Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Is my job safe?

I've been mulling over an article from the Sunday Times for more than a week now, and I still don't know what to make of it. It's a report of an interview with Zarin Patel, the BBC's director of finance, which says:
"Patel will also examine the future of BBC’s research and innovation centre, which could be commercialised. The division helped to develop industry standards such as high definition television and Nicam digital stereo. It has an annual budget of £30m."
The BBC's Research and Innovation department is where I work. It used to be the engineering R&D department, but has been renamed several times in the last couple of years. It's been continually reorganised as well, with a steady loss of staff. We're due to relocate from Kingswood Warren to west London this year, which will mean a further loss of staff. Now it looks as if the woman who controls the purse strings wants to sell us off.

Ashley Highfield, head of Future Media & Technology, sent out an email saying "nothing to worry about" soon after the Sunday Times article hit the streets, but neither he nor Patel has issued any public retraction of the story. Highfield's email makes it clear they will be looking for "partnerships" to get best value. A few years ago BBC Technology was sold, lock, stock & barrel, to Siemens. They are now described as "partners".

The last thing I want is to be TUPE'd to another employer in two or three years time. I'm prepared to put up with the relocation to west London, as I plan to take early retirement in 2014 and so will only have to tolerate the stress of commuting for five or six years. However, if my early retirement plans are to be blown to bits by being transferred out of the BBC to an employer not of my choosing, shouldn't I just go to another employer now?

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Back on the bike

A few years ago I used to cycle to work almost every day. Then I moved house, which made the cycle journey longer but shortened the car journey, had some surgery, which stopped me doing anything physical for a while, and got lazy. The cycle commuting pretty well stopped.

Earlier this week I received my car's VED reminder, which prompted me to think "shouldn't I have had an MOT done by now?". I dug out the last MOT certificate and found it expired two weeks ago! Normally I receive a letter from my garage reminding me to arrange a service and MOT in January. I phoned the garage, but was put through to another garage entirely. It seems my usual garage has gone bust, which is a shame as it was conveniently close to work and staffed by good, honest people. Anyway, the car's due to go in to this other garage on Friday.

Until then, I'm back on the bike. It's a bit of a shock to the system, and my legs are not liking it. At least the weather's being cooperative. The frosty mornings might be a bit cold, but it's a hell of a lot better than wind & rain. Cycling through the park this morning, with layers of mist creeping over the trees and distant dog walkers silhouetted against the rising sun, really made me wish I had a camera with me.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008


Had an interesting day last Friday setting up machines in an outside broadcast van to record a dozen HD camera feeds of the 6 Nations England Wales rugby match on Saturday. This is for the iview project. This creates a moving 3D computer model from several camera views, which can then be rendered from (almost) any viewpoint to create a (moving) virtual camera view. Sport are very keen to have this, but there's still a lot of work to do.

Anyway, to capture the camera feeds we used 6 rack mount server PCs, each with 6 500GB drives and a dual channel HDTV capture card. It's important to grab uncompressed images, as any compression artefacts would interfere with subsequent processing. The data rates involved are pushing these PCs to the limit, and not everything went smoothly on the day. I'd spent the previous two weeks learning more than I ever wanted to know about Linux's disc caching strategy and memory management, but still didn't get to the bottom of why the process is not 100% reliable.