Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Pixel and Ink Stained Year in Review

IT's the end of the year as we know it. This year in review and its companion peek into my pixel and ink-stained crystal ball at the year coming up will be largely "pixel" posts in that I'll talk about commercial AV. Perhaps one or two literary mentions to round things out. And more on the Year-to-Come post later. This is a very quick highlight of just a few AV trends from the past year. There is, of course, more. There's always more. For now, in no particular reason are some thoughts that stuck in my mind from 2013. 

My look forward at 2014 will come as part of the SMW team on our ExpresShen's blog. You'll still see me here, but I'll also be spending some time there along with some of my very bright and talented colleagues, not only in the AV discipline but our data, security, medical planning, and acoustics disciplines as well. That should be an exciting part of the new year and something in which I am greatly looking forward to participating.

2013 was the year....

....that the HDBaseT "standard" hit a saturation point and stopped being interesting. 

Crestron, AMX, Extron, Kramer, Aurora, Purelink, Lightware, Muxlabs, and probably a half dozen others I'm not thinking of at the moment all have what is, for all intents and purposes, the same digital videl ecosystem: modular card-frame based switcher, smallish form-factor standalone transmitter/receiver units, 2-gang wall plate transmitters, etc. Some added an array of input and output formats (3G-SDI, VGA and other analog formats, etc), most have single- and multi-mode fiber options, and if you squint just a bit it's hard to tell which one you're looking at. I kinda flew through the "HDBaseT Pavillion" at Infocomm without too much catching my eye. 

This is part of the reason I'll not post on "switcher wars" anymore; so many of the decisions are so project-specific that it's almost impossible to compare various manufacturers in a vacuum. Do you need SDI outputs to feed a production switcher or capture appliance? Multi-format inputs for a variety of legacy devices? SDI inputs for broadcast cameras? A smaller form-factor and lower heat load because you're stuffing it into a credenza? Does it need to fit with some existing asset management infrastructure? Projects aren't one-size fits all, and we've gotten to the point at which we look at subtle details rather than "this one is good. That one is bad." 

....but some manufacturers have found ways to step out of the box

I'll list two that surprised me a bit. One is the Altinex Muse, technically not quite HDBaseT, but similar technology and interesting nonetheless. Their innovation (shown off in a pretty popular booth at Infocomm) is 150W of AC power right at the receiver. This means that you can plug in a smallish flatpanel with nothing but a single Cat5e or Cat6 cable and without an electrician. Highly groovy and a bit surprising.

Another one that caught my eye is Aurora Multimedia's L2 series of receivers. These have a tiny webserver and control processor built into them. This is terrific for very small, one- or two-input rooms with fairly simple control needs. It lets you run the space with a single-gang decora-style keypad *and* monitor it via your favorite building-management solution. I'd rather have a more robust control system for more complex spaces, but this is a thoughtful solution which certainly has its place.

....Dante took the lead in the digital transport battle

No. Not that Dante.
Audinate's Dante and the AVNu Alliance's AVB are the two available choices to replace the aging Cobranet protocol. 2012 saw Audinate introduce Ultimo, a smaller chipset capable of handling two inputs and two outputs. 2013 saw manufacturers such as Atterotech and Stewart Audio release an array of small form-factor amplifiers and breakout boxes, including wall-plates. A virtual sound card is available to bring multiple channels of audio into and out of a PC (for processing, recording, streaming, or any other purpose one can think of), digital mixing consoles have accepted Dante as one of several standards they support, an a variety of DSPs are now using Dante for audio connectivity.

The real surprise for the year  - and the reason I see Dante as taking the lead - is that Audinate announced that once AVB is ratified as a standard it would be possible for Dante-based hardware to become fully AVB compatible. The folk at Audinate tell me that this would be either/or; one could run the hardware as a Dante system using any layer three switch or as part of an AVB network using the added features in AVB-compliant switches. This adds, at the very least, a future-proofing security blanket.

...but not everybody gave up on Cobranet

A speaker with Cobranet
Amplifier built in!
I thought this would finally be the year we stop talking about Cobranet, but that seems to not be the case. Soundtube opened the year with the introduction of IP-addressable speakers using the venerable Cobranet protocol. Their stated reasons for sticking with this over Dante are that the Cobranet chip is small enough to fit into the speaker back-can along with an amplifer.  They also contend that, for many applications, the latency and channel counts available from Cobranet is more than sufficient. I have my usual level of skepticism, and am concerned about the extra layer of complexity conversion to Cobranet will add in systems which are primarily Dante or AVB. That said, there is a somewhat compelling point and it does seem an interesting solution for certain applications.

...we learned to think small

2013 saw quite a few collaborative solutions for small "huddle" type spaces, from Barco's smaller (and cheaper!) clickshare to Vaddio's Groupstation and wired pushbutton collaborative interfaces from FSR, Extron, and others. This fits not only with different ways in which people are working, but also with the growing prevalence of software-based communications tools as either a supplement to or sometimes a replacement for appliance-based enterprise videoconference systems. Many of us have some combination of Skype, Google Chat, or Apple Facetime either at home or on a personal device. Some of use  Microsoft Lync, Cisco's WebEx or similar on our desktop machines. We become familiar with these technologies, comfortable with them, and look for ways to expand them to use in room systems. Sometimes this sacrifices quality, but especially for small spaces can give a measure of functionality at a fraction of the price of hardwares solutions.

...The blackbirds roosted in the pomegranate tree

What? I'm sure you were expecting something on streaming (another post) or 4K (another other post!) or the like. Instead, I'll close with a literary note. Almost two-decades ago, American writer Mary Ellen Sanger spent six weeks in a Mexican prison. I met her years later at the home of New York-based author Talia Carner as part of a writers' critique group. This year, she finally published a book telling the stories of her time in prison and the women she met there. There are beautifully written, poetic tales. If you're looking for something thoughtful, interesting, and different to read this holiday season, feel free to pick up a copy in dead-tree or Kindle format. Enjoy!

That's the year past. Stay tuned for the year to come, nestled sometime between Christmas and New Years.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Fan Fiction, Culture, Matchsticks

There's been a bit of a kerfuffle recently about the producers of the BBC television series Sherlock having their actors read aloud from someone's erotic Sherlock-inspired fan-fiction at an official event for the upcoming launch of the fourth season. I'll not go into all of the details here, but the short version is that it is universally (and accurately) seen as an attempt to mock the fan-fiction writer and, as such, in bad form. The actors were uncomfortable, someone who loved the characters enough to write about them in her spare time was humiliated, and the hosts of the event now have egg on their collective faces. It's a lose-lose-lose. If one positive thing can come of it, that would be a discussion on the fading boundaries between fan-fiction and commercial fiction, between professional and amateur, and our overall cultural heritage.  There is a larger issue here than fan fiction. It's the question of who owns these characters and ideas themselves. We know who does legally, but I'm not sure who does morally.
Not this kind of fan fiction

What's most ironic about this incident, and what writer Mary Robinette Kowal pointed out in her take on the topic, is that the BBC series itself is, arguably as much "fan fiction" as the slash pieces they found it so very amusing to mock. Yes, I know that there's a legal lineage running back to the heirs of the Doyle estate, but that doesn't much interest me. Sherlock Holmes is, at present, a part of our culture as are Achilles, Superman and, most importantly, Mickey Mouse.

Why is Disney's famous rodent so important? Because he's arguably the one keeping the cultural commons from growing - at least in a legal perspective. One of the arguments presented to Congress in discussions on extending copyright protections first for fifty, and now for seventy-five years past the creator's death was the specter of commercial Mickey Mouse pornography. In reality, the fight was less about protecting the innocence of a fictitious rodent than it was about giving the corporation which now owns Walt Disney's work a perpetual cash-cow. It keeps the Mouse as the sole property of a corporation. Superman the property of the corporation which stole him from his original creator, and now the larger media conglomerate that owns them.  We, as a culture, are poorer for it. It wasn't always this way. I'm not an expert in ancient Greek intellectual property law, but I don't believe that Sophocles needed the permission of the Homer estate to write Ajax. (if anyone knows that he did, please correct me. I'd find that fascinating!)

As part of our heritage, these characters and ideas matter. It's a way of carrying on a conversation with the literature and culture which has come before us while speaking to the present generation. I mentioned Ajax in a snarky aside, but it was a then-modern take on  traditional Homeric values. Bringing Sherlock to the modern era might not be as artistically interesting, but it's very enjoyable and lets us reexamine some of the cultural assumptions from Arthur Conan Doyle's time.
It wasn't even a full
8-bits of greyscale

It isn't what I usually write myself, but I find some derivative work to be fascinating. Russian writer Kirill Yeskov wrote a fascinating (if somewhat awkwardly translated) retelling of The Lord of the Rings from the villain's perspective, casting Gandalf as a manipulative warmonger who was the real mover behind the concepts we see in Tolkein's books. Novelist Jacqueline Carey took a more commercially viable route and played the same reversal trick but with the serial numbers filed off in her The Sundering duology. This is the path that one needs to take if one wants to be commercial and doesn't own the rights. Sometimes it works; the TV medical drama House was arguably a Sherlock Holmes retelling, and someone famously turned some erotic Twilight fanfiction into an inexplicably popular treatise on grayscale (at least that's what I assume from the title. I'll confess to having never read the work in question).

I'll close with a bit of fiction; in her piece,  Kowal  stated that she'd welcome fan-stories in her Glamourist Histories universe. In that spirit, I've brought a fairy-tale character into her world, retelling a classic. For those not initiated, the Glamourist histories are regency-era romance novels with the addition of a bit of magic - the ability for some people to create illusions or "glamours". Some can even manipulate hear and cold, although at personal cost to their health.



Three Matches
by L Czhorat Suskin

Cold it was, so terribly cold in London, this long night late in the year without a summer. Cold infused the streets, cold slipped through thresholds of the coldmonger's guildhall in ironic discomfort but, most of all, cold soaked into the young lad's skin, muscle, into the very marrow of his bones. He was a coldmonger, a lucky one to have found work freezing an indoor skating rink and, at  nearly fourteen years, an old one. Today he felt old. He felt his nearly fourteen years the way an older man would feel the weight of decades, his body weakened by years of working the cold. Still, he had a roof in the guildhall and, thanks to this last job, a few coins in his pocket.

And He still had his dreams.

It was, after all, the year without a summer. The year Lord Vincent, glamourist to the Prince Regent himself visited London, reminder of all that the boy had dreampt of. Working glamour as art, delighting people with works of color and shapes rather than pure mechanical manipulation of heat and cold. He'd been practicing too, as much as he could with the strength he had remaining after the hours of drawing cold from the ether. Tonight's work had been particularly arduous; the guild's more educated benefactors explained why working cold is harder on a cold day, but that was all just words. The boy's reality was that it was cold.

It was on this cold night that he saw her. The matchstick girl. Younger even than he, walking on tiny naked feet blue with cold. The boy longed to be an artist; he saw the soot smeared around her eyes, not quite hiding deep purple bruises. From across the street he saw her shiver with her whole body. Saw her stop, desperately, pitifully cupping her hands around a match, trembling hands fumbling to strike it. He saw and, without thinking, reached into the ether, flicked a strand across the match and touched it to flame. 

The faintest hint of a smile touched the girls lips. Oh, how the boy pitied one who could be cheered by something so small. He struggled against the exhaustion in his own weakened body, pulled against strands of ether to paint within the flame a pleasant domestic scene. A warm fireplace, a table laden with food. Peace. The glamoured flames burned brightly, illuminating genuine joy in the girl's face, only to be extinguished as the candleflame bit her finger and went out.

She lit a second match. The glamourist boy was ready now, this time with a festive holiday scene. A magnificent Christmas tree festooned with glass ornaments, gaily wrapped presents beneath, and an angelic figure atop. The little girl reached her fingers into the image as the boy sank to his knees, overtaxed by the effort of maintaining the illusion.

Tears on her face, the girl lit a third match. She no longer felt the chill creeping into her bones, her poor frozen feet, no longer felt much of anything at all. She longed for the flame. For the next vision. The boy saw her from across the street, his vision fading and narrowing. Gone were the streets, the few people who'd take no notice of such wretched creatures as himself and the match-girl. The snow, the buildings... all faded. There was just him and, across the street, the girl. And her final match.

In the flame he painted a picture of the angelic figure from atop the holiday tree. Tears blurred his vision as he imbued the figure with as realistic color, as much art, as was in him. As the boy lost conciousness, the image unravelled, leaving a haze of pure light, then nothing. A smile touched his lips as the young girl whispered, "take me... take me with you."

Their bodies were found late the next morning, cold and lifeless. They were buried in a mass grave, nobody knowing that the girl had found a moment of peace and the boy had died an artist, as he'd wished to have lived.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Holiday Musings on Cooperation and Collaboration in the AV industry

It's non sectarian holiday time in the city. Last night was one of the New York AV community's traditions: the Sapphire Marketing holiday party at the Crestron showroom in midtown Manhattan. In what may or may not become a bee annual party of the transition, George Tucker and Chris Neto broadcast an AV related chat and discussion live from the party. Those who missed it live can feel free to catch the archive here. In addition to the fun and unsurprising revelations as to who cost Redband their TV-G rating and who brought their own booze to the party (no, I won't say here; you'll be missing the experience I'd your don't watch!) an observation Chris Neto made highlighted an interesting thought about the nature of our industry in this age of social media. That thought wad simply this: while he and I are technically competitors, we'd not only made little attempt to kill either but were actively exchanging information. There are fewer secrets than there might once have been in the industry. This is a good thing.
Live webcast at the party.
(Image from the Crestron Facebook page)

We've all met the technician, designer, our engineers who hoard knowledge, as if in fear that if someone else knows what they know it will diminish their value. This, to me, is one of the most toxic kinds of attitude I see in any tech industry. It's obvious that if we're hiding from our co-workers we're weakening our overall team by not letting all members be as efficient and effective as we can be. What about hiding things from competitors? Wouldn't my team at SMW be better off had I thought to poison some of the drinks we shared with our competitors rather than chat with them about technology? As temptingly simple an idea as that may be, it's overall a poor idea.

First of all, poisoning just one colleague's drink makes it much harder to end up on the guest list for future parties. More seriously is a point George Tucker made (and I elaborated on) - we're maturing as an industry. When one looks to build a house, one doesn't look for an architect with secret knowledge of steel or a mason with special, proprietary cement. One expects everyone to know the same basics of how a building is constructed and to apply that knowledge to fit your needs. It's about the process, the planning, and understanding the big picture much more than about the technical capabilities of one piece of hardware or another. As I said to Tucker, my value added isn't in my ability to memorize spec sheets.

Sharing holiday cheer at the party, in a spirit of openness.
A consultant, a vendor, a programmer, and
George (a category unto himself)
(Image from the Crestron Facebook page)
The other reason for openness is that we have reached a point in the industry at which we're seeing changes in quite a few basic assumptions about what constitutes an AV system. The basic changes should be familiar to those who've read this blog or followed the industry as a whole: the "bring your own device" trend, the rise of streaming solutions, the increase in small "huddle" type rooms as opposed to larger formal meeting rooms, and increase in availability of wireless transport, increases in software conferencing as opposed to dedicated hardware Codecs. As an industry, everyone involved looks smarter and more competent if we not only speak the same language but share an understanding of the challenges in this new environment. Not only to all of these raise too many questions for any of us to come up with the answer. Opening dialog creates an atmosphere in which we can all learn from eachother, and all become better at what we do.

I'll close with a bit of news in this vein- news that I alluded to in the Redband interview: starting in January the Shen, Milsom & Wilke blog is going to be re-launched with new content, including at least occaisonal posts from your favorite pixel-and-ink-stained wretch. Don't worry, I'll still maintain this space, but there'll be more engagement from us as a team, including posts from some very bright and talented people I'm lucky to have the chance to work with and learn from. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Christmas Wars?

Warning (in case you didn't get it from the title) - this post contains religion. If you're bothered by back, tune in again next week when there's sure to be another AV post, or perhaps some flash fiction. Maybe both if you're lucky. I probably should know better, but this is still probably safer and less contentious than a "switcher wars" post.

Shots Fired at the Crossroads of the World

The catalyst for this post is the latest shot in the culture wars by the American Atheists organization. For those who've not heard, they put a billboard at Times Square, New York, asking who needs Christ in Christmas. Their answer: nobody! This, to me, goes a step beyond the "good without God" message the Freedom from Religion Foundation ran on a series of billboards and bus ads a few years back. The idea that someone can not believe in a god yet still lead a good and moral life is a positive one and, given the fact that atheists are consistently the least trusted group in America according to opinion polls, an important one for people to hear.  This is closer to American Athests' 2010 campaign "You know it's a myth". True to their belief, yes. Also needlessly contentious and, from a bigger picture, missing what the actual point should be.
From the Times Square billboard

At the risk of losing some of your trust in me, I'll reveal to those of you who don't know or haven't guessed by now that I myself am an atheist. While my fiction (both what I write and am most interested in reading) leans towards the fantastic, philosophically I'm pretty much a strict materialist. No spirit, no soul, no Cartesian duality. Before we're born we're nothing, and when we die we're gone, leaving behind only the effects we had on the world and people around us. Consider this critique as coming from an atheist, even if not a member of the atheist movement.

You know it's a Myth

I'll start with yesteryear's  "you know it's a myth"  message because that, to me, is a clearer illustration of where American Atheists go wrong and, for that matter, how they appear the same as the most fundamentalist of believers. Their position is that as religious claims can't be empirically proven, religion itself is useless and a waste of time. I'll answer them with a quote from the French philosopher (and atheist) Alain de Botton:

"The most boring and unproductive question one can ask of any religion is whether or not it is true – in terms of being handed down from heaven to the sound of trumpets and supernaturally governed by prophets and celestial beings."

Botton goes on to say that the interesting question  - the one which IS worth asking - is how a particular religious faith leads us to live, how it leads us to act, how it connects us to those around us. 

Back to the original question - is it a myth? If so, what does that mean? Too many of the Dawkins/Harris/Hitchens style atheists take "myth" "falsehood" and "lie" to mean the same thing; it isn't true, therefore a lie. A deception. As a writer of fiction and a lover of literature I know that to not be the case. That the events in Moby Dick didn't actually happen doesn't mean that there isn't literary "truth" as a story about, amongst other things, the idea of revenge. Likewise that various holy books contradict eachother doesn't mean that they don't share spiritual truths about how we can best live together. 

Looking at it this way, whether or not the Jesus story is a myth is immaterial as to how it leads Christians to live their lives. Some follow the moral teachings in the Bible while ignoring the supernatural parts (Thomas Jefferson famously edited everything supernatural or miraculous out of the New Testament. He was left with something shorter, but kept the moral messages intact), some take it more at face value, but most find positive messages about charity and love for ones fellow human. I'd not attack that, even if it weren't shockingly rude to do so.

Two sides of the same coin

Literalism at its finest. 
These attacks convey a literal-mindedness which strikes me as remarkably similar to that of religious fundamentalists. See the cartoon from mad-as-hatters young-earth creationists "Answers in Genesis". Pointing at an actual billboard in response to a request to "show me a sign" is a perfect metaphor for what is wrong with the thinking of those on both sides of this debate; it shows not only great certainty in ones own viewpoint but a lack of thoughtful reflection as to how opposing viewpoints can coexist harmoniously, and how those who believe differently can still live well. The atheist who sees the AIG billboard is likely to react the same way as the believer who sees American Atheists; with - at best - an eyeroll and a shrug. 

A Better Way?

The Freedom from Religion Foundation did a bit better in their reponse to the nativity in Madison, Wisconsin: they added a "secular nativity" featuring figures they admire. From their official statement (by FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor):  "FFRF’s baby is black and female, for egalitarianism, and to acknowledge that humankind was birthed in Africa. Our wisepeople depict atheists and scientific giants Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein, plus wisewoman Emma Goldman — with humorist Mark Twain and Founding father Thomas Jefferson thrown in for good measure. "

A Secular Nativity. Respectful, or a deliberate
attack? You decide.
Is copying the traditional iconography of the nativity scene a step too close to mockery? Perhaps it is, and I can see that argument. At least it attempts to join the discussion with a positive statement about the things the FFRF reveres. I'd rather they had done so in a less hostile manner, but I'll accept it as a baby step. I still think that, in terms of constructive dialog, they have a way to go.

I semi-recently reconnected through social media with an old friend who's belief has taken a turn towards fundamentalism and young-earth creationism. One lesson I've learned from interacting with her over the years is that, even if I'm certain that she is objectively wrong about some things, the actual age of the earth matters quite rarely in our daily lives. What does matter is that she's a kind-hearted person who loves her family and does her best to be a good mother to her children. If her religion is part of what inspires her towards that, who am I to argue?

What's the Point of All This?

What's my purpose here? What do I want for Christmas? I mean aside from the spiffy Abrasus triangle commuter bag from the Evernote market and a new winter dress coat and peace on earth and all that stuff. What I want is for all of us to listen to each other, and to celebrate our differences respectfully and lovingly. That's one reason I'm "outing" myself as a non-believer; just as not all Christians think that pre-historic humans hunted dinosaurs, not all atheists consider mocking others' belief systems to be a worthwhile sport. Perhaps this winter solstice/Christmas/Hannukah season we can all remember that we have to share this world, and we can look to those things that make us the same.

 Happy Holidays to all reading, no matter which you celebrate. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Other Side of the Bridge - A Look at Some AV Streaming Solutions

One comment I frequently hear about HDBaseT is that it's a "bridge technology" between the old days of simple point-to-point connectivity and a future in which AV joins the rest of our data on those great big IP networks which dominate the rest of our lives. Are we ready for this paradigm shift? Is the future here? Perhaps not, but it's tantalisingly close. I've recently had a chance to look at two compressed video over IP products : Just Add Power's 2G+ system and SVSI's N2000 series. While neither seems quite ready to dethrone HDBaseT as the defacto video standard, we've reached a point at which these types of solutions deserve, at the very least, to be part of the discussion.
The innards of a Just Add Power

Form Factor and Convenience
Form factors for the base transmit/receive units are similar, dominated by the familiar six-inch square flattish metal box Just Add Power adds a three-encoder rackmount unit while SVSI offers a card-cage for flexible configuration of permanent installations. SVSI's standalone units are UL rated for use in plenum spaces, allowing the to be safely (and  legally!) installed above ceilings in most localities. What's more, PoE (power over ethernet) is standard with SVSI and an option from Just Add Power. This means that one really need run only a single cable. 

The units all performed as advertised, albeit with their own quirks. The Just Add Power demo kit, consisting of transmitters, receivers, a network switch, and a wireless access point, was delivered to me pre-configured with each switchport configured for a particular device. That's right, their configuration apparently requires you to know which device is going to which port and to configure the switch accordingly. Once I got the wiring straight it worked as advertised; switching was quick, and the system boasted a handy "video wall" mode in which it would tile an image across four or more displays without any extra hardware. The switch configuration issue is a bit of a concern to me; this will need to change, but at present AV installation techs don't tend to be the best at IT configuration. In fact, one often gets a blank glassy stare sometimes after "is it turned on" and "are all of the wires plugged in". A look at the manual for their software seems to indicate that switching is handled by putting switchports on unique VLANs and moving these around to match the VLANs of the destination. This strikes me as an odd way of using a switch, but I'm not a network engineer by any means.

SVSI's N2000 units each had the now-familiar web interface, showing stream ID numbers, scaling, audio embedding, HDCP status, etc. It also handles switching and routing a bit differently than Just Add Power; as is the case with the N1000, every encoder is assigned a "stream number". A decoder can then choose which stream to receive. There is also a multicast option for greater network efficiency.  Other controls include a slider for video quality, selection of scalers, image cropping, and HDCP enable/disable. Image quality is quite good, but at the expense of noticeable lag. Such is the price of video compression. It isn't enough to make it unusable by any means, but would be an impediment to realtime collaboration or annotative applications; if one sketches something in a drawing program one doesn't want the line on the screen to trail the real-time activity.

SVSI's units have onboard scalers, which are a nice tough although somewhat limited in what resolutions they can handle. A test monitor with a really weird native resolution ended up with severe underscan, while more standard 1920x1080 displays worked perfectly well with a variety of inputs. On the positive side, the web interface gives the full extended EDID for those who need to know exactly why their image doesn't look the way it should.

Tiling and Windowing
Not only could images be strategically cropped to create a tile-effect (as above), but they gave me an additional toy with which to play - a 4-input windowing processor. The inputs in this case are streams from N2000 or 1000 series encoders, and the web interface allows one to create layouts of up to four windows. With one of these windowing processors per display and a bit of creative cropping one can build a complete video-wall of pretty much any configuration so long as no more than four windows touch any single element. Is this quite as flexible as other forms of window processing, but is more than adequate for some applications. It's another case in which the video over IP technology is catching up to everything else.

I'll aside here that Christie has also made a move into the IP world with their Phoenix system; Phoenix endpoints are connected via IP and can send to and receive from each other through a standard gigabit ethernet switch.O It's an interesting product in its own right, likely deserving of its own post. For now, we can take it as another sign of how things are moving; solutions which a few years ago would have required dedicated copper or even fiber ones can now be part of the same network as the rest of ones data.

Building an AV Ecosystem
One of the more exciting things about having AV on a network is the possibility of creating a unified ecosystem, in which live content, signage, and a larger unified communications platform all work together. Software players exist to bring H.264 and even JPG2000 content to PCs (although the latter might be somewhat restricted in frame rate if you don't have a fast enough machine). A plethora of recording and processing options are available for digital content. IP based systems can, at their best, change the way we look at an AV installation from individual systems to an interconnected AV ecosystem in which various resources can be called upon not only in various conference rooms, but also on desktops, tablets, and sent to remote locations. 

We started by asking if HDBaseT is a bridge technology. I'll close with a different, and more interesting question: how does replacing HDBaseT with network transport fundamentally change what an AV system is and how we interact with it?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Ones Who Walked Away from Denver

And now for something completely different. The hint of a literary reference in the title makes this one, broadly speaking, an "ink" post. What we're really talking about today is ethics.

The one who walked away from Denver - the person whose story inspired this post - is a now-former professional football player named John Moffit. After a couple of years at the periphery of the National Football League, Moffit made the choice to walk away while he still could walk, turning his back on what many of us would see as a considerable sum of money. He made this choice after an offseason spent reading the works of thinkers including Noam Chomsky and the Dalai Lama, after reflecting, and after concluding that the expectations for his life were part of a larger machine disinterested in his personal well being. Not that many years ago I'd have tipped my hat to his personal choice while lamenting the loss of football talent for the Autumn Sundays' spectacles. Today, I just tip my hat, as I've walked away from Denver myself a long time ago.
John Moffit

The title of this post, for those who don't read the same kinds of stories I do, is  nod to Ursula K Leguin's short story "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas". In a nifty coincidence, I just learned that it was published four decades ago last month (and been anthologized approximately 17 million times since then). Those who haven't read it yet can feel free to do so now.  Go ahead. I'll wait. (Aside: those of you who don't know Le Guin have some marvelous reading ahead of you!
Ursula K Le Guin. A national treasure.
She's a speculative fiction author, but also one of the most brilliant and talented American fiction writers of the latter half of last century. There are not words for me to greatly enough recommend her work. That should, perhaps, be a separate post. End of aside.)

Are you back yet?

Great. To recap those those of you who didn't take a short-fiction detour, Omelas is a lovely little utopian city which owes its success to the suffering of a small child. Everyone knows this, and most go on with their lives. Some, however, on learning this, choose to walk way and leave the comforts and wonders of Omelas behind them. One lesson I take from this (with the caveat that boiling any piece of literature down to a single lesson is reductive in the worst way possible) is that there is value in the choice to not take pleasure from the suffering of another, even  if your walking away does nothing to reduce that suffering. You can speak it aloud, you can make yourself an example or, at the very least, feel that you are acting within your values system.

My argument against football, for those interested, is that the game itself is inherently violent. Serious injuries, especially repeated traumatic brain injury, are so much a basic part of the sport that I don't think they can be redressed significantly enough for me to be able to watch in good conscience unless the game itself were fundamentally altered. There's also a celebration of violence within football culture; we applaud the dramatic hit, the hard tackle. I will (and do) watch baseball in which injuries still happen but are tangential to the actual game, not the apparent goal of it. Your mileage, of course, may vary but it is something I urge you to consider thoughtfully. Choose to watch or choose not to, choose to celebrate or choose not to, but do so mindfully knowing that this, like all other things, is an ethical choice.

Circling back to my professional life, I'm fortunate to work in a field which is, for the most part, not ethically problematic for me.  Many of the clients I've worked for are in the higher education, government, or healthcare verticals. What would I do if we won a football stadium project and I was handed a part of it? That's an interesting question, and one for which I don't have a ready answer. Would I risk being labelled as less than a team player by turning the work down, requesting that someone else work on it, or even resigning were my hand forced? Would I decide that the issues with football - including the political and economic issue of public funding of for-profit businesses - are great enough to risk my career? That I doubt. It is something, however, I would approach mindfully and make careful judgments as to how I can balance 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

HDBaseT Interoperability Follies

Welcome back to any AV followers who faded away last month while I was posting all fiction all the time. The stories and poems won't entirely go away but we'll start moving into a little better balance between pixels and ink for the nonce. Today I'd like to share a moment to discuss everyone's  favorite transport mechanism, HDBaseT.

For those not in the know, the HDBaseT alliance have defined HDBaseT as a technology for transport of video, audio, power, ethernet, and control over standard category cable. As a point-to-point (as opposed to routable) signals, HDBaseT cannot be routed with standard network switches. With offerings branded by major techm manufacturers (ie, Crestron's "Digital Media" and AMX "Enova" it has become a defacto standard for commercial systems.

Or has it?

The idea of a "standard" is that it should be manufacturer-agnostic. The HDMI output on a Sony Blu-ray player, for example, will work on the input of a Sharp LCD panel as well as it would on a Sony. Is that the case with HDBaseT? Is it, in other words, really a "standard"? The HDBaseT website does boast, in a large banner, that it is "The standard of the future", but the remainder of their text is much more cautious, referring to HDBaseT "technology" or "specifications". Can one grab an HDBaseT transmitter from one manufacturer and receiver from another and expect them  to work together? In an ideal world, the answer would be yes. Those of us who have wrestled with HDCP, EDID, or other HDMI-inspired headaches knows one thing for sure: this is not an ideal world.

For the sake of my own curiosity I tried a little experiment. I had access to transmitters from three major manufacturers: Crestron Digital Media, AMX DXLink, and Extron XTP. The latter is not, to the best of my knowledge, HDBaseT certified, so I'd not expect interoperability from it. The others are, so I would. Is that what happened? Not quite.

The AMX receiver gave me a "green screen of doom" when I tried to connect the Crestron or Extron transmitter to it. This is apparently an HDCP handshake error (as opposed to HDCP noncompliance, which would give a red screen of doom. Doom is the consistent part). This possibly has to do with how AMX handles HDCP authentication, which treats the receiver as a source rather than a repeater. This is nifty in that it bypasses the key limit in some sources (in other words you can run a single Blu-ray player to as many displays as you have outputs for, regardless of its key limit), but might make the receiver more picky in what it looks for from the source side.

This was a fairly disappointing result in that it left the non-HDBaseT certified Extron XTP as my only other receiver. IT might not be "certified", but it does use the same technology as HDBaseT transport solutions. Somewhat to my surprise the Crestron and AMX transmitters both sent HDCP protected content to the Extron XTP receiver. So much for certification.

What does this mean in practical terms? Not all that much. What it highlights is just how similar these devices are. Even in terms of form-factor you get a great deal of similarity between product lines; everyone has a standalone receiver about an inch or so deep to fit behind a flatpanel (or in a wall box), a similarly shaped standalone transmitter, a two-gang wall-mount transmitter,  and modular matrix frames sized from 8x8 up to 32x32 or larger. There's no real practical reason to step out of a single manufacturer's ecosystem other than to prove that you can. Now that we've done so, even that is gone.
A selection of transmitters and receivers

So how does one choose? We're the same place we were back when we did "Switcher-Wars" last year. Do you need Crestron's full audio and USB breakaway? AMX's smaller form-factor and better energy efficiency? Does an end-user with limited programming expertise want to be able to make equipment substitutions and other programming changes through Extron's Global Configurator or AMX's Rapid Project Maker? Is there an existing implementation of a remote-control and asset management system (Crestron Fusion, AMX RMS, Extron Global Viewer) into which you'd like your new system to tie? We've reached a point at which not only are the differences more subtle, but many of them won't even appear on a spec sheet.

The real take away here - for those who didn't realize it already - is confirmation  that the technology is very much the same. In fact, it's the same to the point that if one files off the serial numbers one would have a hard time even telling one apart from another. What this really means is that the best manufacturers aren't just selling the technology; they're selling a solution, including an ecosystem to fit around it and the thought they put in to some of the details that one might miss on a spec sheet.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Nightmare Fuel, Day the 30th. Wrapping up a month of horrible things

Today is All Hallows Eve, a fitting day to close out the 2013 Nightmare Fuel season. IN the past month, I've shared fairy-tales, all-dialog stories, flash pieces, poetry, Keroac-style wordsalad, a homemade Zen koan, and more. We'll wrap with an homage to one of the great American writers of short horror fiction. If there's a prompt today I may or may not put a bow on the month tomorrow; we did repeat Day 19, so I'll count this as 31 entries in 30 days.

Thanks, as always, for listening.

"Against the Wall"
by L Czhorat Suskin

Weeks have past, months blessed by his absence, yet still I hear his voice. In my dreams, yes, but also in my waking hours, no matter how far from my cellars I hear him.

"For the love..."

I remember everything. The thousand injuries of my foe, and now this, the thousand and first.

Blessed by his absence I have called these months, but in truth absent he is not. He whispers to me through each stone, through each brick. A thousand and one steps from my cellar he whispers still, a thousand and one feet from my cellars I hear his whispers.

They hear him as well. No fool am I, I know that they are there and I know that they listen to the stones. It was Fortunato himself who told me, told me with that obscene, grotesque gesture and his talk of Masons. Oh, how I wish I had heeded the warning, how I wish to have chosen to lead Fortunato to some other doom through his appetites. But no, fool I was we marched onward, through the path chosen for us in the catacombs, never once to look back.

"For the love of..."

His whispers I still hear, but there is more. I know, deep in my bones I know that you hear the same. Every brick in this accursed town whispers his story, repeats his last words. If his last words they were, if his infernal magic has not brought him escape, if his brothers have not heard already, have not unearthed him, are not plotting, plotting their vengeance.

I am well practiced with rapier. I have taken to carrying my trowel, the very same trowel, as my main gauche. You will not stop me. None of you will stop me.

I know that you hear. There will be this time no libations. No Medoc, no Amontillado. 
Image by our hostess, +Bliss Morgan 
You protest? Still you protest your innocence? Fool. I heard the whispering in the stone, and I know you hear it as well. I know you are of them, and heard his last words. Hear it from my lips, from living human lips, once more before your death.

"For the love of God, Montresor".

Yes. For the love of God.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Nightmare Fuel, Day the 28th. Attick Door

Day the 28th as we count down towards the end.

This one is a skeleton of a real story, and a metaphor. It's another that might be worth revisiting at some point.

"Attick Door"
by L Czhorat Suskin

They say that "Cellar Door" is one of the pretty phrases in the English language. Cellar doors themselves, of course, are some of the loveliest things you humans have made. Warped metal shedding flakes of green paint and rust onto waterstained concrete stairs, battered and warped portals between the aboveworld and the cool living earth below. I can even forgive you the iron, just this once. Just this once. The cellars themselves - not finished basements with wood paneling and shag carpets and air-hokey tables, but honest-to-the-queen cellars with earthen floors, sometimes posts of that damn iron again holding your house up. Not too tall like the building above, but just perfect so you have to stoop a bit while we walk upright. If you see us. Cellar doors are lovely and special. Ask the shade of Poe, ask Drew Barrymore.

I do not live behind a cellar door.

Times, I'm told, change. We change. Oh, there are cellars still, but not so many. The cellars that still exist are old as you measure things, still shinynew to us. They smell of wet earth and history. When I departed home to make my way, I was warned that I would find no cellar door. There'd be no woodpile or coal-bin behind which to hide a passageway to my brothers, away from prying eyes. None of the revels I knew from my youth.

I live above an attic door.

It's treacherous here, beneath the iron roofnails. The prickly pink cotton-candy colored brambles leave tiny itches in my skin. My parents visited once, only once, just after I moved in. My mother caught her wing on a roofnail, still has the scar. Just a little notch, really, but she'll never be back. The nightsky just the other side of thin layers of wood and tar aren't quite enough for her, the nighttime call through a vent across a span of tamed grasses not enough community.

from +Lindsey Clements 
This place has bred mischief in me. No shoes to help mend, no pastries to bake, no craft and no industry. I'll steal the odd sock and curdle some milk and scare some pets. It's been a way of passing time while I wait for word that someone has moved out from behind their cellar door, that I can find a new space beneath.

Then I started hearing the voices in the wires.

They run through my attick aerie, and if you listen closely they positively hum with whispers of love and sex and commerce and gossip from far-off lands. Some nights I've learned to whisper back, learned to steal a packet here or there, to slip one in. My wings have grown thinner, skeletal. My eyes see things they haven't before.

They say that "Cellar Door" is one of the pretty phrases in the English language. But perhaps, if I stay long enough, they might
say the same about the attick door.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Nightmare Fuel, Day 27. Dragonbones

For this one I ignored what the picture looked like and instead used the one in my head.

The ones in my head are always much prettier.
 Chas Redmond on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution license.

by L Czhorat Suskin

Some say that the bones were the remains of a gargantuan beast caught by the island's mightiest fisherman.

Some say that the great beast was not captured, but crawled out of the sea to die, that the elements flensed its bones clean of meat or that the long-ago villagers devoured it.

Some say that the bones were always there, long before people. That the dragon - for they are the bones of a dragon - were leftover from the making of the world.

Some say many things, even secret things. That it is the dragonbones that bring good fishing and pleasant weather. That isn't what matters. What does is that the bones have been there as long as anyone could remember. That arches of its ribs, taller than a house, bent upward to the great spine, forming a sort of tunnel. That even on the calmest day, a steady breeze blew through the archways. Some say that this breeze was the breath of the very island. Each year at Midwinter the villagers would gather for the dragonbone festival. The bravest and strongest would walk through the archway and against the wind, which would increase in power to a gale capable of speeding the fastest ships.

No things remain the same forever, and the people of the dragonbones one day learned that they had a ruler, a man who'd won control of the island in some dispute with another who did not own it. The ruler sent envoys and surveyors and, eventually, governors to each of his new islands, where one of them found the dragonbones and their mysterious wind.

Now the ruler was and enlightened man, believing in knowledge over all else. Enlightened men seek to take the world apart, to see its inner workings. That is one thing which elightenment is. So came more surveyors, scientists, astrologers (an enlightened man leaves no avenue unexplored) and all their entourages, followers, hangers-on.

They studied the dragonbones, they measured the breath of the island.

After a months' time they reluctantly told the leader they'd learned nothing. The fault was not, they told him, entirely theirs. To properly study a thing requires laboratories with bright artificial lamps, powerful microscopes, the various arcane tools of the scientists' mystery. A sandy beach populated with bare-breasted native women  was simply not the place for undistracted, uninterrupted science.

The bones were taken.

The ruler was an enlightened man. He wanted science, wanted to learn, but wouldn't leave the islanders without their dragonbone festival. A new set of plaster-cast bones arrived, weeks before the midwinter festival.

On the island's coldest night, their bravest and strongest walked through the plaster archways, against a mysterious wind.

Some say that the plaster bones have always been there, long before people to make them.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Nightmare Fuel, Day 26 - Enlightenment

This one I'm not sure about. There are elements that I like, but it veers a little close to the trope of romanticizing and exoticizing East Asian philosophies without really living or understanding them. It's too easy to make a game or a plaything out of someone else's culture in a way we'd not do with our own. That's not what I intended to do here, but I can see a manner in which it could be written that way.

I'll present it in the respectful spirit in which I meant it, but with misgivings. 

by L Czhorat Suskin

The pilgrim came to the temple, seeking enlightenment. 
He listened to the monk, meditated for hours on each cryptic saying, on each raised finger, on each stroke of the broom. He gained confidence in his understanding, confidence that he was reaching his goal. One he came to the master, fat with pride, and proclaimed that he knew that motion lay neither in the flag nor the wind, but in his mind.

The master turned the pilgrim into a crane for a lifetime.

The pilgrim who had lived as a crane climbed the hill, far above the bamboo forest, and came to the temple. He watched the master rake the rock-garden each morning, shaping it in some arcane pattern. The pilgrim who'd been a crane meditated on the patterns of the stones and on each cryptic saying, each raised finger. Staring at the patterns in the sand awoke memories of his life as a crane, visions of the temple from high above, a scrap of rock nestled in the woods beside the glittering jewel of a lake. He  repositioned the rocks a bit each day, cleared his mind and gave his body to the task of raking. Each day the master would walk through the garden, spoiling with footprints and each day the pilgrim would fix it. After twenty years the valley and the temple became a part of him. He'd trace the patterns with his eyes closed, each stroke perfect.

The master turned him into a silkworm for a lifetime.

The pilgrim who had been a silkworm who had been a pilgrim who had been a crane walked slowly, contemplatively through the forest towards the temple. On reaching the temple, the pilgrim hid in a basement cell for fourteen days. He emerged to find Master Shuoj waiting outside his door with a stick. The master beat him soundly.
 Richard Elzey on Flickr.  Creative Commons Attribution license.

Master Shuoj turned the pilgrim into a turtle for a lifetime. 

The pilgrim who had been a turtle who had been a silkworm who had been a pilgrim who had been a crane approached the ruins of the temple, long since abandoned.

In the emptiness, he found enlightenment.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Nightmare Fuel, Day the 25th. In the Fog

Image courtesy of Bill Collins
This is another little bit of an experiment, and another ghost story. As we get closer to Halloween, there should be more ghost stories.

This is Day 25, but my 26th posting (remember, we did day 19 twice). So, there will perhaps be six more of these, perhaps five or four. Then we'll move on to something else.

"In The Mist"
by L Czhorat Suskin

She came back today. The photographer. That's all I know her as. She never talks to me, never acknowledges me. She appears through the mist, as if a ghost. Sometimes I see her when I'm taking my walk through the grounds, sometimes I'll just hear the crunch of footsteps on grave, and know she's near. I'll sometimes see her, a shape in the distance, sometimes hear the clickclick of a shutter-release and know that she saw what she was looking for. Sometimes afterwards I'll see her 

She came back today. The photographer. That's all I know her as. A silent apparition in the mist, as if a ghost. I see her as I walk the grounds but never where she came from or where she goes to. She's watching me, spying on me? Why? What does she know? She's never close enough to speak, and before I can get close enough she's vanished into the mist, as if she never

She came back today. The photographer. That's all I know her as. She didn't see me, but I saw her, outside the main hall, her eyes straining through the thick fog hanging over the institute. It's always foggy here, always cold. Always so very cold and wet. I can't remember the last time I saw the sun, or the last time I felt warm and 

She came back today. The photographer. Footsteps on gravel, the ratchetclicksnick of film advancing and the shutter closing. shutter, shudder, shudder in the cold fog. She came in thin boots, in a dark windbreaker. She should know it's not wind, its fog that seeps into you and soaks your bones with wetcold so you'll never be warm again I've not felt warm in years not felt warm since before

She came back today. The photographer's ghost. I've figured it out now, so proud I've figured it out. It was all there, once she came into the institute, once she walked past me without seeing she's a ghost they don't always see the living they don't always see. She went inside today the first I saw her inside she raised the camera I heard the word on her lips, she didn't see me but I heard her say 

She came back today. The ghost. An apparition in the mist. I know she's watching me, I know it's about me. Maybe  the nurses told her something. I never trusted the nurses, they said the doctor would be back soon but I never trusted them and I was right he's not been back I'm lonely. So lonely I wish even the ghost could see

She came back today. With her camera, into the fog. I follow her through the corridors, knowing now that she haunts them. Knowing that she's a ghost. I know something now about what a ghost sees, I wish I knew why she chose here to haunt. Why she chose me to haunt. I know the two words on her lips as she takes her pictures. "beautiful

Alone today. Alone in the beautiful desolation of empty corridors, stone walls coated with slick green moss drinking in the everpresent fog. 

NMF Day 24 - Who You Gonna Call?

A bit playful with the title of this one; a callback for those of my generation.

After all, what's October without a ghost story?

"Who You Gonna Call"
by L Cz
horat Suskin

Who you gonna call?

You gonna call me. You gonna call me, cause I hear better, see better. 

geishaboy500 on flickr
Creative Commons Attribution license.
What calls him, what lures him out, out of the bed late nights, weak moonlight washed out in the yellow glare of sodium lamps? Maybe if we didn't rend the night with streetlights and stoplights and porchlights you'd see too, but the night's gone around here. Just ancestral memory from the cave-dwelling just-found-fire days.

Yeah, I said ancestral memory. Don't I look educated to ya? You know what they say when you assume.

Anyway, the night's still there, at least a little. And the ones we put there. The restless spirits, the nightwalkers, the poltergeists, the haunts. You know that's what it is, right? That walks him back in past the wolf's hour, mud on his shoes, swearing up and down he don't know where he's been? The doc didn't help, the shrink didn't help, the pills don't help. So you come to me. Cause if it's nothing the docs or shrink or pills can fix, it's gotta be spirits, right? I mean, you know he's not traipsing through the mud at night to get a little somethin somethin from a lonelycute neighbor, right? Or did you try that kinda investigator already? 

You know there used to be witches here. Young girls, troublesome girls. The kind who'd lure men out with tricks and magicks and deals with devils. naked dancing girls out by a bonfire back before we broke the night with the streetlamps and stuff.

Some say they're still there, even after we drowned them and burned them and hanged them. Still luring men out of their beds late at night, still tempting, still magicking.

So they got their hooks into your man, from past the veil? Bring him back tired and worn?

So.. who you gonna call?