My Project Continues

By the time I got into TV, people had figured it out. There were expectations and formats to guide me. I wasn’t blazing a path.

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I’m working on a video project. I mentioned that yesterday.

It looked simple from afar. It’s complex up-close. There are many problems to be solved, but only once. After a workflow is established things get much easier.

bref.movieI’m very lucky. By the time I got into TV, people had figured it out. There were expectations and formats to guide me. I wasn’t blazing a path.

This project (and, again, it’s not a big deal) started with identifying a niche. It hasn’t been done before. My job is figuring out all the steps.

The project needs maps. Not many. Nothing special. Very simple, by design.

Enter Bob, my friend from FSU. He produces a trove of maps every day. I asked nicely if he would produce one more set HDTV size? It’s a simulated radar forecast based on the NAM model with one hour resolution to 36 hours.

There is nothing like this on the Internet. It’s not needed there. These maps are made for standing in front of and pointing!

I asked Bob one more favor. Now his server delivers them to my server as soon as they’re rendered. Easy for my gear to grab and me to automate.

This is exciting stuff for me. The future I hoped for as a kid exists right now. Technology unlocks so many doors.

I can’t ever let it get ahead of me.

Therefore, It’s Perfect!

How Old Do I Look

Have you seen Microsoft’s “How Old Do I Look?” site? It’s a fun toy, but with a business purpose.

Part of Microsoft Project Oxford, Face APIs provide state-of-the-art algorithms to process face images, like face detection with gender and age prediction, recognition, alignment and other application level features.

The horse is already out of the barn on this extension of technology. Walk in front of a camera and it’s likely you can be identified. Often times you are identified. No permission asked or needed.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is trying to tweak its carnival like ability to guess your age. I tried a few times. All were well below my chronological number (but above my level of maturity).

If Microsoft is going to flatter me by lying about my age, I’m not going to argue. Therefore, it’s perfect! Case closed.

How Old Do I Look

I Almost Fell For It!

If you fell for this, here’s what happened. Your Google password is owned. You’ve installed software that probably also controls your computer and owns your other passwords.

I don’t want to hurt myself patting my own back, but I’m pretty good at sniffing out scams. Today I came perilously close to falling for one. Bravo to the scammers. You’re getting better.

It started with an email from a friend I haven’t spoken to in a long time. Actually, the email said I had a message from her via Whats App. I have Whats App installed, but don’t use it.

So far, plausible.

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I clicked the green “Play” button and was asked to sign in to my Gmail account. Again, this is something that happens… but I don’t give up my password easily. I looked closely and noticed the password page didn’t have a green lock next to it.

Bad sign!

Gmail (and Facebook and Twitter) always have a green lock. The green lock assures you the connection is secure and from the company listed.

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I continued to log in but with a phony password. I wanted to see where this led.

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Next screen was an install page for Flash. If the flashing red lights weren’t already going off, this would do it!

If you fell for this, here’s what happened. Your Google password is owned. You’ve installed software that probably also controls your computer and owns your other passwords.

I opened up the web pages. They’re reasonably well written code. All the images are served from their rightful owners websites. In other words, Google, Twitter and Whats App (among others) are paying for the bandwidth to run this scam!

How the hell did this get past Gmail’s filters? At least it didn’t get past mine.

What Are You On?

intel dongleWhat are you on right now?

Helaine uses a laptop. My dad is 100% tablet. I rotate through devices and touch close to a dozen keyboards or screens through the day.

Nearly everything you know about computing is about to change. The size is shrinking again.

If you have a recent iPhone or one of the high end Android devices, you know the brain in that small device of yours works fine for browsing and video. Why do we need anything with bulk?

We don’t.

There is a new class of dongles entering the market which are full fledged PCs. Plug one into an HDMI port on any TV, pair with wireless keyboard and mouse and it’s a computer that can do nearly anything! Browse the web. Stream HD movies. Skype. Whatever.

These dongles are quad core machines special image processing chips. Very low power, they need no fans. They are light on RAM and disk space, but are optimized for the tasks most people normally perform.

They’re not for making content. They’re for consumption.

At the moment (and we’re very early in this game) the Windows version is $150 and the Android $100. Expect those numbers to fall.

This is crazy. How far we’ve come. We’re not slowing down.

The Data Guzzler

Internet Tools

I wrote a few days ago about the realization I was the IT guy around here. Now I see how much data is actually moving through. It’s scary.

Under my cable provider’s biggest Internet package I’m allotted 400 Gb of data a month. I’ve used 326 Gb so far, including one day I blew through 79 Gb, with a week to go.

I need the bandwidth! It’s worth ponying up for additional service if I really have to. I’ve been told, “Don’t worry.” There is a cap, but it’s not enforced.

Video from my studio is encoded at 10 Mbps. It’s the HD+ mode. Overkill? It seems the right way to go, even though it’s burning through 4.5 Gb of data every hour.

Beyond that I get dozens and dozens of maps, most produced as data comes in. They’re sent to me as movies which can be run through my control room. Movie files are large. Some are hundreds of megabytes. At the moment maps are taking more bandwidth than live video!

Originally I was pulling them in 24/7. I’ve just backed off, cutting the flow by at least 75% (and still having everything available on demand).

As much as I thought I knew about my studio project, there’s some stuff you just can’t understand until operations begin.

Now I’m The IT Guy

snapshot_000DC5D4C863_20150221162928When I started my studio project I had no idea I’d become “the IT guy.” Everything is digital. Nothing is analog… except me.

The good news is I like this stuff, but this is way deeper in than I’ve ever been. I’ve got servers and a bunch of other single purpose computers, like my switcher and the modem that allows me to send HD video over the Internet.

Nearly every device is sharing with every other device. Files need to be available no matter where I am or they are.

I poked holes in my firewall and forwarded ports to allow the outside world to communicate directly with some of my gear. It’s not without danger. Miscreants are robotically probing for weaknesses in systems like mine 24/7.

In the analog days video and audio were like water flowing through pipes. You could cut the pipe at any point and split it or meter it.

Not today.

The flow is more orderly and intensely complex. Data doesn’t flow, it’s routed. As you might imagine, 1080i video consumes lots of data. Every hour my studio is feeding it sends around 5Gb of data.

Packets are flying through my network at breakneck speed, but it’s still the bottleneck of my system… of most complex networks. Optimization is everything. I’m working with vendors’ experts who know their systems to tweak every last bit of performance.

This isn’t a never ending project, is it?

It’s Starting To Look Like A Studio

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“Take Doppler to piddle, but stop in the garage before you come upstairs.” Helaine wanted me to see what she’d accomplished while I was gone.

Holy crap. It’s a studio!

It took lots of work on her part preparing and painting the wall. The electrician removed an outlet right in the middle. Helaine patched and sanded before applying two coats of Behr Sparkling Apple.

It looks amazing. She’s amazing.

Two backlights are overhead. The key lights are on stands. They’ll be held in place with sandbags. That’s how it’s done in real studios.

There are mounts and power for monitors and a clock hung from a beam.

Cox came and installed service. I’m told I need 6-8 mbps for high quality, low latency, HD video. I’ve got triple that.

Most of the equipment is still enroute. I’d like to set it up next weekend, if possible. I’m itching to get started.

Little things keep popping up. We’re starting from scratch. I ordered a charger, 8 AA NiMh batteries, a few 25 foot HDMI cables and light meter, tonight.

In a few weeks my garage will be a chroma key driven sound stage. It’s for work. It’s a toy. This is a very cool project.

Here Comes The Gear For My Studio

The only real difference is I’m running everything. No director. No cameraperson. No audio operator.

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I start in Palm Springs Thursday. My home studio goes live in a few weeks. Right now it’s still a garage! Lots of work to be done.

Boxes are starting to arrive. Think of this as a giant jigsaw puzzle. I know what the finished project needs to do. Now I pray the pieces are the right ones in both fit and function.

IMAG2014-w1920-h1400The garage will be a real TV studio, 21st Century style. There will be a control room, though it won’t be bigger than a breadbox. It’s actually a Tricaster Mini, a special purpose PC designed to process video. The show gets ‘stacked’ beforehand, then I sequence it while on-the-air.

Weather maps will still be produced at the TV station, sent to me via FTP, stored in a server and played back live. Phew!

behr sparkling apple green for chroma keyThe wall separating the garage and kitchen will be painted Behr Sparkling Apple. That’s the Internet consensus for chroma key green.

Chroma key is a process in which one color (Sparkling Apple) is removed and replaced digitally by weather maps and graphics. When I’m on TV I stand in front of a green wall and point at maps that aren’t there. I see them in a few off-camera monitors.

It will be exactly the same process in my studio. The only real difference is I’m running everything. No director. No cameraperson. No audio operator.

The video gets back to the station via a Dejero VSET encoder. Stations use similar methods for ‘backpack’ liveshots. While testing, my video made the trip to Palm Springs in under a second.

Those are the major pieces. There’s also the peripheral stuff–microphones, lights, tripods, monitors, converters and on and on and on.

The station is letting me take a surplus cubicle off their hands, allowing me to isolate any noise from all the gear and providing me with an office.

This is all the more interesting because it allows me to send this live, high quality video anywhere at virtually no additional cost. To other TV stations? Maybe a news website? Who knows?

I’m the general contractor. I’d better not forget anything.

To Build A Studio

The wall separating the kitchen and garage will turn Behr Sparkling Apple, latex flat.

I start at KMIR on the first from the studio. After a while the plan is to sometimes use a studio at my house.

It might be the first case of a TV anchor anchoring from home. In radio it’s fairly common.

Every bit of weather data I need is available online. Distant computers can be controlled remotely. I might not have a window, but I’ll have everything else.

The trick is to make my home studio functionally the same as the station’s. There aren’t that many pieces. Nearly all are recent inventions leveraging the increasing speed of digital electronics.

My biggest concern is lag. How long does the video take to go from my garage to the station?

We ran a test from my next door neighbor’s house. At .8 seconds it’s fast enough for live conversation.

The weather graphics still get created on the computer at the station with the files FTPed here. A TriCaster Mini, a little TV control room in a box, will put all the components together. Clicker controlled!

My studio needs a camera, lights, some ancillary equipment and more power from the box outside. The wall separating the kitchen and garage will turn Behr Sparkling Apple, latex flat.

The video will travel point-to-point over the Internet with a special encoder on each end. It’s the same technology that’s made TV live trucks mostly superfluous.

I am concerned about the garage’s acoustics. It is VERY echoey. A lot of it has to be the door. I will experiment with blankets hung in front of it. My friend Peter says “Carpet on the walls.” Maybe. I’m very unsure. It will be corrected.

Lots to be done, starting now.

Amazon Would Like To Listen To All Your Conversations

Everything you say is going back through the Internet to Amazon’s servers. Will it be eavesdropping on your life? I think that’s Amazon’s point. We are being farmed for our data.

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Amazon’s newest product is Echo. Echo’s implications are simultaneously interesting and creepy. Echo is a standalone digital assistant that responds to voice commands. Think Siri, but without the phone.

Here comes the creepy part.

Tucked under Echo’s light ring is an array of seven microphones. These sensors use beam-forming technology to hear you from any direction. With enhanced noise cancellation, Echo can hear you ask a question even while it’s playing music.

You know the scene in Casino where Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci turn on their car’s radio to keep from being heard? Not anymore!

It hears you when you’re sleeping. It knows when you’re awake. It knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.

Amazon claims:

Echo begins working as soon as it hears you say the wake word, “Alexa.”

Echo-AudioExplodedDeviceThat’s not so. It has to be listening to EVERYTHING to know when “Alexa” is said.

This wouldn’t be as scary if your individual Echo kept your secrets. It does not.

Echo’s brain is in the cloud, running on Amazon Web Services so it continually learns and adds more functionality over time.

Everything you say is going back through the Internet to Amazon’s servers. Will it be eavesdropping on your life? I think that’s Amazon’s point. We are being farmed for our data.

I’m making the point with Amazon, but Siri and Google Now are already doing most of this via your cellphone or web browser (see the example at the bottom of this page).

There’s no doubt the Internet gives us powers and abilities far beyond anything I imagined as a kid–and I had a good imagination. But there is a downside. Even if voice recognition was flawless (and it’s anything but), bad interpretation will surely cause unforeseen grief.

Those pushing this part of the technology say errors will be limited. I have no doubt. But fixing errors is expensive. Google, Facebook and others have already shown, companies would rather you didn’t know how to contact them, much less help you fix problems of their doing.

The good news is they don’t look at us as individuals. The bad news is they don’t look at us as individuals.

There’s This App

It’s one of those tools you never knew you needed until you realize you can’t do without it.

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I found an app that solves a real 21st Century problem. It connects all my screens. It has simplified the task of passing stuff between them.

When my phone rings a notification pops up on all my computers. I was surprised how often my phone and I are apart.

It works the same way with text messages. You can even reply from your PC keyboard.

If I take a photo it can be sent directly to my PCs with two clicks.

Addresses or links found at my desk now slide to my phone for cut and paste into a nav program or browser.

I’m using it nearly every day.

It’s Pushbullet. It works on Android and iPhones, Windows and sorta on Macs.

Pushbullet connects your devices, making it easy and automatic to share almost anything between them.

It’s one of those tools you never knew you needed until you realize you can’t do without it. And, of course, it’s free.

To The Company That Infected My Computer

A quick GTH and FU to the company that somehow infected my computer with a nearly uninstallable extension. Thanks for adding ads and pop-ups to my browser. I hate you

A quick GTH and FU to the company that somehow infected my computer with a nearly uninstallable extension. Thanks for adding ads and pop-ups to my browser.

I hate you.

Your software package has been removed permanently. It didn’t go without a fight.

I am extremely diligent. I read EULAs… or at least scan them. I don’t click blindly. This must have snuck in with something else.

It made it past Microsoft’s normally respectable Windows Defender. It wasn’t found on a second more thorough Defender scan either.

Malwarebytes got it. Hats off to you.

The people who design these browser hijacks are hardcore. If this stuff is on your PC the number of ads you see has multiplied! Mine also picked keywords and highlighted them. Using javascript, popover boxes were spawned when you moused over the words. Annoying.

The culprit is a browser extension. It seems to be randomly named, because when I entered it in Google I got no returns!

If you remove it or disable the extension, it respawns! Remove what seem to be the executables, it finds another way to execute. You might kill it for a session, but it’s back after every reboot.

It took around an hour to truly kill it. Malwarebytes found 14 instances of suspicious code on my machine. Gone-zo… but not without some serious sweat.

I’m a techie. I know how this stuff works. It wasn’t particularly fun nor easy. You’re mucking around near critical files. Think surgeon.

Anyway, it’s gone. I’ve rebooted a few times All is well.

I asked Helaine how non-techies deal with this? She didn’t have to stop and think.

“They buy a new computer.”

21st Century problems.

You’re Getting More Secure

IMAG1400In case you don’t read the geek press, everything you touch digitally will soon have new encryption schemes built in. That lessens the chance anyone but you will ever see your stuff.

It’s the new world where JLa’s pics stay private.

But everyone knows it’s really about keeping the government out.

Apple and Google’s next operating systems are toughened against spying. It’s my understanding Apple is removing a ‘feature’ iPhones now have which enabled much of this.

More and more websites are https not http. They’ve added layers of encryption. Your transactions are hidden from prying eyes.

Businesses have been hurt by government’s massive spying efforts. Cloud companies, meaning Google, Amazon and a bunch of others, need to reassure nervous clients in our global economy. This is a sector where US companies have had great success.

Businesses and people want to flesh out ideas without later answering for early notes. We should be allowed to think in private.

In the end, by spying too invasively, the NSA and others made their own jobs more difficult. Is this how checks and balances work in the 21st Century? Maybe. Probably.

What Facebook Messenger Really Is

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Facebook messenger has been installed, then uninstalled, twice now. It is dispensable.

Facebook has removed message (email) functionality from its smartphone app. To regain that ability you must install a separate Facebook Messenger app. Its purpose is to elevate
Facebook messages to the level of phone calls, email and texts. No.

There is no way to lessen its grip on your phone. Some annoyances can be turned off, but only for a limited period.

They know how we’re reacting. They know what we’re saying. They can gauge how much we’ll take passively. This is all measured.

In 2014, this is what a price increase looks like. They do charge to use the service. We pay by entrusting our most personal thoughts to them. Now they want more.

The unspoken bargain is they never use it to hurt us… but who knows?