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.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008


I shall blog more next year- promise! Till then, have a great new year's eve and I'll be posting more in 2009.


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

We Took a Break

Opatija Flying Dutchman, originally uploaded by meeware1.

Like I mentioned in the last post, Rowan and I just got back from a break in Hungary, Croatia and Italy, which was great. Not only did we have long sunny days soaking up the Adriatic sun, but Rowan also had her teeth finally fixed up, some fourteen months after her calamatous bike accident.

I really can't tell you how relieved and happy I am that she has made it through to the other side of this. It's a horrible horrible thing to see the one you love in constant pain and discomfort, and I'd have moved mountains to swap places with her. At last she can smile again in confidence and comfort, and did so on the lovely Opatija Riviera. Rowan's photo's are, as ever, far better than mine, but this is a nice one I got whilst enjoying a very fine capuccino at Cafe Levandra.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Awake at the Wheel

My usual refrain in this blog has been how in spite of all the great stuff going on at the BBC's R&D area, basically it's going to hell in a hand cart. Against that background the last 3 weeks sojourn in Hungary, Croatia and Italy was a blessed release from the pressure that working in such a state of apparently terminal decline can bring about. Great holiday by the way- will blog some pix via flickr later.

About eight weeks ago Eric put the whole relocation of R&D on hold- a move I was worried by (and I still do think it will have cost us some difficulties in setting up a space in the White City buildings). Yesterday we saw the first elements of what he has cooked up during the hiatus, and it delights me to say that everything we saw looked great.

There are three key points as far as I'm concerned:
  • The decisions about where to put R&D geographically, and how to structure it internally, are all being based on a serious 'back to basics' review of what the BBC is doing R&D for- and they're being quite up front about saying it's a philosophical enquiry. This is tremendous exciting, and appears to be really progressive too- Eric considers R&D to be an asset at several levels, including nationally and internationally.
  • The relocation plans, as were, are scrapped since we were going to loose too many people with those. That's not to say that some elements won't look familiar, but the fundamentally cavalier way that the relocation of staff looked like it was going to be handled is gone. That, plus the clear, sensible, and intelligent context the analysis above is providing will give us a much better chance of keeping enough key people. We must retain critical mass, and this move will be designed to acheive exactly that.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly and most tellingly, Eric has appointed Matthew Postgate to be controller of R&D. This is great- I've been working part time on an innovation strategy for mobile for the last few months, and he is a rock solid bloke. Eminently proffesional, technically savvy, open minded and with a radical streak a mile wide- he was running the BBC Mobile area for a few years and under his managment we've seen some great launches (iPlayer on iPhone and Nokia n96, Electric Proms, and the great Olympics coverage to name just a few). The fact that this appointment has been made early, and in advance of Erics wider scale rejig of the whole of FM&T, gives us confidence in our place in the dvision and the wider BBC.
The atomosphere at Kingswood was better yesterday than I have seen it for years, perhaps ever. We used to feel that there really was no one at the wheel, or at best we'd get occasional nudges from a sleeping, part time, frankly un-qualified and un-interested journeyman manager. Now we have Matthew, and we have very high hopes indeed.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The latest greatest meh!

Just returned from Fly Me to the Moon at the Odeon in Brighton- rainy afternoon,weekend looking after 4 yrar old nephew, so we check out the latest animated feature. This was different though- this was in 3d using circular polarized projectors and glasses.

Of all the 3d technologies I've experienced this is possibly the least worst- no colour weirdness, no flipping out if you tilt your head or move an inch to either side, but it was still a vaguely nauseating hour and a half, with perhaps twenty minutes spent with uncomfortable eye strain and unresolved stereoscopy. The Film sucked too, very much so. No humour of any kind, some very laboured 'jokes' and in the end credit, Buzz Aldrin appeared to tell us it was a 'scientific impossibility' that there had been three talking flys aboard the Apollo 11 mission. Nice touch!

Avoid this like the plague unless you absiolutely must see every single 3D tech going. I'm off to lie down in a darkened room.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

A BBC Micro for the 21st Century?

Wow, just done my first flying solo Barcamp session, and I'm relatively please with how it went. It was a pretty loose exploration of the last BBC Micro (late 80's, hugely influencial, but with a gestation and reasoning behind it which might not agree with your preconceptions!), and an exploration of whether and what the BBC could or ought to do along the same lines some 25 years later.

Thanks a gazzilion to Rain for blogging it. That's actually rather more structured and complete than anything I had written down about it!

I'd also like to thank the audience, who not only seemed really attentive, but at the end everyone engaged in a really spirited discussion of the potential avanues in which this could develop. I hope to continue this dialogue in Backstage, keep eyes peeled for a blog post there.

Ask the BBC Anything!

Just done a session at BarcampBrighton3 (for which Adactio has just produced a delightful Schedule) on' Ask the BBC Anything' alongside Ian Forrester and Rain Ashford of the BBC Backstage team. Not a huge turnout (which was probably for the best) and the questions were all sensible and managable:

There was one about the slight flakeyness of a widget for Radio POP, a social netwpork radio beta from Radio Labs; apparently for one of the campers the widget stops running when minimised on his Mac. One to pass along I think.

There was also some interesting questioning regarding the way the bbc interacts with 3rd parties in developing it's web presence. It seems we're perceived as being entirely self sufficient, technically in this area, or at least we were, and it was interesting to discuss the sometimes conflicting dynamics toward efficient centralisation and adaptive, flexible local development, along with the complexity of dealing with potentially thousands of suppliers (and I didn't even touch on our finance system nightmare!).

We closed with a discussion on copyright, and the oft quoted Tom Loosemore tale of the orchestral work with difficult to clear rights came up again (twice). The feeling seemed to be hugelky sympathetic to our (the BBCs) plight, as opposed to the feeling of the long term copyright holders. The continuing copyright renewal of Mickey Mouse came up, and much grumbling was heard.

I hope that a few of the people there do come and join the Backstage community, and that we get some good input from them over the nextfew months- there was enough smarts around the table!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Omnivores 100

Just once in a while I'll go off piste and stray away from the workaday grind on this blog, and here's one such diversion- I'm following the excample of WordRidden (another Brighton blogger who, like me, will be taking her first plunge into Bar Camp at BarcampBrighton in a couple of weeks) who has completed her Omnivore's 100. I could explain, but this link has everything you need to know. So, bold, I have eaten, crossed out I would never EVER eat

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at linking to your results.

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

Feeling pretty good about that, and the things I've still to try look intriguing! Only two things I'd never eat, and I am adamant about that (though I doubt I'd revisit the Durian in a hurry).

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

An occasional bulletin

I've been slack with blog posting, and to tell the truth, I can't promise I won't be just as slack in future, but in the mean time here's a few updates:
  • The follow up to Mashed continued with a visit from ARM to Kingswood which was brilliant and facinating for all involved, and a visit by me to CogApp in Brighton, which I found fantastically interesting and should, I hope, lead to some collaboration before long. Might even help me get into Broghton BarCamp (I keep missing the ticket allocations).
  • The departmental move out of Kingswood Warren to White City continues to stumble on- it looks as though both the research portfolios I work in will be in the new spaces by mid October, and since I don't have much specialist kit, I'll be based there permanently by that time. I shall still make up copious excuses to travel to Kingswood while I can though (it's much better than Wood Lane for flying rockets!).
  • The big division I'm a part of (FM&T) has a new head- the very excellent (and YOUNG!) Mr Eric Huggers. Sadly this has not yet led to any visible progress in the appointment of the Controller of Research nor either of his deputies. These three critical roles remain under the care of stand ins, and though I know and admire them all, it's not their main job, and this is getting into deep management crisis territory.
  • The BBC has a new 'director of archive content' in the shape of Roly Keating. If you've come here to get some idea of what that means, then I'm sorry, but I am as flummoxed and confused as the next person. It's a weird role- Archives are part of FM&T (Eric's fiefdom) but Roly will Report to Jana Bennet. However, it's also true to say that the BBC has been banging it's shins against getting the archive public since Greg Dyke announced it at Edinburgh almost exactly five years ago. In the mean time we have had the Creative Archive (now defunct), Motion Gallery (commercial but excellent), and the brilliant but metadata only Programme Catalogue (also defunct). Copyright in all it's many forms has consistently knee capped these efforts- that and a shameful timidity at the very highest echelons when it comes to engaging with and possibly against rival commercial interests. Maybe what we need is someone who is 'all about' getting content in front of audiences in the mix and getting the content out there. Quite why that role needs so many wierdly dotted lines of management around them bemuses me. I'm considering running a book on when the next big re-org is coming.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Monday after Mashed

This is a tough blog to write- for the last two days I have been immersed in yet another epic hacking fest, and this time I took rockets! Sadly I don't have very many great photo's, you can find hundreds here though.

  • Social Flight Simulator- a tremendous, multi hack team effort, given inspirational leadership by Ewan Spence, a man for whom the word eccentric might have been invented (though if it had, it'd be spelt with at least half a dozen markup characters!). I had a brilliant flight up from Darwin to Tokyo with the very excellent Michael Sparkes. Michael turns out to be an exceptionally good pilot an gave us a tremendous flypast of Mt Fuji!
  • Meatspace GPS Tron Bikes- Tristan Roddis of Cog Apps (a brighton outfit i've been aware of, and slightly in awe of for a while) had a great game with GPS phones, google earth and walky talkies. It was a hoot, exhausting and buggy- just what Mashed is all about!
  • IBM Power managment games things- can't remember what they were actually calling this, but it was brilliant games driven approach to using data out of power usage monitors.
  • BBC Subtitles- at last, after an unfortunate loss of access to the subtitles on our own shows (we outsourced this work, so now have to pay extra if we want to do anything with this utterly invaluable additional metadata- DOH!) someone hacked an OCR driven XML creator for these, then integrated it into REDUX (if you have to ask....). Out of the back of that dozens of hacks were started at around seven on Saturday night, and a fair few, including an amazing translator, made it though to final submission.
  • Pie. Great pie. Thankyou Matt Locke and Channel Four for great pie.

Not only all this great geekery, but I also got to catch up once more with Craig and Josette from o'Reilly, Glyn from ORG, and Nick Radlo. Pamela Clark from Nasa was a facinating person to meet, and we chatted for ages about research analogies, institutional cultures of innovation and cuttlefish skin. Thanks to Matt Locke not only for the pies but also for the lift back to Brighton- Matt is a luminary in this world- franky if he offered me a couple of hours to chat about the BBC, innovation culture and continental philosophy in a skip full of rubbish I'd take it in a femto second- to give a lift home too was generosity itself.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Gearing up for Mashed

So Over the Air was cool, but I wasn't around for all of it. No this year's big hackety fest for me is going to be Mashed- except I can't get the HTML badges to work, hmm.

Anyway, there will be a few very very cool bits that I already know are happening, but I'm not sure what's public yet, not being at the absolute nexus of Mashed planning. However, Channel 4 have been involved already, so hopefully they'll have some cool stuff to play with. The Kingswood guys have gone full throttle on building a complete TV station in a box- so we can hack around with live tv feeds. And I think I'm going to bring some rockets, and little camera, and let's see if we cant do live interactive rocket cam TV. Not sure about 3d though.

UPDATE on the Badges- OK I think I see the problem- somehow a rogue " character is borking the HTML on the badges on Matt's site. He knows and will fix soon I expect.

UPDATE II- Fixed by the Exfellent london biker!

Mashed08: London, June 21/2 2008

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Time for a big hat

It's not easy shifting from traditional linear, one to many broadcast into a world where content is consumed in a myriad of different places and times and ways, and it's salutary to Ashley Highfield that the BBC has made the transition is has as well as it has. It's been bumpy at times, true. The Graf Report was a swinging attack on many of the advances that the BBC had made, and it led not only to a drastic restructuring of our offering to the web, but indirectly to many changes internally too. BBC Jam's demise was another dark day for the BBC's online ambitions, and that too had a real impact on the staff and the whole culture behind it. However, through all those troubles Ashley has driven a large and growing dept that tries in many ways to be the most innovative it possibly can be. Of late, he's faced open hostility to the principles of net neutrality that would underpin public service internet distribution. To an extent it's to his credit that the next role he's taking on will be addressing just that issue head on. It's a fight that I think he's been gearing himself up for for some time, and the Kangaroo position gives him the power of the big terrestrial broadcasters, but the freedom of an independent company to really get to grips with the matter.


Except, well, the web was only a part of what his department was meant to be. Last year he took charge of the newly formed Future Media and Technology department, which included not just his core web group, but also the hundred of web content and systems people in television (renamed 'vision') radio (renamed 'audio') and news and sport (renamed, oh never mind, you get the idea). He also got a lot of the technical support people too, all those who weren't sold off to Siemens in 2004, and the archives too. He even got Kingswood Warren and it's Research & Development team.

Sadly, not all these additions to his fiefdom have blossomed quite the way his core web team has. For every iPlayer success, there are perhaps a dozen research project foundering for a lack of good management and leadership. I'm not actually criticising anyone here- the fact is there are no managers!

For years now there has been a void as senior engineers have left, and a succession of managers have taken temporary charge of the research teams. Some of those managers have had great visions for the future, but a combination of temporary roles, drastic and painful change, and an agonisingly slow and unpredictable relocation process have resulted in a team dreadfully understrength, over committed and with little clear picture of their role in the corporation. The three roles of Head of Research and two deputies looking at Broadcast and Future Media areas (an arbitrary and frankly meaningless distinction, but London and Manchester sounds too simplistic!) have been defined but unfilled for many months now. And now Ashley is off too!

It's probably churlish to mutter that it would have been nice if he could have made sure the R&D function was OK before he left. I understand that even he has had plans for R&D quashed. However, it is worth bearing in mind that once upon a time, the head of R&D was the head of all technology for the BBC, and sat on the board reporting directly to the Director General. Is there an opportunity here to return to that model? Could this be the BBC's chance to put innovation right at the core of its future? Who on this list could wear that hat?

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Over the Air Gurus

ian_hat_2, originally uploaded by meeware1.

Here we see Ian F and the estimable Dr Darlington getting into the swing of this evening's Yahoo party at Over the Air at Imperial. I'm on the door right now, so if anyone wants to sneak in, they need to come by me. And I might even notice!

Friday, April 04, 2008


Hej from Over the Air, live from Imperial college. We're up to about 300 registrations here, the core team are beginning to flag, the last roud of seminars, and we're about to start the afterparty. So far so good, but the amatuer rendition of torchwood may yet bork the whole event! Wireless networking is holding up, but seems to have given up allowing new users to join the network.

Monday, March 31, 2008

A different sort of museum

Tortoise and Family, originally uploaded by meeware1.

So a couple of weeks ago I blogged about the beautifully presented, interactive, swish but ultimately disappointing National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. On reflection I still hold the same opinion of the place- it used all the latest interpretive techniques, it gave different views and it showed many slices of the UK's association with the sea. However, it didn't hit all the high targets it set for itself, in that there was no overall compelling picture, or narrative- no arc of tech development, or all encompassing view of the country and it's relationship with the sea.

Last week however, on a quick jaunt out west with family to Swanage and the New Forest, we looked into the Tank Museum at Bovingdon , and it was at the complete opposite end of the scale. Shortly things will change, as by June they expect to be in new accommodation, but for now, it's practically just loads of tanks. I mean, loads of them. In fact, it's probably fair to say they have all of them.

There's a little info board by each, and some attempt to group them according to which faced which in battles around the world, but to me it made clear that no amount of interpretive gloss can make up for just having loads of what you're trying to show off.

Sure, they could have had animated maps of battles, or memorabilia of crews, or a few more models, but they were about tanks. And had lots. And that worked.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Edwardian Info-Graphics

CLASSIC_INFO_GRAPHIC, originally uploaded by meeware1.

Now, some say today's graphic language is the apotheosis of visual communication- that we say more to each other today in complex graphical and textual forms than we ever have. That may be so, but if you dig around from time to time you'll find examples as delightful as this one, from the Hartlepool museum.

It's a poster produced during World War One detailing the bombardment of Hartlepool by the German Navy. I think they've really missed a trick not selling copies of this in the gift shop- perhaps the copyright is tricky?- but this is a stand out example of a lot of complex info being intriguingly presented. No, it's not simple, but tell me it doesn't just make you want to poor over it's details and understand the story it has to tell!

My only regret- the quality of my photo isn't good enough to read the text. Bum.

Eight things you will never know about me.

Upon reflection I think I may have overplayed the grumpy old man card, so here's a revised 8 things. Bear in mind though that I am the very last person to do this, so I'm buggered if I can find eight others who've not yet done it.

1/. 'I am a churlish sod from time to time'- yeah well this stands. I'm prone to grumpines of the highest order, and I can be downright stroppy when hungry. I blame it on hypoglycemia, which is I think a made up complicated name for getting stroppy when hungry. Avoid me if I've skipped breakfast, and if in doubt, offer me a biscuit.

2/. 'I don't actually know eight people to pass this on to.' It's true, I am positively the last person to hear gossip, and internet gossip even more so. There are lower order primates more connected than me.

3/. Used to be in the Royal Navy as a trainee officer for a vanishingly brief and fairly miserable period. All I can say is that it wasn't as much fun as Sea Cadets, and that's where I'd got the idea from. The only upside is that they paid for me to bum around India and Thailand for three months when I was 18.

4/. I put all my worldy possesions into storage, moved out of my flat, and walked to Cornwall to see the eclipse in 1999. I'd finished uni, was fairly optimistic that something would sort itself out, and fancied a walk to clear my head. It was great, it was the fittest I've ever been in my life, and it really didn't matter that it was cloudy for the eclipse.

5/. The most sporty thing I did at school was being best at holding my breath and 'doing a mushroom' in the pool. That's not a scatological reference. I don't really do sport.

6/. Since turning 30 I have decided that it's pointless trying to pretend that I am in any sense cool, and that I am in fact a hopeless geek, perhaps even a nerd. I like cars and planes and tanks and documentaries about battleships, and toy soldiers and lego and spaceships and geology and computergames, and damnit I can't help it! I like poetry too, and the opera, and music 'n stuff. But I'm still a geek.

7/. I once appeared in the Brighton Argus pretending to be a scottish poet- I was helping run a poetry reading, and we'd got the paper to come down to meet the poets and do a shoot on the beach, but one of them went to the pub to see a mate, so I pretended to be him and stood in the background staring off into the Channel being all moody and poetic.

8/. I play pool left handed. Nothing else, just pool. Acording to the very lovely Chris McManus it's not at all unusual to do one or two things 'other handedly' to what you usually do. His book "Right Hand, Left Hand" does a brilliant job of explaining the may varied aspects of assymetry, and he was really kind to chat to me for an afternoon when I was an undergraduate at a totally different university looking at this area of neuropsychology.

Right. That's it. I'll have a think about who to send this too, but everyones so much more popular and connected than me that I doubt there's anyone on the planet who's not yet done this!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Leave of Absence of Mind

Right, I've got to go on leave now. The hols have just been piling up untaken, and it's use 'em or loose 'em by the end of March. So today I set of via Sutton, Manchester, Lythan, Ambleside, Whitehave and Durham to Edinburgh, to pick up the work batton again for some lovely project stuff with the University of Edinburgh and other super people.

I shall have another mini break at the end of the month around Easter- probably not to Spain and the Sierra Nevada as I had hoped- no idea where at all in fact! Suggestions on a postcard please.

Oh, and yesterday I popped up to the National Maritime Museum for a nose around. All very lovely and interesting, and both Geof, my septuganarian Father-in-Law and I reverted properly to type and started playing with all the hands on experiments. However, with the exception of the brilliant 'Bridge Simulator' there was not so much as a cabin off a ship there! THis really surprised me, and to behonest, although there were some great bits to the museum (Art and the Sea being one highlight) overall it didn't really hang together to tell a story, or even a linked sequesnce of stories. For instance- there was a section on Artic exploration (all very heavily staged with fake ice caves etc.) and a section on antarctic exploration, but no sense that the two were in any way related, or the point of any of the exploration. In fact the artic exploration had been a really political and economic effort and hugely important, but you just came away thinking it was jolly cold. And it so needed ships. A maritime museum without ships is rather like a bread sandwich- it can be as substancial as you like, but you can't help feeling it's missing something vital.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Shifting sands

Some developments of late- my great erstwhile boss, Dr Richard Wright, has departed these shores for a three month sojourn in Lesotho. Richard is a total guru in the field of the engineering issues of large scale digital archives, and a really sound chap to boot. I've rather thrown my lot in with his crusade to save the BBC's archive from the vagaries of mistaken economies and other tribulations, and I'll do what I can to keep the fires burning in his absence, keeping an eye on his great wiki.

Meanwhile, we happy few who run the archive research projects have (for the most part) finally been accepted into the fold of Research & Innovation. We don't anticipate any radical changes in the near term, but this is an interesting change, and might make some difficulties easier to address.

One little update on the R&D project proposals front- we've had quite a few interesting ones for the Digital Libraries and Semantics calls, but still nothing with any real meat to it for the FET Forever Yours- at this rate I'll have to make something up myself! After all, there's 20 million euros going begging!