Monday, March 31, 2008

Flying forward

I'm sitting in the airport waiting to fly to Beirut. It's 00:30 - just past midnight. It seems this is the first free moment I have had this year. I am way behind on my blogging. Last night I completed the blogs for my sailing... I try to record each trip so I learn how I am getting on. But my media work is less similar. I guess the only thing I can learn is that we need more people.

So what has happened in 3 months? Working backwards from today...

We just said goodbye to Luke. Luke is from Canada and is helping out another media team. He came to us for a week to work on a new scheduling/playout system for Internet radio. When we first developed Internet radio playout we were thinking of the radio sounding much like the BBC World Service, where there are scheduled programmes and people tune in at a certain time to listen to the programme.

What we have found over the years is that people tune in ephemerally... and for short periods, usually in the order of 15 minutes. Since most of the programmes are 15 minutes long this means they catch the end of one and the beginning of another. They don't get a single programme from start to finish. If they want a whole programme they go to the 'on demand' stream where they hear it from the start when they want to hear it.

Anyway the upshot of this is that instead of streaming to a schedule which takes a long time for the programme presentation department, we will be doing a more eclectic mix of programmes based on a rule based template where the computer will chose which programme to put out when. Luke will be programming this system for us and our partners.

This last month we have had John out from the UK. He spent the entire month watching TV. Sounds like a teenager's ideal job, but John is retired and the TV watching he did was copying loads of master tapes to hard disks so we can make DVD masters and stream the programmes on the Internet. It was a labour of love for him, as the programmes are in Arabic or Farsi and he doesn't speak a word of either language, but the tapes had to be monitored as they were copied to make sure there were no problems.

Actually there were problems and sometimes it took two or three attempts to get each one on the hard disk. The problem is partly due to the age of the master tapes and partly due to the fact they have been stored at room temperature. Room temperature in Cyprus can easily exceed 30C during the summer and sometimes gets close to 40C. This is not good for magnetic tapes. Or DVDs.

Before that we had Alison and her family out. Alison came for a busman's holiday: She is an accountant and came to do our end of year accounts. It was quite a task -we had changed accounting systems during the year and so it meant pulling figures from both systems and merging them together. But first there were end of year currency variations to enter, end of year write-offs and accruals to deal with and so on... and we changed currency on 1st January from Cyprus pounds to Euros. Still it was all completed, even if it did take longer than expected. Without people like Alison, I'm not sure where we would be!

Alison brought with her the equipment for a new telephone system for the office. Our old one had been causing grief for some time. The new one is VOIP based and much much better. When the equipment came I was the person to get it all going on one of the new servers... servers? At the end of last year I had tried to upgrade one of the packages on one of the main servers in Cyprus. Only I couldn't, because that version of the Operating System was now out of date [the version of Linux we use is only upgradeable for 24 months]. So I installed a new version on a spare server, intending to migrate the pair of servers that were now out of service date across. Only I found that we had a hardware problem with the spare server.

So at the beginning of the year, Peter and I decided to replace both of these old servers with brand new ones [they were about 3 years old anyhow and lacking power]. So that involved a lot of work for both Peter and I in the upgrading.

In between all this we were trying to bring online a new Flash Media Server in our main cluster. This is going well, and we are seeing how good the new Flash Video Streaming will look.

Oh, and I forgot [but shouldn't] we had a programmer over in Cyprus for a month working on one of our web sites...

Well... if that sounds like we have been sitting around idle, I also did a short trip through the UK to the USA early in the year. The trip was both planning and visiting a major donor who we hope will fund two projects this year. One of those projects is an apprenticeship programme we dearly need to free up Peter and I for other things.