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.

Monday, December 17, 2007

More R&D Opportunities!

The way I do most of my projects here is that they're part funded by some national or international organisation, and I put in a proposal with a consortium of interested parties and we do the work as a virtual team. Lot's of drawbacks in terms of culture clashes, managing expectations etc. but it's worth it to get the mash up of expertise and the extra cash. Lots of extra cash.

So right now I've very interested in the fact that the EU has two calls for projects that are of very focussed on archives, and that the Tech Strategy Board (part of what was the DTI) also has one coming up for 'The Creative Industries'. I'm also a bit worried, because this will be a ton of work to get appliocations together for all three at once!

EU calls:
Forever Yours- digital eternal storage!!!- very interesting, we have some work that heads in this direction, but the challenges are collosal.
Information and Communication Technologies Call3- includes media semantics and digital libraries.

TSB Call:
Phase 3 of the Autumn Program- Creative industries

Monday, December 10, 2007

Recruiting at the BBC

There are some seriously senior R&D positions coming up at the BBC in the next few months. I really hope we get some good candidates. I know some people who'd be great in these roles, but I just don't know how I ca help get them aboard.

A Greener Way to Italy

So last week I was in Genoa for the SAMT 2007 conference, a very good review of the work going on across Europe's universities to develop the technologies to allow people and computers to make sense of content in any format. Fascinating highlights included a great deal of work now coming up in the semantics of 3-d shapes, and a whole new language to allow interactive markup of music, MX. I actually missed the industry day, which was a mistake because the academic stuff, while great, is still way ahead of anything we have the infrastructure to support or provide services on to our audiences. Still I did get one thing right- I traveled there and back by train!

Brighton-London, London-Paris, Paris-Ventimiglia, Ventimiglia-Genova on the way out, and Genova-Milan, Milan-Paris, Paris-London, and London-Brighton home on Saturday. Lots of learnings from this: The new StPancras is much better than the old Waterloo for departures (light and airy and well designed) but rather worse for arrivals, having an overlong and annoyingly tortuous exit. Not all TGVs are equal- the one from Paris to the Riviera is a modern double decker that's fantastically swift and very well maintained, but the Milan to Paris one is a bit of a clunker with stinky chemical loos. Almost all the TGV lines have slow bits, especially at the far end from Paris. In fact, they turn into stopper services in Italy. It can be expensive compared to flying, because you eat more on the way, get through more magazines, batteries etc. (I'd need a bigger music player, or better low bit rate codec, if I did that trip again). It really feels like traveling- when you fly it's like being teleported between airports, and the space in between doesn't exist. On the train, and especially with multiple stops, the journey is one of constant transition and change. Landscape, language and culture are all churning over as you go, and it really is landscape too! I do love the look of the land and sea on a god flight- I've had some extraordinary flights over the Alps, the mountains of New Zealand, and over the far northern Atlantic, but traveling through a real place is rather different.

Tips- Take spare batteries. More spares. Give yourself about forty five minutes to an hour for every changeover. Any less can get a bit sketchy and un-nerving. Avoid sandwiches on trains. Do try the hot chocolate on TGVs. Don't bother hiring a PSP on a TGV, the games selection is rubbish. Don't expect to be able to charge your laptop- power coverage is very variable (2 of 18 coaches on any Eurostar have it, none of the TGVs I was on did, but half the Italian local trains did). Enjoy yourself, take in the scenery and lie back. It's a trip!

BBC Homepage update update

Have been playing with this a little lately and it's growing on me. It's certainly more 'come back to' able than the old page, which really felt like a weird mix of a table of contents and an index, and wasn't really able to get across any sort of 'feeling' about the relationship between the user and the corporation. I had the very great pleasure of meeting Bronwyn, the art director, at an event run in collaboration with radarstation giving us training in design led innovation- she seemed very capable in this area, and I think it shows. Of course it will get flack, everything we do does, but a lot of us are giving constructive feedback and I think it's a real step forward. Huzzah!

Monday, December 03, 2007

The new BBC homepage

The new BBC homepage, originally uploaded by adactio.

I saw this first via Adactio's flickr feed into my netvibes (how web2.0 is THAT!) and it's generating the most interesting discussion. Adactio is Jeremy Kieth, a prety well now web designer and engineer, who also happens to live in Brighton. As do I. But I've only met him a couple of times and both at work in London.

Anyway, one thing I've picked up is that you can't tell much abut a web page from a screen shot- I've been playing with the beta for a few days now, and the key thinks that I'm bumping my shins on are nothing to do with the look and feel as you can see in a screen shot, but much more around the way it works- the functionality, the responses to imput etc. I'll be honest, it ain't there yet! Lot's of the simple relationships between elements are slightly off kilter- instructions are laid out differently to the things they control, bits aren't as configurable as you might have expected from their presentation, or from what yu can do elsewhere on the web. Don't get me wrong- it's good and a better representation of ALL the BBC than the previous home page was and includes great features that are a real advance. However, within its limits, that 'glass wall' design felt perhaps more cogent and complete. Enjoy while you can:

p.s. Apologies for te typos- laptop has lost backspace and it'll be 2 weeks for a replacement (bloody outsourced IT!)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Relocating Research- some worries

Well there was me thinking that even if it wasn't exactly good news on the relocation front, at least it was news, so we could deal with things and get on with stuff. Sadly, it looks like we're still facing some problems. I haven't got hard numbers yet, but it's looking like a considerable proportion of the staff at the Surrey R&D establishment are sufficiently dissatisfied at the proposed move arrangements that they'd rather not stick around. This is a combination of far longer and harder commutes (which no amount of compensation can really make up for in terms of time and energy), a 'not as nice' place to work (probably a minor consideration), and a worrying lack of a clear long term plan for how and why we do R&D in all the announcements.

This last point is a bit of a shame- a real and, in many ways, an unavoidable effect of the increasingly fluid nature of the BBC. Whatever we say the arrangements will be, they're bound to be transitory, temporary, open to change. Sadly, when you've had a long term commitment and a permanent infrastructure to depend upon for many years this shift can really undermine your sense that you're valued.

So, how to fix? Not sure. We do need to have a clear (ish) statement of what we expect to do for a longer time frame. The level of detail may have to be cut to meet the needs of a changing future, but if we could have some statement of commitment to R&D with some sort of evidence supporting it in the very very near term, that would help. A stated expectation of the contribution that the corporation and the wider broadcasting industry and the nation as a whole anticipates coming from R&D will at least let us know we're wanted, and how hard we'll have to work (and hence what facilities, in general terms, we'll need).

Some sort of plan for where 'kit' might go after TVC gets sold off would be healthy too. A plan can be high level, but it's existence, and clear ownership, is essential to reassure those who's day to day work depends on what looks like being a fairly itinerant bunch of boxes over the next few years.

We could, usefully look at some more radical options for housing researchers too. We have other parts of the BBC who are distributed- so could research engineers work there? We have partner companies with facilities across the south east- could we work there? The danger, which I had thought had largely passed, seems still to be quite real. If people go in large numbers some key projects that support not only the BBC but the whole of broadcasting, could be in real trouble.

It may well be that many of these elements are in hand, and I have some intimation that innovative accommodation solutions are in the mix. This needs to be nipped in the bud though. At Christmas people go home, spend time with their families, and have time to contemplate their future. I don't want to come in after the new year to get an inbox full of leaving do invites.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Archive+Performance = Genius!

On Thursday I caught up with SSL, a Covent Garden based software engineering company, who have worked with us on a few archive preservation projects. They're doing a report for JISC n preservation strategy and challenges, and one of the concepts they've been throw to deal with is 'performance'. When I hear that I think of latency, bandwidth, reliability, but in fact what they're considering is the 'softer' idea of audience plus media in presentation- the whole 'performance' of putting on a show and what it means to audience and performer.

In archive terms this throws up some interesting examples- for instance, who of us has actually sat and watched in a large public space, with hundred of others, a silent movie projected on a big screen accompanied by a live pianist? That is performance, and it's rare, and very different. Or at least, it's rare unless Paul Merton does something about it.

Last night we went to see Paul Merton's Silent Clowns at Tunbridge Wells Assembly Hall. Paul introduces a series of selected examples from the greats of silent movies, and in the second half we see a full performance of Safety Last, the Harold Lloyd classic (the one where he climbs the building).

The difference is stunning, we laughed and laughed- at one point it suddenly dawned on me I was howling and had been for minutes, and so was everyone else. No small part of the experience was down to the vivacity, exuberance, and sheer stamina of our pianist for the night, the incomparable Neil Brand. Turns out Rowan knows him from Eastbourne theatre days. Small world!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Rumours III- The split and clumps

Right, so we're moving. Fine. Really, it needs to happen, and in spite of the risks, we'll do it, do it well and crack on.

But actually there's a little more to it. You see the move will be partly to W12, and partly to Salford. How that location will work out I've no idea- high hopes, but no real clue. The area is one of those bleak post-industrial, chrome and glass zones that I've no great love for (I rather prefer real places) but still and all, could well be a great gaff. The idea is to build up a media neighborhood, which might work. Hasn't quite happened in W12 (that was a plan apprently) but you never know. 'Who is moving there?' is an interesting question- it's going to be 'internetty' stuff.

The split of R&D is indeed broadly to be into linear 'traditional' broadcasting technology, versus interactive, IP driven, non-linear webby stuff. From some angles, even I must admit that this looks odd, but from others, OK. On the odd side- you'd think perhaps we'd worked out the 'traditional' stuff, wouldn't you?

To be fair though, there's a strong realisation that it's an arbitrary split, and that we expect a LOT of cross over between the two sites. This is clear to all of us who've taken a look at the proposals, and plans. We ran an excercise to try and think of all the research projects we might do in the next five years and to sort them into the two categories above, plus a 'neither' bucket. The 'neither' bucket was full, the others empty. So, we'll see. It's a thankless task predicting the future of R&D, but fun. Some people will be up north, and some down south, and they'll have much the same set of skills, and do related if different work, and build over time their own distinct identities, but right now all we can sensibly do is try and make sure we can give them each the facilities they need to do their current work.

What that work is and how that's organsied comes from the clumps- the project portfolios. These were themselves somewhat experimental, and have really only existed for a year or so, and rationalising them seems a sensible move. One problem in such an excerise is that some research is big, and urgent, and has big teams, and some is little, and niche, and quirky. Slotting it all into a small number of equal sized portfolios was difficult and not altogether succesful last time. Some were characterised by their relationships with other institutions, some by their target applications, and some by their core technologies. In such an approach inconsistencies and contradictions were inevitable, and it was a difficult task to lead some of the more nebulous groups of projects.

Now we're making fewer bigger groups, and we are, it appears, acknowledging that some of these are large and perhaps not possesed of a single focussed objective. It seems fair enough really- not all of the the management layers of R&D can be totally subject focussed. Some management is just that, management, and there's no reason why that shouldn't work.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Rumours II- R&D changes

Although the technology and new media bit of the BBC (now known, bizarrely as 'Future Media and Technology') has emerged from the latest round of cuts relatively unscathed, there are indeed some changes on the way. The largest from where I'm stood are those impacting on the old R&D area. It's now called R&I (Research and Innovation) by the way, but let's not go there.

The changes are really three fold- we're relocating, splitting into two main groups, and clumping the projects differently.

The Move- we always knew that Kingswood Warren was going to be sold, and it went on the market a few weeks ago. It's a bit of a shame (who wouldn't lament the loss of a Victorian mansion in acres of landscaped surrey countryside as a workplace- sigh) but the real worry has always been the impact on the work, not so much the sentimentality or love of the place. It has, right now, got some of the most brilliant research infrastructure and culture- studios, labs, test chambers, RF facilities, dedicated server suites, and it's own wonderful IT staff, not to mention a dedicated technical library (with real librarians- WHOOT 'Shhhhh!' sorry), and some of the most fabulous rooms for meetings and mini conferences. It is too big, and too far from the rest of the BBC though, and has been a bit of the boffin gulag for too long.

I think, personally, that in trying to fix the admittedly broken relationship with the rest of the BBC something rather awful happened. A 'shock and awe' decapitation of a difficult area was followed up with an ill planned administration, shades of the emerald city perhaps, but at least now, with these new changes, there is a recognition that not only must some things be stopped, some others need to begin. (Oblique, moi!?!). So, we're moving. Except not to a similar more appropriately sized facility in the neighborhood.

See, that had been 'PLAN A'- a new, smaller, KW nearby, perhaps on a better connection to central London. However, apparently management were surprised when that sort of thing, for the accom alone, looked like being about £10million. Frankly that appalls me. Not the cost, but that fact that it was a surprise. I mean, if you're going to sell something for £20 million (best guess at the low end of the market value for KW) and want something half the size nearby, well maybe you'll be paying about half that. So anyway, all shocked and stuff, we're not buying a new gaff. Fair enough. We're moving to the grottiest offices we have in W12- White City- the Ministry of Truth, the monstrous carbuncle, Ceacescu Towers. Yes, as Factual deal with loosing headcount, and promptly bail on their worst cubby holes, we pile in. And I suspect that the budget for fitting them out will not be free. I wonder if anyone senior will be 'surprised' by the cost.

Weirder is to come though, because we are also going to have the heavy kit- the studios, the server suites, the labs, slotted into Television Centre. That too is on my list of crap BBC buildings, and I'm not at all sorry we're selling it. At least, I wasn't, until they told me they were moving part of my dept. into it. Kind of makes you wonder just how much left hand/ right hand comms are going on. Or if there's much of a future in anything other than the shortest possible terms for the group. Ah well, I'm sure it will be fine. I know I'll do my level best to make it fine, brilliant even. But still, you know, weird isn't it.

Gosh, this has gone and got big. Ok, so more of the split and reclumping next time, and perhaps also a comment on the importance, or utter irrelevance, of the Amazon S3 European launch from a large scale A/V master archive point of view.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Rumours manifest 1- changes on the large scale

Over the last few weeks several rounds of announcements have been made at the BBC regarding our future size, shape, services and locations. I've studiously avoided any face to face briefings- I find they tend to get dominated by those who howl the loudest, and not always the most cogently- and instead I've been perusing and pondering the various written pronouncements and powerpoints.

At the large scale, I guess we're cutting our cloth more economically now- though it's sad to see TVC on the list of places to leave, I'm ambivalent. I just don't know the London TV studio market well enough to know if it really is excess capacity- though it is a peculiar context for the sale of BBC Resources (just what the prospective buyer gets for their money is a bit moot!). Personally, TV doesn't excite me that much, and since studio based drama doesn't happen so much these days, I can't bring myself to be too upset by the loss of the home of so many second rate sit coms and chat shows. From experience, it's a fairly impractical, dingey place for most of the people who work there, and would be very difficult and expensive to upgrade. Possible, but pricey, and witha risk that it would never be busy enough to justify it.

The scale down of F&L is harsh, but apparently driven by the over capacity there at the moment. Trimming News too, is arguably overdue. At times it does seem to be a very well staffed part of the operation, and it's conceivable that it could be as effective with fewer separately dedicated people and more pooled resources.

If there was anything that seemed a real shame it was the decision to cut the local radio support buses. As I understand it, these vehicles do us sterling service, and actually support a key, and often under valued part of the BBCs activities. Local radio is a bit of a 'Cinderella' in the BBC, but has colossal reach- building ,and in some cases rebuilding relationships of trust and ownership with our audiences is key to the strategy- and it seems odd to be cutting these great tools for just that sort of capability right now. Still, what do I know?

A little more about the R&D area perhaps? Next time.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Quite a few people will have heard the rumours that the BBC is about to shed a load of posts, and indeed some have been kind enough to ask me if I'm worried. Well, yes and no, but there's quite a lot to this worry, and lack of it.

We can and should be more efficient, and the amount of money we have is very limited. Big, granted, but there is a hard cap on it- even more so than there ever has been before, because the treasury has capped our borrowing.

Anyway, we'll hear the whole thing on Thursday from our DG and Trust Chair. Can't wait.

On the road again

As ever autumn brings a gentle ramping in activety, so I'm off again next week. To Edinburgh, via Durham, and then to Paris. I'm happy to report that not a single airmile will be garnered along the way either, it's rail all the way. And thankfully, because I booked so far ahead, I was able to aford first class for much of it too! Huzzah! Here's hoping there are power points! and not the MS kind!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

trials of the green machine

A quick update on the monstrous alienware and it's rebuilds. As you may recall, I wasn't that happy with Vista- it made the machine run at least three times slower than it ought, primarily because nVidia weren't able to develop a driver for the SLI video cards. That would be hard, since the video scuttles around the bus encoded, making splitting it to two video cards a tricky proposition.

So over a weekend, and on the phone to alienware help desk, and borrowing a work licensed XP pro install disk I re partitioned the disks (keeping them as Raid 0) and put on XP and Vista. And then, a week later, I borked XP, so needed a full reinstall, so lost the dual boot. So for a month I've only had XP. And guess how much I have missed Vista.

Now, my only gripe is that the little alien eyes on the back of the lid have stopped lighting up. Totally non- critical, but significant- in that they signify 'look at me, I'm a spanky super machine' and they've gone out. Probably a loose connection or something. Which isn't a great sign either.

On the other had, everything runs like a greased weasel, including every sim and FPS i can throw at it. Only thing I want is faster network, cos that's the lag on 2nd life. Really should get back in there too- that was, after all, the main justification for the thing.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Eventually, gaping void will describe your life

And today I found it happened to me...

Monday, September 03, 2007

tv unfestival 2007

reading the wall, originally uploaded by meeware1.

My sincere thanks to the BBC backstage crew for inviting me to help out at the inaugural TV Unfestival. I know this will grow and grow over the years, and will be instrumental in the transformation of TV into whatver comes next- so big up to Ian, Matthew and Sarah for all their tremendous efforts to bring it together.

And thanks to my liver and kidneys for surviving the Edinburgh licensing hours.

Fire Poi in the wet

Fire Poi, originally uploaded by meeware1.

This is well overdue, and Rowan has a much better blog on the subject, but I am happy with the photo, so thought it fit to blog. Weekend before last Rowan double blagged us into the crew camping at the Green man festival for free- she wrote it up for an online review, so justifying the tickets, and we camped quickly in the driving rain to get a place in the crew field.
The festival was excellent and I can recommend it highly- for us it was a classic Rowan and Ant andventure and very welcome in this long wet summer. It did rain, lots, but inspite of it all we had two brilliant days of music and daze in the gorgeous Powys hills.
Highlight- My Brightest Diamond- I urge one and all to seek out these wonderful people. Also, I discovered MONSTERISM as a musical genre, and have since failed to find any trace- think bongo syncopated prog funk. YEAH BABY!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

the green machine is here

So now I have this new, astounding, huge and actually slightly intimidating laptop. Except I thin if I had a lap this big I'd probably have spent the money on a gym membership, or perhaps be a horse. It's one of these but in metallic green, which they no longer do. They do do matt black now, which is nice, and intel dual core processors, which is very nice, but hey, I got mine and I love it. I will love it more when I prise Vista out of it's shell- my how I hate big rubbish OSs. Ahem, meanwhile it runs everything OK when it's not being asked anything to complex, and the screen resolution is staggering. I mean utterly mind blowing. And bright and crisp and if it's just rendering away, even running on only half it's video cards (thanks for that Vista!) it's a blinder. Just can't wait to sort out XP and Ubuntu on it. Yum!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

A fun post (at last!)

So what's JJ Abram's working on now?

Great trailer though- I mean, completely excellent as an ultra short film/ short story in it's own right.


Play large as you can.


After the music stops....

So earlier this week, Monday in fact (I know I know, slack blogging) we convened the last steering board of a govt sponsored industry/academia group. We all sat round, reviewed the performance against the targets, looked at how we'd spent the tax payers £50k over three years, looked at the resulting projects and knowledge, and one and all agreed it was brilliant, wasn't it, and we should definitely keep doing this.

Then we tried to work out how.

It's very difficult sometimes to take the great efforts you've made and the brilliant results you have achieved out of a project or a short term funded network and turn them into something useful and permanent, and even with the best will n the world, I can see us not managing it in this case, maybe. And for what? £20k per anum! We could tuck that away in the miscellaneous accounts of some projects!

The network with modest funding allowed several innovative SMEs to remain engaged in large scale fund research efforts, by underwriting the costs of the proposals- these costs are very substantial- ironically, it takes 18 months to get an innovation project proposal through. You have to be VERY innovative in order to avoid being obsolete by the time the funding comes through. Looking that far ahead is a risk, plus, not every proposal gets funding, making engagement in this sort of thing a pretty dodgy proposition for a lot of smaller companies.

The proposals for continuation look like they'd be unable to manage that sort of effort though- as a purely commercial network there simply wouldn't be the motivation to bank roll such work, however modest the requests for funding. Hopefully we'll find a way to keep going with a drip feed of public funds. I know a lot of people have a real dislike for subsidised research, especially if it's someone else and not you getting the subsidy, but remember what this enables- real ground breaking research- risk taking stuff, stuff that if we didn't get a bit of seed funding to do, just wouldn't happen! Perhaps, as Michael Arrington suggested earlier this year the BBC is stifling start ups and entreprenurialism. It's bigger than the BBC though- it's the European way- we share risk, socially. All I'm saying is we can and do and have funded this research publicly, and to change horses now will definitely put us back a few years. So lets keep on with the model our society/culture/govt. has got and try and do the best work we can. All this fannying around trying to be nice to competitors in the open market is frankly absurd, and does them no good at all I'm sure- the independent web educational content provider market has hardly exploded since Jam imploded has it? or have I missed something?

Bugger, that one turned into a rant as well didn't it. Tsk.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Critical Mass, Almost

Yesterday to KW for an inter-corporate meet. It was good and interesting, and well worth setting up, but I can't help feeling we didn't quite reach the dizzy heights of synergy that we might all have wanted. This is a shame, but I need to think abut why it happened this way this time, how we ought to take this connection forward, and see if there are any lessons to learn so we can 'spark up' quicker.

Now, I'm not going to say what the other agencies were- wouldn't be fair, and whilst my employers very generously tolerate this published info, there's no saying how it would go down with less, um, well, with others.

What ended up happening was a very loosely structured talk, with various eminently qualified and experienced people (and me) piping up in turn and holding forth on their own areas of interest, and most of the rest of us sitting, nodding, and wondering what on earth we could do about it. There were three organisations represented there, but in essence there were perhaps rather more, because the 'we' in this were coming from perhaps three separate areas of the beeb. Sometimes this is fine- in fact meetings outside the beeb are sometimes the most effective way to meet people around this place who are working on similar themes to yourself, but in other divisions or areas.

In this case though, I think it actually counted against us. On the one hand we saw a very interesting exchange of ideas, but on the other we didn't see a well presented cogent presentation of what we, the BBC had to offer. We had info around DAB radio, DAB+, data feeds, video analysis (though perhaps we ought to have had more), EU and DTI projects and engagement programs like Backstage . However, I don't really think we really put over a great, compelling offering.

Similarly, I wonder if we really got a grip on what the other agencies were offering, how they wanted and were mandated to engage with their public or what they really wanted from us.

Perhaps, if we are going to do this sort of thing again we should take a little time to organise the engagements- to build a good idea of who would offer what, and to present a more cogent offering. We need to have a better approach to presenting 'works in progress' too. It is a difficult thing to do- give guidance as to the direction you expect new radical approaches to delivering content to go- but I think we can do better.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Outside the box. A long way outside the box

This post has an ethical dimension, and I strongly defend my position, but feel free to have a pop. Last Wednesday I and a number of colleagues attended a show called 'Soldier Tech 2007'. It was as you might expect from the title, an exhibition and conference covering all the latest the a soldier my desire. It was very VERY interesting, and well worth attending as an innovator in broadcast technology.

The following day I presented an idea that had come from the inspiration of that show, and it appears not everyone thought it was quite as focused on the needs of broadcast as it ought to have been. Without going into the detail (it was a proposal to look at the dangers faced by journalists and technical crews in news gathering and see if we could help develop better protective gear for them- niche, but important) I strongly feel that an important point needs to be made here, and made very clearly:

To innovate means many things, including creating new ideas and developing them in new ways. It also means taking an idea from place and applying it in a new way. The Broadcast world is actually very small, I've been in it for perhaps five years now, two and a bit at the R&D end, and though I meet new people all the time, I do already recognise a 'horizon' to this world. Go to broadcast tech show after broadcast tech show, tv conference after conference, and you will soon see the same old stands, technologies, lectures one after another. Sure there will be announcements, new demos etc. but they will ave been leaks, murmurs before, and the application will already be sewn up, and the world keeps ticking on all the same. Groundhog innovation. Something of a non-sequiteur don't you think.

To any and all technologists and innovators out there- at least once this year, go to a show about which you no NOTHING- nada, didly squat- abut the application area. Two things will happen- you will learn new things and have new ideas, and so will the people there. It's a win win, and frankly if any of us are going to make any difference in our jobs, we have GOT to get out of our comfort zones. Swords do beget plough shares, but not by us hiding from them.

Harrumph, thas bedder.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

A new laptop

As I sit listening to 'Sailing by', that peerless intro to the shipping forcast, I am pondering my next procurement. I am going to get a non-desktopped latop. That is to say, a work laptop that isn't nailed to the BBC's rather restrictive standard config. I get the standard config thing (though I've long argued we should run at least two standards- getting everyone from the high end off line editor to the PA to the DG to use the same standard of software set up and support seems to a fool like me to be positively perverse), but I want to run very graphics intensive immersive stuff, so I'm looking for something with a bit of umph.

Turns out there's a lot of umph around these days. Options are:
Alienware- Hi Def native, massive storage and savage video set up, but AMD processors
Sony- great for playing DVDs, but a bit dissapointing otherwise- qua the ar31
Toshiba- beast and very very very old fashioned looking
HP- nothing that good yet in the UK- but the US and japan are getting these very nice pavillion 9500 machines.
Dell- Well there's a couple of options here- the outrageous 2010 (which really needs a team of sherpas to carry) or the very very powerful glow in the dark 1710 - except someone else at work already has one, and if part of the point of this is comparing different stuff, then perhaps I shpould get different stuff!?
Partial edit done at half nine at ally pally

Thing is though there's so many groovy new things on the horizon, or just a cintilla over it- 8 series nVidia cards, solid state disks, hi def 19 inch screens with LED lights. I feel like a kid in a sweet shop, next door to a bigger better sweet shop that'll be opening next week!

Friday, June 08, 2007


Yesterday marked the first meeting of the L10 group that I was invited to. L10, or Life plus 10 (I prefer L10, 'cos life plus ten sounds a bit too much like a gaol sentence for child murder, license fee evasion or copyright infringement or something) is a small, informal, off the books, black ops directorate of the BBC's technology division, like Alias except without a Jenifer Garner. Um though actualy we do. And we do have both an Arvin Sloan and a Jack Bristow. And somethig of a surfiet of Marshals. Oops, there, just blown the plausible deniability.

Anyroad up, we sit around, try and figure out what the world will be like ten or fifteen years hence, and determine how, why or whether the BBC fits into it at all. Sit around was what we did this time. But I hope there will be some standing up too. And waving of arms a la Peter Snow. I really enjoyed it- I got to make completely unattributed Plato quotes and throw up some half boiled social psychology ideas about the nature of communities and society and why people starting uni use facebook (it's cos they are scared and positive vetting of your mates online is cheaper and easier than getting utterly shit faced every night for three months so you just don't care). Ah, the old days.....

Now why am I blogging this? Well I just do don't I. I blog and blog and blog and do all our dirty washing in public, and you can all see it. Both of you. So howabout some feedback. How about all you teeming hordes of BBC-ophiles drop me some sparkling feedback on just where you see the world being in 2022?! Why not point out just how hideouly irrelevant the BBC will be, or alternatively how Ofcom and the BBC trust will have seen the light, and turned over to the BBC an exponentialy growing license fee that we can collect worldwide from a fleet of black helicopters, and any and all dabbling in communications by the publicly owned institutions of europe chall be controlled, edited and ultimately owned by the uber BBC! mwahahahaha. Or you know. Not.

I may yet float the occasional flight of fancy here on this very blog, in part to garner your feedback, but mostly to scare my bosses silly that any of my out of the box radical nonsense is leaking into the public domain.

P.S. I once tried to think inside the box. Sadly I become rather flatulent whilst thinking hard, and so almost suffocated.

P.P.S. I really wanted to come up with a cool logo for L10 based upon the Lagrange points idea, but apparently there are only five lagrange points in a two body gravitic system, and in a three body system the maths aren't do able within the lifetime of the universe. So it would be a random scribble. Which I quite like too.

Friday, June 01, 2007

More DRM CPCM banter

Just posted to this article on Artthreat- with a bit off luck this may keep the cpcm drm thing buzzing along- for the record I'm not trying to kill it outright- if it works, if it does what people want (all people, creators and consumers and all of us in between) then it would be a good thing, but I think it needs and active debate to thrash out the pros and cons, and not just a bandwagon flight from the horrors of DRM as everyone fall over themselves in Apple, EMI and Macca's wakes.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Twitter vision vs Jodrell Bank

What if the twitter fed coordinates of all the radio telescopes were piped to a 3d twitter vision globe, and you could see all the directions that all the radio telescopes in the world were pointing like a giant grapefruit with cheese and pineapple on sticks stuck in it. Different frequencies could be represented by different fruit, and you could see from the direction they were all pointing in which bits of the sky were being looked at and which bits the aliens could sneak in and attack us by. Then over time you could do a sort of time lapse animatin to see the sweep and flow of radio astronomy acros the sky. That would be pretty.

This is my idea #1 for hackday.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


zzz, originally uploaded by meeware1.

Did the Great Escape festival last weekend in Brighton, and twas brillig, but I had forgotten this band, zzz, who, on balance, were probably my favourite. Quite weird, almost scarey, and very very dutch, but none the less outstanding. Some day all rock will... actually no, it never will.

Tweeting to a select few?

Or broadcasting to the world? According to Bojo it turns out that due to the way that twitter's api works at the moment, all that carefull 'only tweeting to friends' or 'blocking' is completely circumvented by pulling a feed via the api. Does this matter? not sure myself- I never really saw the point of private tweeting, or at least, I can see the point, but it is essentially different to the main, core twitter proposition.

I mean, I have tried to follow people that I thought would be interesting, and found them blocking all and sundry, and felt a vague sense that they weren't really playng the same game as the rest of us, and similarly, I have only very rarely been tempted to block. In essence, I see twitter as fundamentally public- those are the rules, use twitter to publish stuff and we'll all play nice.

i can see a role for a more exclusive twitter type service too, one where it's more invite only. I think the distinction between the two approaches is only now becoming evident at all, as usage blossoms and critical mass is reached. If Ev or anyone else reads this, I'd like to suggest a bifurcation of the twitter service, into private flocks and public mobs, or whatever the correct zoological term is for describing homogenous and heterogenous groups of birdies respectively. Covey and flock would seem to fit the bill. (see what I did there?)

Friday, May 18, 2007


One day and five bands into the Great Escape Festival, and I'm rather liking the format. A music festiva in my home town, in my favorite pubs and clubs- I can get twisted listen to great new bands, then roll home to my own cosy bed and wake up with my own bathroom right there and home baked bread. Living in Brighton and commuting to London isn't always the easiest way to do things, but today it really really makes sense.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

It would appear I am not paranoid...

and in fact my fears of the looming crisis in the BBC's innovation/ research and development area are in fact shared elsewhere. In the Guardian. And by the ever so erudite and perspicacious Bobbie Johnson. Ok so the grauniad piece is by bojo, but still it looks like the FUD is beginning to get noticed elsewhere.

As it goes I have a slightly different take on this to bojo and others currently in print and blogs (see also the very wise Euan Semple's blog). As I understand it these guys see the main problem as being Ashley Highfield's corralling of the BBCs new media elements as likely to lead to a stifling of the previously fecund diversity of the teams across sport, news, radio etc. I get that. I can see that it is a culture change and that at the core there are things moving perhaps slower. However, I thinks that's because at the core they are trying to do harder stuff. The fringes will remain dynamic, active, and perhaps now we will get better cross fertilisation. No, the problems as I see them are far more severe than any slight dulling of web innovation.

Ibelieve the Trust is showing itself to be quite weak in defending the BBC when it is doing good- This is an edit of a far more strongly worded earlier post, but in essence I think a poor precedent has been set for the support of good services, and this is something that Euan and Bobby and others such as Cory Doctorow have picked up on. Imortantly though you have to recognise that the Trust is NOT the BBC. And in fact it seems to be rather antithetical toward the BBCs objectives. That is a problem.

The second problem is internal to the BBC, and does in fact reflect upon Ashley and the senior management of his inland empire- Future Media and Technology. The story of what the new division comprises is long, its new leadership appointments have been long winded and in some cases quite hotly contested, and some friction has emerged. In essence several groups with widely differing cultures and world views have been brought together, and it's not actually working all that well in some key elements. One area of particular concern is the R&D group- these are engineers, people who have over the years given the world DAB radio, ceefax, much of NICAM and MPEG, and many thousands of other highly technical broadcasting engineering inventions. They are scientists and engineers, people used to working for years investigating, experimenting, testing, developing and standardising technical ideas.

In many ways the skills and professional approach of these people is different from the equally, but differently, talented web developers and engineers who for the last few years have been rapidly spinning new idea into finished products in mere weeks or months. The difference is profound. I can only guess at the very top level issues and roles and responsibility that are failing to correct the obvious and glaring problems but the problems themselves include;

  • An ongoing process with no obvious outcome to shut down the facilities at Kingswood Warren and relocate the engineers and scientists.
  • A lack of a clearly identified role at the head of line management for R&D who displays a strong understanding of R&D in a broadcast engineering context. (EDIT: There are really good people there, but authority and responsibility gets weirdly muddled and loads of stuff is falling through the cracks)
  • A merging together of a lot of highly qualified and varied men and women into a 'pool' structure where all job roles are considered to be generic.
Upshot- these people feel rather undervalued. And are leaving. Fast. Just as fast as the web developers.

Then, to compound all this, there is Siemens. Bless them. Good example of a partnership though. Ahem.

Right, I've definitly said way too much, and I haven't even had a pop at the archives yet. But hey, the night is young, and I still work there, and at some point about a couple of hundred words back I crossed a line about discretion I'm sure. I believe, deeply, in the power and the need for public service broadcasting, and also in our responsibility to shoulder the burden of making the best technical systems for this country's and the world's viewers listeners and browsers. We should because we can. If the Trust lack that vision, then that's their look out.

N.B. I have toned this down a tad- last nght it all got a bit splenetic.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Seen Straight and Fast

Almost wish..., no definitly wish I'd had something a tad sparkly to imbibe before seeing the spectacular that was Lola Rennt with a live soundtrack by the Bays at the brighton festival tonight. And hour and half of solid extremely loud utterly livid vibrant stomping hard core house and a brilliant film. I even managed to have a quick chat to the projectionist- tonights film was shown on one of the UKs two brightest digital projectors at 25,000 somethings, runing at 1000 by 2000 raw digital SDI of digi beta at SD. makes you realise how patchy an original it is- occasional artefact torrents and some really staggered contrasts and exposure.

BUT still and all I'm sitting here typing at ten to thr dozen listening to the soundtrack again determined to do something very fast and physical at some point soon. Graaaaaaaaah!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

I have been in america...

and it was nice, but in 140 hours I was airborn for 40. San Diego is really nice, especially if someone else is putting you up at the Carlsbad Four Seasons. It is very very very liovely- Valhalla with infinity pools. I like hot tubs at dawn with humming birds.

Chicago was realy nice too- at last I caught up with cousin Eleanor and got the grand tour of Chicago's finest architecture. Then I got the wizz bang Evanston low down- including a trip to a top five dawg joint, a pancake that could have killed a small dog if dropped from a sufficient height, and several whirlwind meetings. Might have given a presentation on the bridge of the starshiop enterprise at some point too. Weird trip. But nice.

My sincere thanks to Lisa, Jerry and Andrew and all the other lovely colonial types I met.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

For shame...

Ok so twitter is cool and great and has kept me in touch with the world for two weeks, but this MEEZ business- what am I thinking! Still it's about right according to Row, and she should know.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Alcazabar & Mulacen

Alcazabar & Mulacen, originally uploaded by meeware1.

Sorry for all the inactivety here. However, here´s why- I was walking up these hills. Took me best part of a week from Ugihar to this point, and inthe end I didn´t do the big one, but it was great, and I stayed safe- later that day (sunday) the clouds came in, the vis dropped to nothing, and the temp went down fast. Meanwhile I was in the refuge drinking with jolly Norweigans and Germans.

I think this photo is taken from about 3181 metres, but I don´t know for sure- happy to be corrected.

Anyone want to buy some crampons?- only used once (by me).

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Kickin' the habit

The 77O has flown home, the 9500 is back at the warren, and I am now running with a dinky little Motorola number. Not over enamoured of the new thing, but hey, at least it's just a phone, and it'll punt out a tweet when i need it to.

And now I'm flying off to spain, to what I'm not sure, but it'll be tech light. I have decided to take the Ogg though. Wasn't going to, but decided there's a need to toons when walking a lot, and theres a little room to stick some Led Zep and Neil Young and Lonnie Liston Smith in there, so, yeah, why not.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Hurgh! The habit really kicks in

Ok, so this 9500 is a really nice piece of kit. Symbian is a bit ropey, the applications seem to need a pointer that the device doesn't have- the joystick is useless in trying to do a presentation- but a stylus or mousey type thing would be great.

However, there is something rather like a killer app taking place when you start to do 'twitter' on a phone with a nice big keyboard. Ooooh, lovely.

Have to use the keyboard though, becuase for some insane reason, there's no predictive text in this falsh gordon housebrick (mustn't have been room for it after they squeezed in a massive useless powerpoint application- sheesh!

Richt, now I really want to get geo twitter workibng- can't yet see how people are letting it know where they are. Confused, intrigued, facinated even. Hooked.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Mobile Gadgetry- Geek Crack

I swear this stuff is addictive. So I have borrowed a nokia 770 for a while- I like it- bugs and all. It's not mine, so perhas I haven't gone as far as I should have in personalising it; plus the whole loading of libraries for Linux apps is mildly intimidating- a may have done coding in a unix environment, but that doesn't mean I was ever really comfortable with it.

Anyway, over the wekend I broke the second of my two spare old unlocked phones by dropping it really hard. Poor old nokia blob dies a sudden death, with no flicker of recovery. Yesterday therefore, after a very interesting Mobile SIG meeting, where we discussed future research invstment strategy cycles of development, the role of the BBC in the mobile landscape, and the role of the mobile in the bBC landscape, I went to scrounge a test phone of Steve Jolly.

Well bless him, he didn't have a phone handy, but there was a Nokia 9500 kicking around I could borrow for a few weeks.

Oh, blimey, what a beast. It took me an hour to find how to turn off the keystroke beep. Incredible machine. Not sure I go a bundle on Symbian just yet, and the keyboard has shades of the ZX81 about it, but this could be fun.

At the moment i've got it running on my tesco pay-as-you-go sim (very very cheap) but I might slip my work SIM into it later to see what the web access is like. Hmm. Its like I just graduated to freebasing.....!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

BBC does gritty DRM podcast

Those brilliant chaps at backstage have been exceptionally brave/clever and put out a podcast exploring the myriad issues around the use of DRM on BBC content delivered over the web. The luminaries engaged in this admittedly long 'cast include Tom Loosemore, Miles Metcalf and many others.

The reactions have been gerally positive- though boingboing seems to have reacted more to the crcumstances than perhaps the actual content of the 'cast.

The one point I'd make.., the two points I'd make are:
The law is behind the times and will have to change, and it should be opne and clear about the new rights and responsibilites of creators and users of media- a clear fair law is a better barrier to priacy than any encyption.
Secondly, a good drm system need nt be proprietory- there is o theoretical impediment to fully robust open source DRM- only the keys must be secure, all else can, and really, for a public service, should be open.

Erm, can I have a third point- DRM has two parts, hard (technical managment of access and security) and soft (definition of rights and managed allocation thereof) and by and large we, the world at large, are a bit weak at both.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Pain at both ends

Had a great weekend of adventurous geekery- huge game of toy soldiers, big long bike ride on brand ew shiney red bike and tried to get some new stuff to happen on this Nokia thingy. Best not to dwell on the toy soldiery (it's the nadir of my geelery) but the bike ride was brilliant- it was really cold with the misty clouds bowing off the downs, but the ride was great. I think I might need t make some adjustments to the bike before taking it out along that type of route again- road style slicks were tough to get much grip with, and the rear wheel jammed up totally with the snug (and very practical) mud guards. The 'penny farthing' or 'gentleman's velocipede will need some serious adaptation in order to get it full of roadable.

Thinking of maybe getting a second set of wheels. Maybe. Dunno.

Ah, so why the other end hurty? Well I'm trying to get this 770 to do some interesting stuff and now my brain hurts trying to understand how I got a lib conflict on automatic repository synching. or something. Maybe. Dunno.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Flickr Merge- I'm really not keen

I have a flickr account, I enjoy flickr. It's a pleasure to use flickr and I really like the interface and the community feel and the, well, the general flickr thing. I like it so much that I pay them for it. Not a lot, but it's the only thing I pay for on the web (ain't the internet cool!).

You've seen the news- Yahoo accounts only from the 15th March. I'm not happy. I don't really like the yahoo experience- it's just nowhere near as nice. So, I don't really want a relationship with yahoo jammed into the flickr thing. Flickr is pure and clean and focussed and just right, yahoo is cludgy messy complicated overwheening and not something I want to pay for.

Ok so I have been paying them for ages- ever since I signed up for a pro account, but that was still a relationship with flickr, not yahoo. Oh it make s me mad.

On the upside, I know the person who wrote the BBC news online story today!

Thursday, January 25, 2007


still here and it's going well. done a pitch for four ideas, and bar the one the engineering blok stamped on, all were well recieved. sounds like the iplayer one happening anyway, the planning tool is recognised as essential, and the carbon footprint tool is a no brainer. whoo hoo!

innovating as i type!

sitting here in the bbc innovation forum, so it felt appropriate to blog a bit. highlights so far include;
os trust framework for media exchange
multi sensory signal processing
a quick chat with siemens innovation chap

so far so good (but the monkey story was wierd!)

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Too into the music (metadata)

So I am a very lucky boy, and kind generous wife (who has just made the most amazing muffins by the way) bought me an MP3 player for Christmas. And knowing what an utter anti nasty software paranoid freak I am she buys me one of these . It's brilliant. And it plays Ogg vorbis files. These are like MP3 in that they are compressed music files, but often they are better quality. Ah quality- so often a secondary, tertiary, or, lets face it, a completely ignored consideration in modern broadcast. Crunchy talk shows, squished classical, fizzy jazz, and that's just Radio! So in a curious mix of neo ludite harking for a quality past, allied with a pseudo-geeky need to try and get this device to have very cool open source support, I eventually set myself up with this software to get music off CDs, and this software to turn it into very nice Ogg files. Took a little time to get it all set up, then the next question is- what do I call the files.....?

Cue massive wracking of brain- what do I want to see on screen? Will it be whole albums? Tracks? will I navigate via a menu or just shuffle? Where is the metadata coming from? What will I use ot for? How long will it last? Will I change the use? Panic! Worry! Confusion! Insomnia! (Ok it was christmas and I over ate. A bit. Bt I swaer soe of the insomnia really was down to an inability to commit to a metadata schema for my new MP3 player!

I am so sad.

Anyway I have tried a couple of schemes, and neither is really perfect.
For whole albums I do a directory structure of artist/album/tracks and I name the tracks as:
Track Number- Track name dot ogg.
For ripped tracks I just put them all under the artist, and then put:
Track Name- Album Name (track number) dot ogg.

Excpet I'm not even being consistent in these applications (I ripped the whole Yo La Tengo album in the individual track schema as an experiement and it is more useful, except the album name is so long that it takes over a minute to scroll across the screen)(good album mind).

Any advice on good track naming schema for small screen mp3 player usage gratefully recieved.

Like the dust will ever settle!

"It'll get sorted out when the dust settles"

If I hear that ever again I might well resort to fisticuffs. Last time I posted was about RDA and how it looked like i was now going to be largely on internal projects. Well I sort of still am. RDA has been a really hard slog, but is significntly further along now (Radio 3 and Radio 4 do now have a fighting chance of getting a digital archive by May), and my brain did get totally scarred thinking about audio metadata.

However- I now have an intern (he's great- kind of like having a remote mini-me I can send on missions to parts of the BBC I've never seen). He's also about eight times brighter than I have ever been (I know I'm getting thicker), and far more personable and very very driven. He's also very generous with his geek toys, and for the last few weeks has let me teeter on the edge of completely destroying his Nokia 770 . This is an amazing device- not perfect, but very very interesting.

A side bar- this guy makes me realise that no matter how anti social and borderline asbergers I get, I am not a techno geek, due largely to the fact I am useless at tech and very very far behind the times.

Anyhoo, so this new (to me) thing is around, and Framework Seven is kicking off, and so yesterday I get to go to Denmark to discuss some projects about mobile services and the future of broadcasting (waaaaaaaaaaaay out of my depth) and who is there but a really nice chap from Nokia who has just donated 100 of these things to the University I'm visiting! MAD! Serendipitous! bizarre!

There's no way I can begin to pull all these threads of weird serendipitous work related hi tech future broadcast stuff together in a blog post- I'm trying, but my brain just can't. I may post more later.