Entertainment revolution

This rant has been brewing for a while, and I’ve finally got chance to write down my thoughts on a matter that rather annoys me, and that is TV shows, or more to the point, the current method for watching them. It isn’t just limited to TV either, films come under the same category, although to a lesser degree.

The Problem

So, what is my problem with all this? Easy, I was paying Sky TV about £50 a month, to watch maybe 10 hours of shows each week. The rest of the time that I was watching TV was spent browsing through the program guide or watching re-runs of old shows. The whole TV industry is another one, similar to the music industry, that is stuck in an old way of thinking. When TV first came about, it was required for a central agency to broadcast the shows on a fixed schedule, there was no other way to get the information out to the viewers.

Cable and satellite came along later, but still it was required to broadcast from a central point. Now we have high speed internet going to the majority of the population, but rather than make it easier for us, its added a new layer of complexity to it. Yes, you can use Netflix, or Love Film, or iTunes to buy your TV shows and stream them to your TV, but to ensure that you get all the shows you want, you will have to subscribe to all the providers out there, which can start to cost a lot, not to mention the usage caps that ISPs put on their broadband packages.

This also doesn’t take into account initial air dates of shows, with the UK generally getting shows months after they first air in the USA. I signed up for Netflix to give it a try, and whilst it has a large catalogue of programs to watch, the latest series of shows don’t show.

The Solution?

What can we do about this? Well, I am by no means an expert (this is just a rant after all) and only have a rough idea of how things work in the industry, but surely there is a better way to distribute a TV show? A big broadcasting infrastructure is no longer needed, so why do we still have the middle man of broadcasters? Much like some musicians are doing, how about a TV studio puts their latest series up on the internet to buy and download? With technologies such as Bit Torrent, then the actual technical requirements would be rather low. I believe this would give quite a few benefits such as:

  • Direct payment to the studios will mean a bigger share of profits
  • No more guessing on the popularity of a show. If people like it, they will be buying it.
  • The people pay for the shows they want to watch, so hopefully things like X Factor will not  be on our screens. Who’d actually pay for it?
  • You can watch the episodes when you want. Big new series? Watch it when it first comes out and join in the discussions about it. Late to hear about a show? Catch up at your pleasure.

Of course there are a few drawbacks. Initial funding for a series would need to be found somewhere, which is where the current media corporations come in, and the networks have a lot of resources behind them that a small studio may not have access to, including sound stages and filming equipment. I would be very happy to spend the £50 a month on TV shows that I like, hopefully giving them a lot bigger portion of my money then they are currently getting.

For example, if I watch 10 hours of TV a week, then I’d just pay £1.25/hour for the actual TV I watch. Of course, the show would probably make the first couple of episodes free to get interest going, and perhaps offer the entire series for a bulk price, or even a discount on the DVD release. Free to air TV stations in the UK aren’t too bad, with various catch up methods, but none of these offer true freedom and each station has a different program required to watch them.

Current Experiments

This isn’t a new idea either, Sanctuary started as a budget web series which then got picked up by a network. YouTube is full of interesting regular shows (and cats) such as The Guild, Tabletop, Cocktails with Stan Lee, and is also now running ‘channels’ for collections of shows including Geek and Sundry, and the Nerdist Channel. I am finding myself watching more and more YouTube shows thanks to being able to see them on the main screen.

So, perhaps this is all just wishful thinking, after all the music industry is still trying to resist the change, but perhaps like the music industry it can be subverted by smaller outfits. We’ll just have to wait and see.

 

Working from home; thoughts after a year.

Its been just over a year since I started working from home with just a single day in the office each week, and over 6 months since I stopped even going in even that often. I thought I’d put down a few thoughts on how it has been for me, and some pointers if people are thinking of doing the same.

First of all, working from home is not for everyone, I’m just lucky that it suits my personality. It can be very quiet and I have actually gone nearly a whole week without leaving the house at times. For me, this isn’t a big deal and I am really liking the whole working from home thing. It has come in very handy for getting parcels delivered, and makes things like getting boiler services done or meters replaced a lot less of a logistics nightmare. I am also finding that I am being a lot more productive during the day, and the stress levels are nearing non existent!

Tips:

  • Have a separate area to work in. Don’t try to work from the living room or similar. I have my cellar set up with my main computer and all my hobbies, but if I tried to do actual work from there it would be a failure. I converted the front room from a spare bedroom into an office (with a sofa bed for visitors). This has many benefits, not least of which is I can close the door if I don’t want to be disturbed. Also, it gives you a definite feeling of finishing work when you leave the area, just the same as if you left the office to go home.
  • Work set hours. If the rest of the office workers do 9-5, then so should you. Take a lunch break at a reasonable time, and don’t take too long. It is important to be disciplined with yourself on this count. Its too easy to fall into bad habits and you will find your work suffering and your colleagues getting annoyed at you.
  • Social media helps. Not just facebook, but corporate chat systems, email, etc. You do manage to avoid a lot of the office politics that might go on, but you also need to make sure that you build good relationships with the other staff. Don’t just barge in to chat, at least not at first, but if you’re talking about work, have a bit of a chat afterwards about what you’ve been up to.
  • Make an effort to go to the office on occasion. Nothing beats real face to face time. It will also remind your colleagues that you exist!
  • Be organised. You won’t have people around you to remind you about tasks they’ve requested. Keep a list of things you are working on, prioritise it, and keep it up to date. At the end of the day, make a task list for the next day. This tip isn’t really just for people working at home, and is a useful thing to do even in an office, but it is more important to do if you are home working.
  • Arrange daily catch up meetings. This is something that was initiated at my work and is something I find really useful. For my work, the process is: At the end of each day (my time) we have a quick ‘standup’ meeting with all the remote workers to catch up on what we’ve done since the last meeting, and what we are planning on doing. This is a process taken from the agile development process, and by designating it as a standup meeting, it is kept as short as possible. Only the tech people are allowed to speak and very little, if any, organisation should take place. It is purely for information. Other people can listen in if they wish, but must stay quiet. It helps keep you connected with your colleagues, and forces you to be organised and methodical with work.

Of course, I’ve tried to be general with the above information as my job carries its own quirks that have to be adapted to, not least of which is that most of my colleagues are in a different time zone, and so are working until gone 10pm my time. That coupled with the fact that I also do a lot of on call work means working hours tend to be flexible, but that was a career choice I made a long time ago. Working with a different time zone does have a couple of big advantages, especially in my role. For starters I can get a lot of the server work done whilst most of America is still asleep, and it also gives me a lot of uninterrupted time to get stuck into things. I then have the afternoon at work to field questions from my colleagues and help them out.

So in summary, if you don’t mind being on your own for extended periods of time, and have the discipline to work unsupervised, then home working is a great option with a lot of benefits. If you enjoy the company of other people and general office banter, then working from home will rapidly drive you mad.

Vampire Ball 3, another epic weekend

Well, I’m more or less recovered now from another convention weekend. Yet again, Sean Harry has proven that he can throw a damn fine party. This time it was the 3rd Annual Vampire Ball held at the Renaissance Hotel, Heathrow, London. It was my sixth convention since I was introduced to them in 2010, and my third one at the Renaissance. Its a fantastic venue with friendly staff who don’t mind the insane antics of a bunch of geeks as they take over the lobby. We decided to travel down a day early so that I was more recovered after the long drive. I’m so glad we did seeing as it took over six hours to drive there thanks to the M40 being at a standstill. It also gave us a chance to catch up with some of the other regulars.

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Reprap update

So, been a while since I’ve done any updates, but then I’ve been a little busy recently. Since my last post I’ve been in the states working again. This time, not only Washington, but Boston too. Anyway, not much to talk about on that, just lots of flying and propping up bars in hotels.

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It flew!

I got a stable flight out of my quadcopter at last.

I played it safe, and took it to the parents’ house seeing as they have a larger garden than I do, and made a few test flights. Only a low level hover, but it was controlled, albeit very roughly. Just goes to show how much practice it is going to take before I can start flying it properly. It wasn’t the most stable of flights I must say, I think amongst other things the propellers and motors all need balancing. It all was going fairly well until I got a bit to cocky and lost control. Only broke a propeller, so not too bad. Since then I’ve also secured the flight controller (an OpenPilot Copter Control) a bit better, which will hopefully keep it level and prevent any major drift and I’m going to make sure the motors are balanced. One recent purchase was a pan/tilt platform so I can put a cheap cam on the front to get a birdseye view of the flight. I’m very tempted to get a full FPV rig too, but I think it’ll be better to walk before I run.

Initial flights were in a + orientation, with one rotor being at the front. I’ve since changed that to an X orientation which means that there are two rotors at the front and the forward direction is in the middle of these. This makes attaching a camera a lot easier, and is the prefered orientation for FPV flying, so might as well get used to it from the start. I could do with some coloured propeller blades so that I can see which way is forward from a distance. Either that, or I may attach some LED strips to the two front arms.

In other news, I’m just building a new hotend for my printer. After the last .5mm one backed up, I tried the .25mm nozzle I got but I think that was a bit too ambitious. After a few hours of tweaking settings, I still couldn’t get a decent reliable print out of it. I’m just waiting for the fire cement to set properly on the new one, and then I just have to solder the wires onto it and mount it. One thing that is being a pain is the thermistor legs are very thin and fragile. I’ve already broken two and they aren’t the cheapest of components. They definitely need to be handled with care and strengthened up.

I also nearly melted another MOSFET buy hooking up the heated bed. Checking afterwards, the bed has a very low resistance (approx 1.5 ohm) which means the MOSFET gets very hot rather quickly. After a bit of digging in the forums, it was suggested that I put a heatsink on it. Nice idea, and easy solution, except the Sanguinololu board that I’m using has very little room to attach one. I’ve got a few different ones to try, and hopefully I can get one fastened on.

So, if the hotend is set by this evening, I may get chance to hook it up and give it a test! I may actually finish this project at some point!

Slow week

Easter weekend started off well, I actually got a test print off my printer! Unfortunately, the nozzle started to back up and got clogged, and whilst I was trying to clean it out (needed the heat one to do this) I seem to have shorted out the heating resistor which had the knock on effect of over heating the MOSFET, which also melted the plastic connector next to it. Not really a big issue, except I had no spare MOSFETS handy, so back to RS to order them. It did give as rather bad headache after a couple of hours in my cellar after the meltdown. Must get some better ventilation installed at some point!

On the plus side, the couple of small prints that I got off were rather good, and looked to be quite accurate. Once I get the replacement parts installed and a clean (or possibly new) hotend I can get some better prints off, along with some pictures and video! The hotend is turning out to be the most difficult part of the whole build, and also the part that seems to be least documented. Lots of different types of hotends are available on the reprap wiki, but none seem to be a clear choice, and also very little info on mounting them to the actual printer. Once I get that part worked out properly, it should just be a case of a bit of calibration!

The parts arrived after the long weekend, but by this time I’d come down with a bit of a cold. Nothing bad, but enough to put me off doing any intricate electronics. Of course, typically, the weekend is now approaching and I’m still feeling bunged up. Quite an annoying cold this. Also have a few extra hotend types to try.

In other news, Good Friday was the Alex Reunion. The Alex was a night club that a large number of people went to regularly in Lancaster, especially on its GRIP (Goth, Rock, Indie, Pop) nights. It was a very popular place, and had a great community behind it. The club closed down 10 years ago, and I thought it was high time that someone got everyone back together. That someone turned out to be me! The wonderful manageress at the Yorkshire House let me have the function room upstairs for free for the night, knowing full well that it would be busy with a good group of people. Nice easy (but busy) night for the staff. Thanks to the notoriety of the Alex, I had to do next to no publicity. All I did was to create an event on Facebook, and that was enough to get me worrying about the capacity of the venue, and the number of people turning up.

So, Good Friday came around, I got some old posters photocopied (thanks Sarah), a projector was loaned to me (thanks Coops), and I totally cheated on the DJing! Sarah also loaned me a banner from the very last night at the Alex. A roll of paper was hung on the wall and pens supplied for people to write their memories and thoughts. Sarah has lovingly looked after this for the last 10 years and it took pride of place on the wall of the reunion. Thanks to the projector, I also had nearly 300 photos projected onto the back of the stage, which kept people enthralled when they first arrived. Lots of good memories. The playlist for the night was one of the most fun, but most difficult, part to do. So many classic tunes were requested that it was very hard to narrow the selection down to just one nights worth. I also had to exercises my geek, to cut out any silence from the end of the tracks. A quick bit of scripting and I had a program called sox cutting off a few seconds here and there from all the mp3 files I had selected. It actually cut enough off for me to be able to squeeze another track in! Song editing, and using rhythmbox, meant that the sum total of work I had to do for the night was to press play and leave it. I wanted to enjoy the night too, and not be stuck behind a computer!

I’m happy to say that the night was a screaming success. The room was packed, I had people dancing all night (Kari and Dany especially!), we made the walls drip, and lots of singing to the last few songs. The comments left on the Facebook group for the Alex were wonderful and made the grin I already had even bigger. There have been lots of requests for a repeat performance, but currently I have no plans. Definitely won’t be one this year, but I may be able to be talked into an annual one.

For anyone interested, here is the playlist from the night:

  • Black Hole Sun – Soundgarden
  • Would – Alice in Chains
  • Animal Nitrate – Suede
  • Common People – Pulp
  • You Love Us – Manic Street Preachers
  • Love Spreads – The Stone Roses
  • Nuclear Holiday – 3 Colours Red
  • Paranoid – Black Sabbath
  • Symphony Of Destruction – Megadeth
  • Walk – Pantera
  • We Care A Lot (2009 Remastered) – Faith No More
  • Enter Sandman – Metallica
  • Blue Monday – Orgy
  • Don’t You Want Me (Original Version) – The Human League
  • Kick In The Eye – Bauhaus
  • Vision Thing – Sisters Of Mercy
  • Sin – Nine Inch Nails
  • The Beautiful People – Marilyn Manson
  • Sonne – Rammstien
  • (Can’t You) Trip Like I Do – Filter/The Crystal Method
  • Firestarter – Prodigy
  • Def Con One – PWEI
  • Jump Around – House of Pain
  • Anthem for the Year 2000 – Silverchair
  • Monkey Wrench – Foo Fighters
  • Chop Suey! – System of a Down
  • I Alone – Live
  • Celebrity Skin – Hole
  • Hey Dude – Kula Shaker
  • Rocks – Primal Scream
  • Place Your Hands – Reef
  • Girl From Mars – Ash
  • Pure Morning – Placebo
  • When I Grow Up – Garbage
  • Drop Dead Gorgeous – Republica
  • Laid – James
  • Son of a Preacher Man – Dusty Springfield
  • Torn – Natalie Imbruglia
  • Stuck in the Middle With You – Stealers Wheel
  • The Size of a Cow – The Wonder Stuff
  • Come Out and Play (Keep ‘Em Seperated) – The Offspring
  • Wuthering Heights – China Drum
  • Basket Case – Green Day
  • All the Small Things – Blink 182
  • The bad touch – Bloodhound Gang, The
  • Girls – Beastie Boys
  • My own worst enemy – Lit
  • A Certain Shade Of Green – Incubus
  • Blind – Korn
  • Sway – Coal Chamber
  • Davidian – Machine Head
  • Killing In The Name – Rage Against The Machine
  • Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
  • Screamager – Therapy?
  • Weak – Skunk Anansie
  • Riverflow – The Levellers
  • American T.V. – Terrorvision
  • Stupid Questions – New Model Army
  • Rearviewmirror – Pearl Jam
  • Been Caught Stealing (2006 Remastered Album Version) – Jane’s Addiction
  • Add It Up – Violent Femmes
  • I Wanna Go Where the People Go – The Wildhearts
  • Epic – Faith No More
  • Welcome To The Jungle – Guns N’ Roses
  • Rag Doll – Aerosmith
  • Poison – Alice Cooper
  • Creep – Radiohead
  • Under the Bridge – Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • Hey Jude – The Beatles
  • Birdhouse in Your Soul – They Might Be Giants

 

Nearly there! The hotends have arrived!

I got a nice parcel delivered today. Two nicely build hotends for my new Prusa Reprap. After all the issues with the Huxley, the Prusa has been a total doddle. The last piece I needed for it was a hotend, and after having some issues sourcing some of the components, I had a look on eBay for any pre-built ones. I found one guy shipping some from Poland that looked perfect for what I needed, not only did they have all the molex connectors already done in a way that is compatible with my Sanguinololu board, but he was offering a twin pack with one .5mm and one .25mm nozel. Oh, and a pre hobbed bolt too!

Prusa build

So, with the body built and the electronics tested, all I have to do is figure out how to attach the hotend and I can start building. I’ve already posted a video a few days ago of the body moving nicely, which is further than I ever got with the Huxley. Never know, maybe by this weekend I’ll be able to print something! Just have to finish work first.

Here’s the video of the first test of the electronics.

Prusa build