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NostalgiaNostalgia A few years ago, I added a shortcut to this blog on my web browser favourites bar. I accidentally clicked it tonight and found out it still exists. Therein started a bizzare existential adventure whereby...

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A Premiere At Last! (My Toils Relearning Video Production)A Premiere At Last! (My Toils Relearning Video Production) In the last few months I've been asked/put myself forward to film and live stream some events. During my rather weirdly-spent youth, I was producing videos for my school of its plays and other staged...

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Why I Keep Banging On About Google - An UpdateWhy I Keep Banging On About Google - An Update Today is the 90th day since one of my sites was penalised by Google. Wanna know what that looks like? Take a look at this! One of the more frustrating things about this situation - and don't...

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Taking the downs with the ups...Taking the downs with the ups... It's been a while, and a blog is just for moments like this. Tempting though it is, a blog shouldn't be just for one's successes. If you don't include the failures you're painting a false picture. So...

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Free Speech is Dead (or it will be when I've bombed it)Free Speech is Dead (or it will be when I've bombed... Before I start - I want to admit I have a hard time putting my exact feelings on this subject into writing. Not because I'm not feeling 'free' enough to do so, but because I'm a computer networks graduate...

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Nostalgia

Posted by Pat | Posted in 'Work', Observations / Life | Posted on 12-11-2015

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A few years ago, I added a shortcut to this blog on my web browser favourites bar. I accidentally clicked it tonight and found out it still exists.

Therein started a bizzare existential adventure whereby I felt like I was having a bit of a snoop on some person’s (admittedly quite dull) thoughts whilst semiconsciously knowing it was all written by me. I barely recognize the person writing the comments nor the context they were written in.

I think I now just feel the need to write on here as this version of ‘me’, or I’d just turn the thing off.

This is essentially what’s changed since the last blog post in 2013:

Given my last blog post was about dieting, it’s only fair to say I’m fat again.

I’m no longer massively into Twitter, as this blog seemingly kept reiterating. I guess, like the rest of the populace, it’s just a ‘thing’ now that one uses for casual shit jokes, showing off with photos or bigging up some corporate entity. It seems I’m doing more of the latter than anything else.

I no longer have a girlfriend.

In two weeks, I’ll no longer have a house.

What actually prompted me to write this blog is that in the ‘about’ section, it says I aim to clear my mortgage in 5 years. Pretty much on cue, I’m about to do that. But that hasn’t quite worked out as I imagined – i.e. I thought I’d still live here after doing so. Annoyingly, when I clear my mortgage on 27th November, someone else will own the place and I will have nothing to show for it.

Essentially, my life is being rebooted. It’s quite liberating.

So I also feel compelled to write a blog while I’m still in this house as I feel like sticking a pin on this moment so I can look back on it and remember sitting here in this lounge I’m fond of, and when I do read this back in several years’ time, I will know what happened next. Right now, I haven’t a clue.

I had to get a job. Luckily for me, a friend came to my rescue and it’s almost a year since I started working with his company. I know I’m a burden on their finances (and I’m really cheap), but he’s massively helped me survive in the tightest of spots. He’s also kindly offered me a place to stay for a bit while I sort myself out a place to live going forward.

I’ve had to learn stuff! I still feel like a total idiot most days but I’m a little bit more up to speed with at least one or two things than I was 12 months ago.

Business has been a massive rollercoaster. If I think of the multiples of what I earn now when I used to moan about the sky falling down, it’s slightly distressing that I could have planned better, made better decisions, not just had a free ride of excellent fun and doing bugger all, etc. But one should always try to look forward, if for nothing else, not beating yourself up about the past. It was a good time, I have no regrets.

I’m now also a cog in a bigger wheel on a new venture which I cannot wait to be a household name.

And that’s all the news.

Dieting – In a way. (Last updated on September 25th, 2013)

Posted by Pat | Posted in Observations / Life | Posted on 25-09-2013

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First Published 16th September, 2012

It has not gone unnoticed by those close enough to “tell it as it is” that the lanky git that used to be Patrick has, over the years, grown to look somewhat hermaphrodite. A cross that is, between a modestly busty lady and a fat 40 year old plumber.

Quite frankly I’m not built for it. The evidence for this, in my inevitably flawed thinking is that I was always a skinny runt. When I say always, I’m patently ignoring the last 15 or so years of my life.

Denial is a curious beast because I’ve obviously known things were changing and watched this newfound shape develop. I even talk about loving lard and laziness on points 6 and 7 here if you can be arsed. The denial wasn’t really a “I’m not fat” denial, more a “Look at my amazing new bra size!” denial, sharing the joys of getting out of shape with friends and allowing it to creep into larger and larger cup sizes as the years went by. I don’t wear a bra by the way, that was a metaphor.

Anyway, last January (2011), Lizzie decided to join Slimming World and share the nuggets (mmm nuggets) of info that she picked up and soon enough she’d stop bothering going to the meetings like all good dieters, but we kept hold of the basic principles and found that, as with everything, you can find out what you need online for free anyway.

I was roped in, and as it was the first ever time in my life I’d attempted to change my intake, I was scientifically curious more than taking a diet seriously. I lost nearly 23 pounds (over 1.5 stone) in 6 weeks.

The start weight was 202 pounds and lowest I got to was 179. The useful free tracker at medhelp doesn’t quite fit it all in that picture.

Just like all these other dieters I occasionally read about, the inevitable happened. I think we rewarded ourselves with a Chinese. And the rest is an upwards history of girth.

It got bad. Lizzie wanted a badge with ‘Fat cow’ written on it. I compromised and got her a ‘Fat cow’ onesie (how we pleasingly refer to it, it does have cows on it). We grew big again. That’s the problem with couples who are happy and content. I have been given permission to tell you this, by the way.

Since then, I’ve been encouraged no less than 4 more times to start again, each time completely cheating with filth from lard houses when the protagonist (Lizzie) wasn’t looking/at work. Denialtastic.

On 26th August, I conceded again for the 6th time and tried to make it stick. First, we have a wedding to go to on 22nd September (this Saturday). The bride works for Jimmy Choo and has got lots of friends in the rugby fraternity, i.e. beautiful and well built bastards. That has become somewhat of a milestone and I thought “I’ll lose a stone in a month”.

Starting weight was 195.6 and today I’m 185.4 with 4 days to go. A pound a day. It’s unlikely, but I am having a haircut on Friday.

Either way we are going to try and make this one stick – even though Saturday and Sunday are going to be complete writeoffs. I really want to keep on the wagon.

What’s happened now is I’m in a second stage of denial about exercise. I want to see just how much weight I can lose without doing anything more, activity wise. It’s my pathetic quest to “beat the system” – the system being my human biology. All the while I lose weight while not exercising, for now, I am happy. So there. I’m still in denial, ok?

This hasn’t apparently stopped us from buying Fitbit gizmos. Firstly, the Ultra, which is a little dongle thing you clip to your person that monitors steps/floors climbed and sleep and the accompanying wifi scales, which track weight and body fat so I don’t even have to type it into a separate online tracker. Labour saving dietary gizmos, hooray!

It’s surprising how far a completely sedentary person like myself still walks in a day. OK so it’s not the 10,000 steps you’re supposed to do as a bare minimum, but it’s at least half that on most days. It’s also demonstrated that I’m a terrible sleeper, especially when servers go down in the middle of the night it seems. Lizzie and I track our ‘progress’ on the Fitbit website. Annoyingly, as a nurse she manages over 15,000 steps in a shift, while I’m sat on my arse longing for KFC.

As for the diet – Slimming World is still the chosen diet – I like it because it’s really formulaic. Syns is the name of the game. Bad foods are ‘Synful’. Some foods are just a little bit ‘Synny’. (I’m making these adjectives up). Essentially, we keep our intake to below 10 Syns a day and the weight seems to slowly drop off.

It’s a joy for someone like me who hates supermarkets to check syn values on my phone as we walk about, as it gives me something to do. When I was a child, my mother would reward me at the end with a Mars Milk because otherwise I would notoriously get my hand stuck in a chest freezer or similar. But that’s a shed load of syns, so not any more. I can just tap away on my phone to find out syns of things we don’t know.

Essentially, the things I’ve cut out are:

  • Confectionary of any kind, including chocolate, sweets, obvious stuff
  • Normal ‘full fat’ crisps. Sometimes a bag of French Fries or Quavers as they are 4 syns of fresh air basically
  • Sugary drinks. Pepsi Max all the way with all its suspiciously cancer inducing sweeteners. No fruit juice of any kind.
  • Lard of any sort. That is, no takeaways, they are all too synful to indulge at all.
  • Too much bread or dairy. Any we’re allowed is wholemeal and very low fat respectively.
  • BOOZE. I know. A single can of beer is 7 syns. A shot of gin is 2.5. It’s just not worth it.

Some things I now eat a lot of and revel in the fact I can lose weight eating a load of what seems essentially crap:

  • Mug Shots. These are pasta snacks you eat out of a mug – some of which are syn free. I have 10 sachets of the syn-free tomato and herb flavour in the cupboard right now.
  • Rice. Believe it or not. Meant to have veg with it ’till we feel full’ but our version of chicken fried rice (SYN FREE) has taken over a bit. Oops.
  • Crosse and Blackwell baked beans. Till they’re coming out of my ears. I fear running out and have almost 2 dozen tins in at any time. THEY’RE SYN FREE.
  • Jacket spuds. Oven cook only, cos they’re nice like that.
  • Home made (syn free) bolognese.
  • Shed loads of spices and herbs (all syn free) to make experiments taste of something. We’ve used marmite in burgers and ‘Tango Zero’ to try and reproduce sweet-n-sour chicken which was frankly fucking disgusting.
  • Extra lean beef, turkey mince, ham, BACON! (with fat cut off).
  • Apples, oranges, grapes and some of the other ‘normal’ fruits I can just about cope with
  • Some actual bloody vegetables, when I can be arsed. Obviously prepared in a dull way with no butter etc.
  • A worryingly large amount of Quorn in various guises – most of which are syn-free or very low syn.
  • Fry-Light is this oily spray stuff you put in your frying pan and we use that to actually ‘brown’ rather than burn mince etc. It’s a modern marvel and is 1 calorie a spray (syn free for all intents and purposes)
  • Greek ‘fat free’ yogurts and fat-free cottage cheese. ‘Normal’ cheese in the form of ‘Lighter’ cheddar, I can have 28g of a day. And I do. It looks like a pathetic amount.
  • A small amount of low syn cereal. Weetabix, in my case. I’m supposed to have 2 but often stick 4 in. What a rebel.

I’m not a cook, so this suits me well. I’ve cooked syn-free macaroni cheeses, cottage pies and shit like that. I can eat as much of the above (apart from bread and dairy basically) and it’s fine, it seems.

We’re not exactly doing Slimming World ‘properly’, as this includes exercise as time goes on, and including at least a third of every plate with ‘superfree’ fruit and veg. But, for me, this first tentative step to sounding like a right woman is working well. I have even read mumsnet about it and enjoy the success stories. Shoot me.

So I’ll report back hopefully more toward my ideal weight (161 pounds – 24.4 pounds to go) or when I need craning out of my house.

Update, 30th September 2012

So the wedding happened.

You may well be able to make out the weekend of 22nd. God knows what happened the day before – I must have been to the loo before weighing or something! This was before the haircut, and, as it turns out, walking 17,000 steps round a shopping centre while Lizzie sought out coordinating shoes, bag, fascinator etc.

So a week later, I’m 182.8lbs. My immediate goal is 181, which is a stone from the starting point.

We are carrying on! It seems it’s possible to do this without going mad. The only problem is with being sociable. Eating out is almost impossible (one can have too many carveries without yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes, mash or gravy), having a drink is a no-no, so it seems to continue we have to be social lepers.

Lizzie is off with the girls for a week in the sun in October, clearly that is going to be a write-off for her. I will try and stay on the straight and narrow, as the goal after 181lbs is my ideal BMI weight, 161lbs, a full 20lbs less. It would be amazing to get anywhere near that.

I’ll update if and when I smash my previous lowest point in a decade of 179.8.

Update 26th October 2012

I’m at 174ish pounds. Nice huh. It just keeps coming off, very slowly but surely. Just less than a stone to the target. Woo!

Update 17th May 2013

Time flies doesn’t it.

I’m fat again.

We did bloody well, let me just jump to my own defence. I was at 164lbs at my lightest, that’s just THREE sodding pounds from the target. Then Christmas happened. Then New Year. Then a rediscovery of how much we love scoffing lard and drinking booze. OH WELL.

Last 10 months of weight

There’s the last 10 months.

So now I’m officially a yo-yo dieter. How exciting. What a statistic.

The good thing about being ‘on it’ again is that we knew we were ready and fell back into it really very easily. The bonus is I was starting at the 184lbs point which is over a stone lighter than my heaviest about 18 months ago. So I’ve been fatter.

This time I took before photos. I’m stood in my pants in them so there’s not much chance they’ll end up in the public domain (unless Lizzie decides to get me back for farting on her feet the other day). Either way, I’m excited and the plan is, by July, to get to that bloody target I nearly missed. The holy BMI grail of 161lbs, aka 11.5 stone. Wish me luck!

Update 27th June 2013

Believe it or not, I did it!

0.3lbs under the target weight!

0.3lbs under the target weight!

You can see where it all went a bit wrong before.

You can see where it all went a bit wrong before.

July 2012 / June 2013. I've aged.

July 2012 / June 2013. I’ve aged.

Don’t need to say a lot more.

Tomorrow, I have booze and lard for the first time in 7 weeks. Saturday, I’m having more booze and lard. Totally coincidental that I got there the day before 2 back-to-back social engagements. So essentially, it’s going to go wrong for at least a week, weight wise, but after that I am aiming for 154lbs, i.e. 11 stone.

The problem is, I’m still a bit flabby. And I still can’t be arsed to exercise.

Either way since I first wrote this blog entry, in total I’ve lost exactly 2 and a half stone (35lbs). Woo!

Another Update! September 25th, 2013

It’s a day short of a year and a month since the serious dieting started.

I’m being pretty flexible with it now, and it’s essentially the ‘default food’ when I’m not out or having a sneaky takeaway. Seems to work – I gain a bit, lose a bit, but don’t obsess over it as much.

As for targets, I got through 154lbs (11 stone) and decided just one more half stone would do me – to 147lbs.

I’ve been within a whisker – a pound – of reaching that, but have been hovering between 150-152 for the last couple of weeks. At my lowest, my total weightloss was 47lbs. (3st 5lbs). I’m happy with it, and now using 11 stone as a psychological barrier, it keeps me in check from going above it.

So it’s less about a diet now and more about it being a lifestyle. I am much more conscious of what is going down my gob, but still have the opportunity to forget it all for at least a day or two a week, which is nice. Hooray.

I’ll update this if I ever do reach 147lbs, because I’ll feel that’s pretty much where the dieting ends.

A Premiere At Last! (My Toils Relearning Video Production)

Posted by Pat | Posted in Observations / Life | Posted on 18-08-2011

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In the last few months I’ve been asked/put myself forward to film and live stream some events. During my rather weirdly-spent youth, I was producing videos for my school of its plays and other staged events, and even got roped into a couple of weddings and corporate videos before I was even 16. It’s something I’ve kept a backburner love for, even though in the last 17 years I’ve only done a couple more weddings and not a lot more. The Twitter Joke Trial gig which was first rumoured almost a year ago got me fired up again and I was hoping to stream that.

In my inevitably frivolous way I went and bought a load of kit (the cheapest I could get, mind) ready to do my bit for the cause. Unfortunately the agents of the talent objected, so it never happened.

Come June, with all the stuff sat about, I had an email from the organiser of Sheffield Tramlines Festival to see if I could help with a ‘live stream’ from the main stage to a nearby bar. After a bit of to and fro and meeting up to discuss it all, it was clear it was less ‘live streaming’ and more ‘closed circuit’ – something I was still up for, but the hazard of me having to run a 200m cable across public areas probably put them off and they went with a local AV company. Fair enough, I was kind of dreading it in case it all went wrong and/or I killed someone with wiring.

Enter, the Abbeydale Singers

My friend Chris (@varnom) sings in a local choir, the Abbeydale Singers and had been asking me throughout the early part of the year if I would film their 25th anniversary concert. I said I would, and I was, again, excited.

This time it happened. Hooray.

So on the 14th July, two days before the concert, I went down the road to the church where the choir were rehearsing and said hello, played about with some camera angles, took some cutaway shots and got all excited. (I did however manage to break a camera and lose part of a tripod which was remedied on both counts thanks to Chris).

On the day of the concert (16th), the recording went really well. I got a position in the triforium (a new word for me too, basically, upstairs in a very narrow bit of the church with windows) and operated two cameras – the wide shot and the close up of the choir. 3 other cameras were positioned, at the front of the church so you can see the whole audience, at the back so you can see Kev the conductor from a sort of ‘choir view’ and one which moved from the organ to the piano between the 1st and 2nd half of the concert to get needed cutaways when there’s a long instrumental bit.

I broke all sorts of conventional 180 degree rules to be honest by putting the cameras there, but the views were nice and there were few alternatives.

Inside the triforium with my two cameras, and Macbook recording the PA audio

So! How did it go?

Let’s just say, it’s 18th August and I’m saving a Blu-ray image as I type, ready to burn to disk when I get my (cheaper than I thought) Blu-ray writer tomorrow. I’ve done a DVD, 20 YouTube clips, a CD and a full 2hr video export to Vimeo.

To be honest, none of this was asked of me. They thought I’d turn up with a camcorder and stand at the back. Which I sort of did – just with 4 more and up a bit.

I thought I’d write the blog post though because it’s been a tremendous learning curve, during which I’ve had to completely update my PC – which for you geeks is now an i7 3.4GHz jobby, 16GB RAM, 2xTB drives and a Geforce GTX570 graphics card – plus upgrade my version of Adobe Premiere to CS5.5 to make the most of the new hardware.

Major bloody annoyances I encountered:

  • The audio recording of the choir (not by me I will add, ha) turned out distorted – ‘clipped’ is the correct term. Every loud bit of soprano was a horrendous crackly fuzzy affair. This wasn’t just some post-mix blunder, it was the original raw recording – frankly in many parts it was no good for the video. After a lot of trial and error, I found some amazing software (it’s on my old PC and I’ve forgotten what it’s called) which de-clipped most of it. Check out these two samples:

    original ‘clipped’ audio
    after ‘declipping’ with software

    Yes – it’s not perfect but thankfully that’s about as loud as it got all the way through the concert

  • There was no proper stage lighting – the stage had one halogen floodlight on it from the rafters pointing stage-right making the lighting uneven, especially towards the end of the concert when it was dark outside. Chris and I spent literally hours tweaking various levels of contrast, gamma and colour balance, some which change during the same shot because of panning between stage-right and left! It doesn’t help compensate for the grainyness you get, coupled with the fact it was zoomed right in most of the time (needed more light than others):

    Original levels

    After some tweaking...

  • Two of the cameras ran out of memory before the end of the concert. What a pillock! It was literally in the last couple of songs thankfully. I had done a ‘dry run’ at home and the 16GB SDHC cards in the cameras took 4 hours worth – but for some reason scraped about 3 on the night (think it was the fact things actually moved and the camera wasn’t just left pointing at a pile of laundry for 4 hours). I had contemplated changing all the cards at the interval (and had brought spares), but didn’t and in hindsight I’m glad I didn’t as it would have been a panic to position the camera which was on the altar at the back so it was perfectly symmetrical again for the 2nd half (I had to use my MacBook as a monitor as it was up so high I couldn’t see its own screen) and also I had to swap the ‘organ’ cam to piano in time. Chris did help on that front though bless him, he’s supposed to be mingling with the audience having a glass of wine at that point! So never mind – the last two songs mostly just have 2 camera angles.
  • Adobe Premiere and Encore can be an utter bloody nightmare before you’ve learned to tame them. Premiere’s an animal, and before I’d upgraded my PC, trying to edit the various formats (HDV, AVCHD and plain MPEG2 SD) on the same timeline would randomly crash it. I had one of those “lost all the morning’s work” moments in the early days of the edit which I learned from! The new PC made things infinitely more stable though thankfully, and easier to edit with. We had hoped to use Premiere’s “Multi-Camera” tool but the old PC was far too rubbish for it to work and by the time I’d upgraded the PC we were half way through. Again, though, in hindsight I’m glad I did everything manually because there’s far more attention to detail. I just want to go back in time now I know all the music and tell the month-ago me where to aim the closeups at, at which point in each song!
  • I recorded the audio from the church’s PA system via a wireless link to my MacBook next to me. This was so I could get a clearer recording of Kev the conductor’s little intros to each piece between songs. The Mayor of Sheffield was there and she also spoke just before half time – I say spoke, she basically shouted down the microphone and I had no-one operating the sound desk to turn her down, so all her speech was distorted and nasty – not even the declipper could fix her… so I had to blend in the choir audio which is very echoy in her speech. Also, I wasn’t expecting there to be an FM whistle on a particular frequency throughout the PA recording, but it was there. We figured it out in Premiere with a brilliant visual equalizer tool, and removed the whistle, leaving everything else in tact.
  • The choir audio track kept running ahead of the pictures! It sounds ridiculous, but here I was with 5 cameras of different formats (and even recording media) all lined up and synched perfectly on the timeline, but the supplied choir audio (taken directly from a £10,000 16 track recording/mixing device) would end up losing about 3 seconds over the course of the concert. Doesn’t sound a lot, but that’s 75 frames – and it soon became clear that one frame out was actually quite detectable. Very very bizzare. In the end, I had to edit each track looking for lip synch, or piano strike etc taking the opportunity when changing camera angle to ‘catch up’ a bit. I swear it wasn’t my videos at fault – so many formats and technologies in there but they stayed fine… let’s just say ‘Bloody hell’ anyway. There was some agony involved. In the end, Chris and I did two master audio mixes (one for each half of the concert) which were completely synched with one camera, and placed those on a new sequence in Premiere to edit to – the theory being, they should stay in sync with the already synced up videos there. This is why the finished timeline looks like this – with each shot fished from the various different angles and placed on the ‘Edited’ timeline (which is the only visible timeline when it’s played back):

    The 'Edited' timeline is the one with the continual line of cuts and clips, looks like the DNA of a concert video

  • Adobe Encore forgets to inform you that if you’re constructing ‘Menu Pages’, they’re only used in Blu-ray, not DVD. So, thanks. I had to do them all as seperate menus (only 3 of them) but that was a whole day wasted! Then finding it wouldn’t encode with the brilliant error ‘Encode failed’. Oh God this is rambling on, I won’t bore you more about this – but yes, at least another day wasted actually getting the thing on a DVD.
  • Once on a DVD, various spazzy things seem to happen to transitions and the quality in general. It’s taken about a week to come up with the optimal settings and even this evening I still had an issue with one thing which eventually I figured out. Honestly – some of the procedures I’ve had to learn is what the pros call ‘workflow’ it seems, I call it annoyingly inconsistent software. So much improvement to be had.

The result:

So, trying to forget all these problems, the outcome is definitely passable:

Here are all 20 clips from the concert on YouTube 

(Make sure you select an HD resolution to watch them in or you’re not doing my blog post justice!)

My cynicism told me I wouldn’t enjoy the music, but now perhaps it’s a case of having heard it all quite literally 100+ times and it settling into my subconscious; I honestly think it’s all quite powerful, enjoyable and incredibly pleasant to listen to. Guess what – I’m listening to it right now, out of choice. Lizzie’s going to kill me. Plus the CD of it got stuck in her car radio and I haven’t told her yet.

It’s been a learning curve.  And I did it all for free.  It’s been a welcome distraction to my main business (which isn’t doing brilliantly) – I’d love more jobs like this, especially now I’ve got over the hump of learning, it shouldn’t take me a month to do something relatively simple next time.

Nerdy Info:

I know when I read something like this I like techie gubbins – so here’s what I used in the making of the videos:

  • 1 Sony HDR-FX1E HDV Camcorder (used for main wide choir shot)
  • 3 Sony HDR-CX115E AVCHD Camcorders (one was used for the closeups with its 25x optical zoom – impressive on something so tiny, the other two front+back of church)
  • 1 Sony DCR-SX33E SD Camcorder (Organ/Piano. Wish I’d paid the 70 quid difference for another HD one!)
  • Macbook Air and ‘Video2Go’ USB capture device to record input from wireless receiver (cheap Ross thing!) for PA audio and to show the feed from the wide choir shot so I could operate 2 cameras more easily
  • Two different PCs – first was 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo, 4GB RAM. Couldn’t cope. Second was more up to date (as mentioned above) and just about coped.
  • Adobe Premiere CS5.5 and Encore CS5.1
  • Declipping software
  • I’ve run out of things – oh yes. Brain cells were used. Some were re-energised for sure. It’s now 5.08am and I think I should probably stop typing. Feel free to ask any questions of detail I clearly have missed out somewhere.

 

 

Free Speech is Dead (or it will be when I’ve bombed it)

Posted by Pat | Posted in Observations / Life | Posted on 18-11-2010

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Before I start – I want to admit I have a hard time putting my exact feelings on this subject into writing. Not because I’m not feeling ‘free’ enough to do so, but because I’m a computer networks graduate and at no point in my education did I get better than a ‘C’ for English, so bear with me.

I’ve had a chance to simmer after a week which would make any rational person question what is happening in this country. Paul Chambers was arrested and charged with an obsurd crime he didn’t commit using legislation not fit for purpose and lost his appeal because of a judge and Crown Prosecution Service completely out of touch.

This is not new news, I understand that – Paul’s problem started in January – you know the one, where he went and told the ‘Crap!’ joke about Robin Hood Airport getting their ‘Shit together’ or this mild mannered and jocular trainee accountant’s going to somehow summon the forces of evil to blow the place ‘Sky High!!’ with two exclamation marks no less.

I refer, your honour, to the use of Twitter. And, your honour, it would be useful if you understood Twitter.

Admittedly I’ve been posting on Twitter for about a year but it’s only in the last couple of months I guess I have ‘fully’ participated. By that, I mean it started feeling good to post freely and honestly and without too much fear of retribution. That is the way of Twitter – once you have found your tone and some good followers / followees it is a freeing and enjoyable place to share news, participate in micro debates and, yes, have a joke.

Many long term Tweeters have developed a sense of Twitter humour which is fairly unique I believe because of the limitation of how much you can write. 140 characters, your honour. You have 140 characters in which to sum up your judgement in this case. Try it. Then try it and make it sound like a joke. It may end up reading, “I have just rejected the appeal of Paul Chambers who has clearly and obviously threatened an old couple indirectly with his use of Twitter.” – 139 characters. Unfortunately, though that does sound like a joke, it is true. See how the lines get blurred? This is where context comes in. If, like Paul’s 600 followers of the time, you have spent some time understanding his way with words, you would instantly know, without a doubt that his joke was not in any way a threat to anyone.

Twitter I think is unique in this case. I say that because I don’t think Paul would have posted his ‘offending’ tweet on say, his blog, without qualifying the joke first or allowing the context to be plainly visible. You cannot physically do this with Twitter, if you look at the one tweet as a ‘message’ as defined by the very law which was used to charge him:

 

127Improper use of public electronic communications network E+W+S+N.I.

(1)A person is guilty of an offence if he—

(a)sends by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character;

 

The ‘message’ in Paul’s case is that single tweet. Not the ‘message’ of everything he’s tweeted before and since. Imagine if Paul was writing a book, and decided to publish each sentence in 140 character bursts, on Twitter, as he was writing it. His joke may well have ended up looking exactly the same – would he have been given a criminal record then? I fear it unlikely, but that is a complete contradiction in itself because it will have meant the CPS had looked at and understood the context. Why hadn’t they done the same here then? Do they lack a sense of humour?

If only Judge Jacqueline Davies had actually used Twitter. Unfortunately for her, she probably wouldn’t experience it like the rest of us if she started now, clearly, but everyone likes to follow a ‘sleb or two – there must be a retired Judge whose work she admires out there somewhere in the Twittosphere. If she could actually tap her brain into the 21st century and engage a little with the future of communication, she may suddenly realise what she did.

Paul’s tweet has been ripped apart so many times, I’ve tried to avoid doing it myself. But my summary, your honour, is that it was a bad joke, plain and simple, from someone with a usually good sense of humour. It wasn’t aimed at the airport, it was aimed at his followers, who may or may not have even read it.

What really annoys me about the way this happened is that the police were fairly nonchalant about the ‘offense’ when he was originally arrested even saying they knew it was ‘just a joke’. He wasn’t even arrested under the same charge that he ended up in court for. It is apparently the CPS who grew this from nothing and a ridiculous judgement from a judge who upheld the conviction last week which turned this into a piece of national news and set a dangerous precident for those who choose to speak freely online.

Oh and the police apparently ‘stole’ his iphone/laptop as there’s no rumblings of ever returning them nearly a year later.

The Twittosphere has come together in various ways to raise money and support for Paul. The Twitter Joke Trial Fund was last heard to be upwards of £5k strong and pledges from celebrities to pay legal fees have been noted – though I think Paul is too modest to accept in reality. The ‘#iamspartacus’ campaign which spread virally was brilliant, and clever. If I were Paul at least I’d feel humbled that the very platform which got him into trouble is propping him up the whole way.

The funny thing about Twitter is that it makes things personal. I’ve had a few tweets here and there with Paul over the last few months, and I think every single one has been jokey in tone (aside from perhaps one or two non-public ‘direct messages’). You get to know people.  Explaining the whole thing whilst forcing my girlfriend to refresh the tweets while I was driving, when the verdict was being announced, I found myself getting angry and ranting all the way to our destination. My girlfriend, clearly not being as involved as I’d become (merely having some communication with the guy) probably thought I’d gone mental.  Social connections make us feel good, having a joke makes us feel good. It reinforces our human nature. Twitter therefore has to be a good force.

Of course there are responsibilities which come with free speech – stories of people being fired for posting about their work/boss on Facebook seem ever present – one has to be careful. In doing so, it’s easy to wrap things into humour which is funny in itself because of the dichotomy of interpretation. Paul was unfortunately standing on that line – where one person would hear a comedian, say, Frankie Boyle do one of his jokes about paedophiles and laugh, and another person would call OFCOM and make a complaint. I have to admit, if I heard one joke from Frankie Boyle and had never seen any of his other gags or the way he tells them, they probably wouldn’t be half as funny – and clearly the offduty airport manager who called the police in Paul’s case felt exactly that.

Where was I going with this? Oh crap I’ve rambled now. The main point I wanted to get across is that Twitter is brilliant because of the 140 character limit, whilst also being dangerous because of the 140 character limit. What you choose to stuff in there may not be all it seems without at least consuming a few tweets either side of a questionable one.

And I feel awful for the bloke himself – criminal record and now struggling to find work because of it. My hope in this case is he takes it to the next stage – the High Court I believe – and possibly to Europe? The people immediately around him are what seems to be the best support going – his girlfriend (who arguably caused this whole thing, ha.), his family, friends, lawyer and twitter folk. In fact, aside from some pathetic attention seeking journalists, I think most of the modern world is behind him.

Feeling powerless, I have offered to help in a small way and have been having early discussions with @aconcertforpaul to see if we can bring the event to the masses via a live stream which I’ll hopefully set up and produce. I’ve talked with the Performing Rights Society and finally understood the licensing implications of such a thing and am as keen as ever for it to happen and can ‘donate’ in my own way by sorting all that out. Either way, follow @aconcertforpaul for updates.

A closer look at the BT FTTC hardware

Posted by Pat | Posted in Observations / Life | Posted on 07-10-2010

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Updated several times but most recently, 25th November 2011

It’s worth noting there is a lot of very useful info about this modem here where someone has unlocked it so you can obtain line stats and do more complex analysis of connection quality.

Original post in October 2010:

Ok so I couldn’t help but look at this Openreach Modem I got today and wonder what my line stats actually are. That is, what speed the modem is syncing with the cabinet in the street, the noise margins and so on. The problem is, this is not an ‘integrated’ thing like my old belkin modem/router – so there’s no stats available through the normal web interface you use to administrate the router.

The modem is a rebadged Huawei Echolife HG612. It uses PPPoE to connect directly to a compatible router (in this case, the supplied Home Hub). I’m instantly reminded of the first time I got broadband at home (9 years, 3 months, 1 week and 2 days ago to be precise!) in that BT supply you something you can’t do anything with. But it’s sat there staring at me.

The only clues as to the capabilities of the HG612 are on the box it came in.

So, as you can see, it says things like “Advanced Management by HTTP, TR-069” and “Support Router Mode and Built-In Firewall”. I’ve also read on Huawei’s website that it has WiFi in it! Oh poor hardware, sitting there all redundant and just being slave to a Home Hub!

There was no manual inside the box – whether there ever was, and the engineer’s instructed to remove it, I don’t know. Either way it is preconfigured to work, and the engineer did nothing to it (other than hook it into the Home Hub) to get the connection going.

When the engineer was here I asked him what the LAN2 port at the back does. He didn’t know. LAN1 connects to my Home Hub. LAN2 had this sticker over it.

So naturally it was time to see how locked down this thing is.

I hooked up LAN2 (it is enabled, regardless of sticker!) to a spare laptop, and having read that other Huawei devices use 192.168.1.1 as the default IP address, set the laptop to an address in that subnet.

Lo and behold an arp-a command shows a mac address and IP of 192.168.1.1 talking to the laptop.

Though this is where it all gets rather dull. It didn’t respond to PINGs. It doesn’t have a web interface on port 80.

In fact the only thing I found was that, bizzarely, port 21 (FTP) was open, even though attempting to perform an FTP connection did not work – so there’s no actual FTP server running behind that. I tried telnetting to port 21, it opened, but no prompt. So I’m not sure what kind of service is receiving that connection inside the device.

I scanned the most common ports with a throwaway piece of freeware, so perhaps this wasn’t the most accurate test. Suffice to say, the ports you would like and expect to be open would be 23 (Telnet) and 80 or 8080 (Web) at the least. No such luck.

So I guess it remains to be seen if someone clever has a way of doing things to this device.

Note to BT – I’m not hacking! I just want to see my line stats!

I should add, there’s a site on BT which shows you your IP profile (http://speedtester.bt.com) – mine came back with pretty much the same speeds as I was receiving at speedtest.net – though my upload profile is 10Mbps and I’m only achieving 8.

I will be patient, and no I won’t do any further probing as I’m sure that would breach some TOS or other. Very happy with Infinity as it is for now!

Update 2nd November 2011

Well it appears after a year or so of working well, the speed dramatically dropped and BT are saying the modem needs replacing. It does run VERY hot it seems – not sure how that would slow it down rather than kill it completely but either way an Openreach engineer is set to swap it out.

My question, now the user manual appears to be online (thanks Graham) is whether anyone has managed to access its pages as per the instructions? Mine still appears to be ‘locked down’ – but I wonder if there’s some newer revisions or firmware out there.

As suspected, it runs on 192.168.1.1 – username and password are both ‘admin’, according to the manual. Let us know how you get on!

Update 8th November, 2011

After two attempts, turning up at my house without telling me they were going to (I was out), BT have finally told me of an appointment, tomorrow – where apparently they will replace the modem. I’m guessing they’ve got a track record of this being the problem to be so sure that nothing else copper/cabinet wise is causing my speed issues.

Will see if this fixes things.

Update 10th November, 2011

The engineer turned up on time and on the right day which was great. His name was John and he was a very nice man indeed! He plugged in his newfangled BT testing widget and these were the results:

So – theoretically my line is capable of 80mbps down and 30mbps up. Nice! The throttly profile set unfortunately was limiting that, more than it should because of the faulty modem. Seems to me if the engineer had just asked the bloke nicely to reset my profile to the max, I could have had double speed! Either way the new modem was installed, the profile reset and I’m back on proper full speed ahead (40mbps down, 10mbps up).

The engineer explained that they have had a lot of overheating modems – especially those in the first version (which mine was). You can tell because there’s no big red sticker with the version number underneath the modem. I think my new one has ‘3B’ written on it and seems to run cooler than the previous one.

I haven’t been home long enough to see if I can access the modem’s internal pages on this new one – I’ll get round to it at some point!

Roll on next year when we’re supposed to get double the speed!

Update, 23rd November 2011

Amazing – the second, older modem is now malfunctining within 2 weeks of my other one being replaced. It’s constantly dropping sync and very slow when it resyncs. Now the fun of getting an engineer here – bizzarely one turned up this morning before I knew about the issue but I told him it was fixed (from two weeks ago) – are BT now deploying pre-emptive engineers?! I need him back now with a replacement modem, if only we could have a direct line to Openreach so I don’t have to bugger about waiting for an appointment. I’m off on holiday next week so I doubt it’ll be fixed in time 🙁

Update, 25th November 2011

Well they got here before holiday and now I have a REV 2B and a REV 3B modem as opposed to two REV nothings! The only problem now is that the profile for the line the dodgy modem was on is now throttled so I’ll have to wait apparently 2 weeks or so for it to sort itself out. The engineer wouldn’t do an ‘SNR reset’ as he called it because it was on a different line to the job he came to (I swapped the modems around to keep a solid connection on my primary one), bit of a pain.

Hopefully all sorted now then. Anyone else had problems with slowdowns and overheating modems? I’ve since stood them on their side away from each other and they run infinitely cooler.

BT are Forgiven

Posted by Pat | Posted in Observations / Life | Posted on 07-10-2010

0

A few days ago I had a nice cathartic massive rant about BTs inability to turn up to a set appointment. I had hoped by the end of Monday I’d be zipping along on the super duper information highway at the sort of speeds I remember getting in a Las Vegas hotel room about 3 years ago (sorry but the UK really is a bit backward considering how small an island we are).

Either way after a reassurance of a new appointment today, the engineer did indeed turn up on time (9.59am believe it or not, 1 minute left of the alloted time) and was in and out like a flash. No moan about the master socket – he replaced it, but kept it in the truncking in my office which is great. He had a reassuring geeky ponytail and I could talk nerdy with him. I made him a coffee. Everything worked first time, all is configured and this is how it looks!


So it’s now 11.22am. So I’ve had superfast fibre broadband for less than an hour. The engineer tells me my cabinet is about 100m away, and that I’m the 2nd out of 500 potential fibre connections coming from it. So, clearly, I expect things to slow down at some point.

For now, I’m happy, and all is forgiven, BT.

BT Infinity – It Felt Like It Yesterday

Posted by Pat | Posted in Observations / Life | Posted on 05-10-2010

1

Why did I go and do that?

One reason that I have evolved into a grumpy old bastard is because of the incompetence of large corporations. I ask the rhetorical question above because time and time again it taps me on the head like Chinese water torture usually towards the end of an ordeal. The same thought usually reminds me of that feeling I had before I commited myself; the “Don’t rock the boat, Patrick, you know it’ll end in disaster” feeling, shortly before clicking ‘Submit Order’.

Well no surprises how it’s going after I placed an order for BT Infinity on 22nd September, then.

The product is relatively new to the UK. It uses Fibre-To-The-Cabinet technology so that the amount of copper you actually use for your broadband connection is as minimal as it can be without running fibre optics directly to your house. In a nutshell, my potential download/upload speeds here were to increase to possibly 40Mbps and 10Mbps respectively. For someone who works online, uploads quite a bit, receives 400+ emails a day and so on, the speed is important to me.

Because it’s so new and so that any possible line noise is dealt with, it requires an engineer to visit your house, upgrade your master socket and give you a VDSL modem. You get the ‘Home Hub’ router in the post, seperately.

All was fine – I had received the Home Hub, supplied my MAC code from Sky (when they eventually gave me it) and had my install date for October 4th, between 8am-1pm.

I wanted to make sure I was completely awake and ready, so was up at 7. I know that’s no hardship for most – but I really don’t usually bother to rise before 9.30 if I really don’t have to! There are some possible phone ‘wiring’ issues here I need the engineer to deal with – and want to make sure they are softened up accordingly with a cup of tea/biscuits in case any of it is out of their remit!

So then the day just turned into one long wait.

I posted on Twitter about it at Midday – they still had an hour left, I was just getting frustrated. Quite sadly I couldn’t concentrate on doing any amount of work, thinking that firstly the bloke is going to turn up and secondly my broadband was likely to go off at any minute anyway.

1pm came. More Twitter frustrations.

At 2pm I decided to call BT. I called the number I’d been given on ordering – 0800 731 0286. After a short wait, they said the order looked ok and he’s probably just delayed, but gave me a customer services number – 0800 111 4567 – to call, just in case, later on.

Well I managed until about 3.30pm.

The customer services number is seemingly an Indian call centre. The first man who I eventually spoke to (after around 20 minutes of being on hold) said he had to put me on hold while he spoke to the Infinity team. After around 10 minutes of listening to classical music, I heard a ring tone, the bloke sounded exactly the same but said “Hello, how can I help?”. It wasn’t the same bloke. God knows what happened. I explained the situation with the new guy and he went off also to speak to Infinity, putting me on hold.

Well, lo and behold, 10 minutes later – “Hello, how can I help?”. I was in a ‘Being on hold Groundhog Day’. I explained that to the man – unfortunately he didn’t get the reference, so reverted back to explaining my Infinity problem and asked nicely if he could do something whereby I don’t end up having to explain everything again and thereby go slowly mental?

This time the same man came back after 10 or so minutes, saying the line was really busy but he was sure that the engineer would turn up very very soon.

So I left it at that.

Knowing the appointment was supposed to be ‘between 2-3 hours’, I couldn’t contain myself much longer at 4.30pm, thinking there’s no way he’s going to turn up now and work until 7pm!

I went to phone them again, this time for a definitive answer.

Just before I picked up the phone, I looked online at my BT.com order – it said ‘Completed’ and that ‘Your appointment is no longer required, as our engineer can connect your line without requiring access to your premises’. That is just obviously plain WRONG. He had to bring me a VDSL modem for one thing, let alone deal with the master socket stuff he’s not even aware of yet(!).

 

Armed with this new information, I called again. This time, the system offered to call me back because the wait times were so long. I declined as I would rather wait, and it’s an 0800 number so wasn’t costing me anything. Maybe the wastage in people staying on the line might encourage BT to employ some more staff, I thought, while I waited another 30 minutes.

I got through to a nice Indian lady and put on hold to speak to the Infinity team. After another 20 minutes, it started ringing again and eventually rang out, leaving me with that film-like-moment of a ‘number unobtainable’ tone where you look at the receiver in disgust, knowing there’s no coming back from that noise; put the phone down Patrick, you’re going to have to do it all again.

Kept my composure. I’m learning slowly about doing this lately.

So, I phoned again. This time the wait was about 40 minutes, but they actually got me through to the Infinity team who appeared to be in this country. She had a look and put me on hold… and came back (amazingly) saying there had been a ‘glitch’ and the order had never actually gone through. She added it wasn’t the first time this had happened. I was then put on hold again while she wrote an email (not sure why, I don’t mind hearing people type emails) and said I should hear back about an appointment pretty quickly – and the appointment should be in the next 48 hours.

Well it’s almost 24 hours since the final phone call, and no sign of an appointment.

A small ray of potential light is the @BTCare Twitter account, who I bothered all afternoon while stuck on hold, only to brush them off several times when the phone was answered. They are looking into it, so I will report back on what they say.

I feel like I lost a whole day of my life over that. Having Twitter was fun, but I was posting a little too often and feel bad about it, which is why I have offloaded it here.

The Terms and Conditions of the Infinity product state I can cancel the order right up to the moment it is activated. Given it’s 18 months and I have since read about it not being ‘Unlimited’, and I may very well get throttling put on my line, I’m in two minds whether to just cancel this outright, right this second. I think it depends on what @BTCare tell me later on.

So there you have it, if you actually bothered reading this, congratulations – it was just as boring experiencing it, and it’s not even over yet. Think of it as an episode of Neighbours or something.