Monday, August 01, 2005

T shirts with slogans

The Christmas before last my oldest son gave both me and my other son t-shirts. He had added slogans to them. Mine said 'Don't ask me... it's a hardware problem!' and my son's said 'Don't ask me... it's a software problem!'

This is the last week before I go to the conference so I set myself two targets:
  1. Finish the editing of a training series so I can take it to the conference
  2. Finish the programming of the SMS gateway so we can use more mobile phones on the system
I spent some of the day editing part 4b of the training series and left it 'rendering' - rendering is the process of converting one file type to another file type. We edit video programmes at full broadcast quality, the files are very large and we have special hard drives to do it with. When we distribute them we want to get a whole hour on a CD-ROM. This means compressing the video a lot, and is called 'rendering' It takes about 3 hours to render a 15-20 minute programme.

In between that I was back and forth to the computer shop we use. My youngest son has been helping us by building the second and new video edit computer [it's a hardware problem!]. Only it has proved more difficult than we hoped. We use a Matrox 2500 system which is somewhat old technology but works very well and we managed to buy one new recently for about 15% of the cost.

However, it is very fussy with the other hardware that it is connected to and my son spent a week trying various things in the office before we decided that the motherboard would never work with this system. So today he was in at the computer shop trying another one... and other pieces of hardware to work with it. We finished there around 5pm having finally sorted out what we need. That's the good news. The bad news is that it will cost about 400 pounds more than we expected.

In between going back and forth to the shop I taught another colleague how to use the new wiki I mentioned and in doing so found that we needed another application on the wiki site to allow him to upload images. I got that working this evening.

What I had hoped to do this evening was to do a bit of the programming for the SMS gateway [a software problem!]. The SMS gateway allows listeners to send SMS messages [also called text messages] from their mobile phones and they get put into a database system here. Then the people from the radio stations who respond to listeners can read the messages and type a response which is then sent out by our system. I wrote the software that takes the SMS messages in and sends them out.

Currently we have one phone connected to the system, but we want to have a number of them, so that many of the radio and tv stations we work with can use this facility. And what I have to write is the bit that swaps from phone to phone sending and receiving messages. I can only program when I have peace and quiet - like in the evenings - I'm not a terribly good programmer and get distracted easily [that's a plug by the way that we need a programmer out here full time, someone who knows Perl, PHP and UNIX].

The system is being used by one of our partners and we didn't realise just how critical it was till last Monday when three of us from the office went to a meeting in another town with them. When we got there we found that during the time we had driven to the other town a small problem had developed such that they could no access it. Normally had one of us been there it would have been a 5 minute [or less] job to fix.

In the process we found that they were receiving 15-20 messages a day and that they were using them every day for a programme that was broadcast later in the day - responding to listeners questions. Without the live facility the production team were having to go back over old messages to find some to respond to. It showed us that everyday people in the the Middle East asking questions about Jesus and want to know more about Him.

Anyhow I didn't get started even tonight as one of my colleagues is away on holiday this week and one of the servers out here went wierd, gobbling up all the free space on one of the hard drives and stopping it working in the process. I tried everything to find the problem and eventually rebooted the machine. This is drastic, we try never to re-boot unless necessary... and ... it didn't restart. Which meant at 9.30pm I had to go into the office and sort out the problem.

We use a system called RAID on our servers. RAID means that we use 2 hard drives every place that you would normally use 1, and all the data is simulaneously written to both hard drives. The logic for this is that if one of the hard disks fail [as happens to all hard disks, the only question is when... bit like human beings and death I guess] then you have not lost your data. It appears that one of the hard drives had partially failed and the server was sitting there when it re-started saying 'Press Control-D to enter maintainance mode'. Which I did and fixed the problem.

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