Mr Fixit

Just repaired the car, which is quite surprising, since I haven't been seriously under a bonnet in 20 years or more. Top tip- do it, it's easy. ish.

We have an elderly but happy Nissan Micra, and the throttles go, so eventually they start to stall a lot. Apparently it's down to some electrics in a sealed bit of the throttle, so you can get a new one from Nissan for £400, or a refurbished part from around £80 (usually nearer £150!), or you can roll up your sleves, hack it open and resolder the joints. Which I've just done. I shall be smug for most of the next two weeks off. As long as it doesn't fritz on me.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Fork in the path

Fork in the path
Originally uploaded by meeware1.
Out on the downs again at last on Sunday, with Rowan and Matty Mo. Glorious stark day, chill wind, but few clouds and the light was just piercing. Over from Littlington to Jevington via Lullington Heath, lunch at Eight Bells, and back by Charleston Bottom and Clapham House. Normally an easy schlep, but we were still recovering from The Wonderstuff on Saturday, so a tad sore later.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

dti applications in....

Enourmous thanks to Matthew Addis of ITI and Tim Courtney of Xyratex for their sterling efforts in getting in the proposals for the dti autumn technology programme. Can't really go into a huge amount of detail on the proposals, but suffice to say we're looking at a very interesting range of areas.

The next project framework we're looking at is the EU FP6 call in April for advanced search in audio visual technologies. Not entirely sure what sort of thing we'll get into there, but I can imagine some interesting progress being made on work we've already done in Prestospace. New Media will probably be looking at some projects too.

Of course one possible barrier to this might be that EU projects do tend to work on quite a long cycle; it can be eighteen months after the initial submission before you really get started on the project. New Media are getting used to working in a far faster and more iterative way, through channels like the Innovations Lab. There is a real pressure on to get new and better navigation models developed, and trial and error is no bad way to do this. I'm sure it'll get some good results.

It is difficult though for a process like that to take the best of great efforts going on in the accademic and research domains, and that does bother me a little. There are really brilliant and effective tools being made, but getting traction and turning sometimes startling developments into the 'real world' can be extremely difficult.

Saturday, February 04, 2006


Originally uploaded by meeware1.
Ah, here we are, all on stage for the dress rehearsal. Not a huge stage, as you can see, but very intimate with the audience, and the lighting was very good too (cheers Doug!).

Those cuffs are home made by the way, half a dozen toilet tubes, some warm leatherette, and a few dozen paper fasteners.

The Art of the Dog and Pony

To the dti last Wednesday to do a show and tell as a part of their 'Future of Broadcasting' day. Biggish audience, including all sorts of IT, University, technical and industry bods, and really rather good. It was really focussed on public funding for projects, but I was there to give it a bit of context- a voice from the real life broadcasters so to speak.

Of course broadcast covers a multitude of sins, and I'm only tucked away in the back corner of the archive, so I was spreading myself a bit thin trying to cover it all, but I did warn them that I had a biased point of view, and that I worked in a shed in Brebtford, not a nice building in White City, so they should take what I said with a pinch of salt.

I tried to cover all the things that make me worry about the future of the BBC, except those things which are due soley to the vagiaries of our leaders. In pointing out the core problems, rather than the mistaken solutions we may or may not be taking, I think I gave them a good flavour of the radical and revolutionary elemental forces at work in broadcast.

I did mention one particular blog in particular- the long tail- there is a link over to the right there>>>

Anyroad up, the whole thing went jolly well, thanks in no small part to some lovely graphics pinched striaght off of Matt Locke in New Media. And the University of Brighton have asked me to give them a lecture off the back of it, which is tremendously flattering, and I think I would like to do that very much.

A thesp is boUrnE

Just finished doing aplay in Eastbourne- very different experience- never trod the boards before, well, not for 20 years or so anyway. We did 4 nights of 'The Lion in Winter' at St. Mary's Eastbourne old town, and it went rather well. Houses of between 60 and 110 for the run, and very well recieved. I think my sister in law (the producer) broke even.

I did find I became a paranoid freak for a couple of weeks, and it's rather nice not to be again. It's very very difficult to know if you're really any good, and it's terribly difficult to take on board criticism, even of the most contructive kind, once the run is going. Still, I feel I did ok, I don't think I left any of the rest of the cast hanging, and it was, by the final night, actually quite a buzz. It took the whole run pretty much, bt by the last scene of the last act of the last night I was really getting into it, giving the part room to breath, really swooping along.

Maybe, just possibly, I'll try again one day.

Cast photos are somewhere on Flickr.