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, March 27, 2009

Refocusing on the Future

In the last week or so the R&D department has laid its plans for the future out in some detail, at least internally. The intention is that by the beginning of April we will have a solid 'workplan' for the next year or so, and will begin a new, regular cycle of quarterly review, and twice annual reassesment.

The first cycle of assesment of projects, and the general reorganisation that has followed, has been pretty radical. Overall we have decided to end 51 out of 90 current R&D projects. Over the next three to six months the research effort within the BBC will be wound down, and documentation, software hardware and other materials will be collated, archived and, where suitable, published to our colleagues and in some cases the wider world.

This doesn't mean that the projects come to a dead stop though- for instance the Dirac effort will go through a full certification process, and will continue to be developed for key applications, such as archival file formats, but it looks like the focus will shift away from formal research.

At the same time as some long running efforts have been marked to conclude (or transition into development), five more projects proposed by R&D staff have been given the green light, and another eight requested by the business are to begin- so it's not all about 'endings'. Plus, and for me most importantly, we are shaking up the structure. Now, instead of the traditional 'portfolios' we are having 'sections'- seven of them in four key areas. And one of those sections is explicitly focussed on archive work, and includes all the previously distributed (and slightly 'cinderalla') Archive R&D effort. Whoot!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Big Archive Project

Very very occasionaly i may have alluded to a 'day job' taking up some time, and being tricky to work around, and seeing as this role is rather 'peaking' at the moment in terms of its demands it warrants a little bit of visibility.

The project is called AVATAR-M, and it's a uk government part funded R&D project in which the BBC, and partners, are investigating large scale audio visual archival. There's a wide range of technology being explored- Dirac is being used as a platform for developing archival optimised video file formats, there's software to plan video storage needs over time, and we're building demonstrators of new sorts of disk storage systems.

All the effort is coming to a head at the moment as we prepare for a week of demonstrations at the NAB show in Las Vegas, from the 19th to the 24th of April. Umm, we have a web site on the way, and a stand all booked, with a stand number and everything, but here I am blogging from my garden and they're just not to hand, sorry. I'll update this inthe week.

Anyway, what's the current flurry of activity? Well, we're populating these humongous storage devices currently being constructed at a secret facility on the south coast with huge amounts of HD video- not in Dirac yet, that'll follow in a few months. A pair of these machines (jokingly refered to as portable storage devices- they weight 200KG+!) will sit on the stand happily munching several dozen terabytes of video all day. Excitingly for me, we're also going to demonstrate the kit hooked up to 'broadcast typical' edit facilities- so I get to be trained up in Final Cut Pro in a couple of weeks so we can show this capability on the stand. We've even got some very nice Mac kit to hook it all together.

At the same time, we're shooting a video to show on the stand and to distribute. We're working with Milo creative on this and they're doing some tremendously exciting and original stuff for us. All the principle photography has been done against chromakey backgrounds, and the concepts for the video are brilliant! We've also been lucky enogh to get Tony Ageh, the BBC's Controller of Archive Development to appear on screen to open the film- the picture here shows him in TC10 last week shooting with the guys from MILO, and Reece De Ville from our internal comms team.

So all in all this project has plenty to keep me busy. Upshot being that as soon as the Vegas demos are done and dusted, I'm taking a week off and driving to San Francisco, where Rowan and I shall chill out and destress- I can hardly wait!

Monday, March 16, 2009

We went, we saw, we made

Our team is making it back into work today a little fragile, but thoroughly elated that we were able to be a part of the spectacular inaugural Maker Faire UK. The new BBCWeatherbot (not to be confused with the IRC bot one ) made a couple of very well recieved appearances at the end of Sunday's show- exploring a Tony Hart style hand drawn giant map of the UK, and diplaying the weather at various locations. Video is being furiously logged and sorted for editing now, and I hope to have a few little bits online in the next few days.

I'd like to thank everyone who put their heart and soul into what was a fabulous event, for exhibitors and I hope the public. For us at the BBC R&D it was a rare opportunity to engage with a terrifically broad range of our audiences- if you were one of those who came and said hi, thanks! We hope to be able to come to more such events (we hope there are more such events) in future.

In the meantime, feast your eyes on the flickr pool for the event, and see the videos that are already popping up on Youtube.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


nixie_tubes, originally uploaded by meeware1.

I just love nixie tubes. And this guys sells single tube clock kits. I think I buy one today.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Makers in Brighton

circuskinetica1, originally uploaded by meeware1.

Today Row and I took a leisurely stroll across town for lunch at the Sanctuary (top little cafe and chill out space). Then we decided to check out a little art exhibition in the old boiler room of Embassy Court.

As we approached the gallery the way was crowded with glorious articulated geegaws, seemingly hewn from the sort of scrap that litters the dereliuct corners of town.

Inside the magical exhibition continued and there were some extraordinary musical sculptures too.

The guys behind the bizarre and magical windmill devices can be found at Circus Kinetica and I'm very keen to encourage them to come along to a Maker Faire at some stage.

Also very worthy of mention is the guy who is the main reason we ewent along at all- the very excellent and not at all short James Beasley- was doing live custom embroidery. Drawing quite a crowd too! James's work can be found at Alias Everything.