The past few weeks have been spent getting ready to use some new equipment at work. Our very dependable, SGI based, Liveline Genesis system has been replaced by Weather Central’s :Live.
Actually, replaced is not a good word, because :Live is really an add-on which extends the system. We’re still producing some graphics in Genesis but it now it doesn’t go on-the-air.
The SGI system we were using has to be at least 10 years old. These systems run slow by today’s standards. Our hard drive was only 4 GB! From time-to-time I had to go in an mercilessly blow out perfectly fine work created by the other guys in the weather department because we just didn’t have enough room.
Computers and homes are very similar in that you can never have too much closet space. And, of course, the hard disk is the closet of computing.
The problems with the SGI system were legion. It never handled the look of fonts correctly. Its interface, developed in he dark ages of computing, was anti-intuitive and often different in different parts of the system. It took long amounts of time to render animated segments, like a satellite loop or fly through, before they could be shown on TV.
On the other hand, it was nearly bulletproof. The system hardly ever crashed or locked up.
Because the SGI system was based on the Irix operating system, from time-to-time you’d have to delve into the **ix environment to attack a problem. It is a bit scary to do, because it is so foreign to most computer users. Over the years, as I have become more conversant in Linux, another **ix language, Irix has become more understandable.
Every time I have a problem, and work with one of Weather Central’s tech support people, I wonder how they do this with computerphobes? Often we can skip the first 5 or 6 steps. Imagine trying to describe this obtuse text oriented operating system over the phone!
The new :Live system allows us to show animations with no rendering time (though files still have to load from the hard drive to memory, which does take some time). It also integrates multiple layers of animation and still images, which makes it much more flexible. The most interesting part is the ability to stand in front of my green chroma key wall and use my finger as a mouse, drawing or placing objects on the TV screen in real time (or :Live, I suppose).
Right out of the box, it looked much sharper, cleaner and modern than what we had been doing. Simple things, like forecast pages, now run with animated backgrounds. Maps and icons look crisp. The satellite imagery is a little blockier and pixelated than what we were using, especially when viewed at a regional or tighter level.
Because the commands to create each graphic element are programmed in quasi plain text, I have started to write some new ‘scenes’ to suit our needs.
The downside is, this is a Windows based system – Windows 2000 to be exact. It has crashed more than once. So far, not while on-the-air, but awfully close. It also seems to have memory leak problems, not a surprise in a Windows environment. That means, if you run a sequence through, to check it out, you may be pushing the car closer to the edge of the cliff with each mouse click.
I already see some changes I’d like added to the system, which is probably a blessing and curse to those who designed it. I will help them make it better, but probably at the cost of being a pain in the ass.
At the same time we added :Live, we’ve also begun running our own, locally produced, high resolution, computer forecast model. I’ll get into that later.