Sunday, 5 June 2016

1988, in a former life

So one of the things I used to do a lot was record and/or do live broadcast mixes at music events.  I still love dong it but rarely get the opportunity any more.

The letter below (not an email!  It is actually signed!) was sent to me after a particularly fascinating incident at the Montreux Detroit Jazz Festival in 1988.

The author of the letter and the guy in charge of the broadcast on WEMU stopped in where we were mixing the music from the Pyramid stage at Hart Plaza.  After a few pleasantries he asked "So are you using a lot of EQ or something in your mix?"  I said "No, just listen to what is coming out of the speakers.  Why do you ask?"

He said he had been listening to the broadcast on the monaural radio in the TV in his hotel room, and when the broadcast switched from the other stage to ours the sound was awful!  He came scooting right over to our mixing room and started the conversation.

So once he heard what we were actually doing he said it really did sound great; superb, in fact.  After a little bit more genial conversation I had eliminated any doubts from Jim's mind that it was me creating the problem.  I knew that what we were doing was fine: I just wanted to get to the bottom of the issue.

So, being an engineer kind of guy, I started looking for what I thought was the likely culprit: one of the Left/Right lines from our room to the booth had been wired out of phase, effectively canceling most of the audio in our mix and leaving sounding very thin and awful - but ONLY when heard in mono, as it was on his hotel TV.

I followed the approximately 700' of wire all the way to the final broadcast feed mixer, where I discovered that indeed the Right channel balanced line had been incorrectly wired and was therefore electrically canceling out most of our mix.  And it had been that way for a day and a half.  Apparently the Engineer in charge of the broadcast had not bothered to check the lines.

I gathered up a soldering iron, pliers and a tabletop clamp and quickly fixed the problem.  Ten days later I got this letter in the mail.  Ain't life grand?

Thursday, 19 May 2016

WCBN Tapes at the Bentley Historical Library

In the summer of 201`5 I spent some time at the Bentley cataloguing the tape archive of WCBN.  These tapes had been there for several years waiting for this to happen.  The next step is to find money to hire a student to digitize them - hopefully this summer.

Here is the first photo of that work: a bunch of reels in a box.  I'll add more photos and some video soon.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

2015 Fool Moon

Fool Moon was way better this year than last year: it didn't snow or have 50 mile an hour winds.

On Friday April 10 Vodo Jumato - VO-ratima Orawannukul, DO-nald Harrison, JU-stin Dykhouse, MA-rtin Thoburn and TO-m Bray - set up their giant projection monolith and painted the side of the office building at Main & Washington with appropriately foolish visuals.

I was prepared for inclement weather this year. I had tarps and a plan.   Once I had a couple of people to help it only took about 5-10 minutes to completely secure it from the wind and rain.  And once again we had Donald's guitar amp strapped to the lower plank for ballast.

Here are shots of "before" and "after" wrapping:


In the above photos you can see the planks we used as a work surface and to support projectors.
We had a small projector pointing out the back showing the twitter feed.

In the above photos you can see the 'windows' I made out of 8 mil clear plastic, for the projector up top and for the VJs below.

The view from the top, showing the VJ work surface, Voratima and Donald.

Martin and Donald at work.  Martin's laptop was a source for Donald's laptop
via a Blackmagic Intensity Pro.  You can see the window.

Donald's laptop, my darkroom timer and the Hard Hat Cam.  We used the
timer to turn off a light to remind us it was time to run a sponsor logo.

The view from outside the window.

Me! From outside the "Rear Window" from where we projected the
Twitter feed on the wall behind us.

My Live Feed Hard Hat Camera:

Tiny camera on the left of this photo, batteries and Xmtr on top.

Battery packs for the camera secured with the camera headband.

Another side view.

I walked out into the crowd and got in front of someone and said "Look at the wall!".  When they did they would see themselves as part of the projection.  It was a big hit, even though it was not great video quality.  The piece missing form the QTVR is the headlamp I attached so I could both aim the camera and light my subject.

Here is a link to a QTVR movie of my live video camera hard hat (you may have to download it; it's small).


Wednesday, 7 January 2015

UM Museum of Natural History Display Repair

I got a call from Matt Linke, our friend at the Museum, asking if I could take a look at a display that stopped working.  It had some kind of media player and played some video loops when a visitor pushed a button.

The problem was that the "attract loop" would play fine, but the 3 buttons meant to trigger 3 different video clips were not triggering the clips: it just kept playing the attract loop.  The buttons would light up while the button was pushed, but that was it.

Well, that sounded like a job for me!  I've been doing a lot with media players recently, with or without triggered playback.  And I figured that if I could not get it working, I could likely swap his box out for one of my AKMAN 1080HD media players until they decided what to do.

Here's what was on Matt's bench when I arrived:

Matt Linke at his bench with the exhibit housing
You see the box on the right for containing everything, with the front panel that holds the video display and a speaker leaning up against it.  The small TV was just used for troubleshooting.

Imagine my surprise to see that the media player was an AKMAN product: the Flash A/V media player.   We have a handful of their more current models of HD video players and I like this company's products.

The AKMAN media player
This discontinued model plays MPEG2 files out as standard definition composite or s-video, and has both audio line outputs and speaker outputs.  It has 3 sets of "Input" contacts that are connected to the external buttons.  They were using one set with three inputs it's that sliver of green block connector with 4 wires coming out at the top of the unit.  That toggle switch adhered to the top is for changing the audio output level.  It connects to a couple of contacts on the back for VOL+ and VOL-.  This setting is intended to be done once, and then left alone.  This device resets to FULL LOUD at every restart, which is why one needs some sort of control like this.

The Button - Relay - AKMAN controller
This Direct Logic 05 controller senses button closures and then sends out appropriate control signals to the AKMAN player.  A pressed button would light up and stay lit for the duration of the video clip triggered.  This unit also prevented any other button pushes from registering during playback of a clip (except the attract loop).  It's a pretty nice little box. 

Lighting the buttons can not be done by the AKMAN units, but the other logic parts of what it does can be done by our current AKMAN units without an external controller.

So it turned out that the main reason it had not been playing back any files for a while is because the relay controller wires were plugged into the wrong block.  Took a while for us to get there, because that connector block had been clearly labeled to go into the *wrong* spot.  Go figure.  But we didn't get there right away.  We did some investigating on whether the files on the card were set up properly, etc.  We renamed some folders to match what was given in the manual for this device (found on the AKMAN web site) but still didn't have a fix.

I called my friend Jason Akman, son of the founder of the company, to ask if he knew anything about these units.  He was surprised - in a good way - to hear that one of these old units was still out there and sort of working.  He didn't have any ideas we had not thought of yet, so we did the last thing that might make a difference: go to a Windows machine and delete all the invisible files that a Mac writes on the storage card.

That worked, and everything was working as intended once again.  Below is a shot of the thing looping the silent "attract loop", waiting for button input.

It's turned sideways so I could show you how it would look to a visitor, but here's a photo once it was all working.  A satisfying task for the morning!

Oh yes - the video clips are about ants!


Friday, 24 October 2014

Chinese Documentary crew in Lester Monts' Lab

This week, a Chinese documentary crew was in town to shoot interviews and other footage with Dr. Lester Monts about his role in creation of the UM's Confucius Institute.  These photos show the shoot in Lester's new lab on the second floor of the Duderstadt Center, and what the interview setup looked like at his house that evening.

Shot by the Producer with her iPhone - that's me in the lab coat!

Shot from about the vantage point where you saw me above - reverse angle.

"OK - now turn those knobs..." Lester in action for the crew.
The crew really liked Lester's 'fish pole' boom for his field mic.

After dinner at his house, Lester gets the 'formal' part of the interview in his family room.
The crew is off to NYC, where they had thought they were going to get some time with the Rockefeller and Fulbright Foundations, but both unexpectedly declined this week.  They are scrambling to find others that might help.

I'll let you know when the documentary is finished.  
And I guess I should post about Lester's new lab, too.


Thursday, 21 August 2014

UMTRI Renovation

Photo of the newly renovated Library at UMTRI. Note the familiar looking cart on the back right of the photo. It is based on our unit in DL3 at the DMC. I consulted with UMTRI when they were starting this redesign. One thing you can't see is the Free Coffee maker behind me.

Friday, 11 July 2014

2014 InfoComm Report

InfoComm 2014 Report  -  Tom Bray, DMC Las Vegas, NV  - June 20, 2014

InfoComm is a trade show/conference for AV Professionals, Technology Managers and Manufacturers.  They have speakers, offer classes, and have a show floor with lots of products, similar to NAB or SIGGraph.  InfoComm 2014 had about 36,000 attendees, and the theme this year was “AV is IT”.  I only had one day on the show floor, having come from the NMC conference Thursday night.
There was a lot of product of all types dealing with Audio Video Bridging, or AVB.  AVBis the less full-featured, less expensive version of the slew of AVB solutions out there, and there is an industry concern that the AVB approach will never get the market penetration it needs, requiring manufacturers to continue to use proprietary networking tools.  The AVnu Alliance is the group that establishes interoperability standards for AVB products.  Dante, which exceeds the baseline standards of AVB, is the clear industry leader in the high price market and so seems to be driving things.  It is more expensive to license per product, but the product that are incorporating it are already expensive and so it doesn’t affect their price much.  (Dante is at the heart of our RedNet installation.)  AES 67 is a relatively new addition to the conversation, intended to establish interoperability between existing proprietary AUDIO systems, like Dante.
Mersive  is a collaboration software solution. It requires a display attached to a PC to run the software, and they have very small client software that must be downloaded for each device.  They cover IOS, Android, Mac and Windows.  And they tout the ability to combine otherwise incompatible systems in a shared “pixel landscape”.  It looked worth investigating from the show floor.   
I just received a free 30 day trial license and we will be checking it out in the Maze.  
BlueJeans is moving forward with better bundled services, recording in the cloud, and they continue to attract university and corporate customers.  BJN technologists are currently working on a WebRTC client that works with Chromebook.  When finished there will be no plug-ins required for Chrome, Firefox or Opera web browsers to enter a video conference.  A new premium feature admin interface allows bitrate, loss, jitter and latency measurements analysis for every participant/resource.
“Lamp free” technologies were being shown at many booths with Laser/LED/hybrid light sources offering upwards of 20,000 hours of life expectancy.  This is not brand new, but there seemed to be a lot more offerings this year (see Christie Digital).
Casio no filter/no bulb projectors offer bright images, but color fidelity is not quite up to the current EPSONs, for example.  Casio models hover around $2,000 and they were showing a $2,000 “image warp” add-on that will lets you corner pin and warp the picture around a round column, for instance.  It was just HDMI in/out with it’s own remote, so I asked why it had to be used with a Casio projector (box is on top, below).  Apparently they have some sort of handshake as the control options are grayed out with other projectors.

Corning Thunderbolt and USB over fiber cable was cool.  The fiber cable itself can be bent and tortured with no ill effect to the transmission.  You can see the light coming out of the end of the fiber below, after going through all those bends.

The cable comes with small transceivers (copper-to-fiber) built into the connectors.  USB version also has an electrical wire to maintain the power delivery specification.  They were touting a $150 rebate at the show when purchased with a LaCie Thunderbolt drive.  The rebate is available through July 31.
Christie Digital was showing a lot in the high end.  The 4K projectors looked great.  More interesting was their tech demo of ‘automated’ projection mapping (see video) which still requires lot of work but offers an interesting portability.

Here’s a video clip showing how it worked.
The GS projector series was Christie’s “lamp free” offering, with higher outputs (and higher prices) when compared to the Casio models.  They were really touting them as ‘maintenance free for a really long time’ rather than talking about the image fidelity, as they are 1-chip DLPs.

Christie also had a very interesting tracking system for a touch screen setup.  It used a top row of IR LED transmitters and had receivers on the other 3 sides.  This allowed it to track multiple touch points even as they were occluded from one perspective or another.  Multiple people could use multiple fingers at once, and you could also use the whole side of your hand.  Felt very natural to use.

neovo was one of many Chinese companies now doing direct contact through shows like InfoComm, where previously Chinese manufacturers had not had such a presence.  
They had very interesting 2-sided displays.  2 HDMI inputs and power supply are hidden in the lower part of the stand.  

The demo they had was a retail display with a transparent LCD panel as the front, into which you could put products and have info and cool graphics moving on the window.  You had to have the box as this housed the LEDs illuminating the panel from behind.  Not sure where this will go, but it was fun.

SMART Technologies “SMART kapp  SMART Technologies’  SMART Boards are ubiquitous, but the SMART kapp could be a game changer in white board collaboration.  It really is easy to connect your IOS or Android device (Windows coming soon).  This link goes to a Marketwatch article with a much better explanation than the actual SMART kapp site does.  Right now the only model is small (42”) but large ones are coming.  MSRP for this one is $900, and AVI/SPL is a reseller.  
(Somehow I ended up without photos of this, but the links are fine.)
For some reason, Yamaha is really getting deeper into the microphone/speaker/echo canceling business.  2 interesting options that are powered over USB are the PJP-10UR which is about 4” tall and is intended for 1 or 2 users with a laptop, and aimed at traveling use.  The PJP-20UR is a triangle about 6” wide and looks like a good contender for conference rooms.
Atomos Ninja Star is a tiny recorder for aerial use was introduced at NAB this year.  Small and light, it is designed for pairing with a camera and drone, as shown below.
It records to the newer C-Fast flash media in 10 bit 4:2:2 Apple ProRes.  Weighs 3.5 oz, and if you use their battery add another 1.5 oz, but it can be powered from most on-board drone batteries.  Available mid-may 2014 for a retail price of  $295.  You can preorder them at B&H.
More info on Cfast media from CNET.

Tom Bray

July, 2014