QueTwo's Blog

thouoghts on telecommunications, programming, education and technology

Monthly Archives: August 2008

I’m Back!

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Well, it’s been a really busy summer.  I haven’t been blogging too much lately; my office job has been keeping me really busy.

My department officially launched our new cable television system this last week.  This was a huge, huge project for me.  I’ve been working on it for well over a year, and pretty much squeezing everything else in with it. 

Our old system was installed in the mid 1980′s and has been working fairly well since.  We serve a population of about 24,000 students, faculty and staff with about 60 channels of cable television programming.  This was going good until HDTV hit the market.  Over the past years, we have had students clammering for digital and HD services that we could just not offer with our current setup. We were also starting to get push-back from our content providers (Comcast, DirecTV, BigTen, etc) with them providing us analog services.

Our new design is completely digital up to each building.  We have to retain analog service for the many classrooms (and also students who brought in their analog televisions), but we are now also offering a digital/HD lineup that is a step in the right direction.  We launched the system with 4 QAM channels, featuring about 18 digital channels, and still having about 55 analog channels of programming.  We are in negotiations with various content providers to offer even more channels. 

The coolest thing about this new setup is it all GigE (gigabit ethernet) based.  In fact, the cable industry has pretty much settled on MPEG-2, MPEG-4 or H.264 as their standard to transport all video.  I can plug my laptop into any ethernet switch on my network an tune into the raw video feeds using a program that supports Multicast MPEG streams (such as VideoLAN).  Because the feeds are over ethernet the entire way, we don’t loose signal, or have to worry about attenuation going through various devices as we did in the past.

We ended up using equipment from a few vendors like Motorola, RGB and EGT.  All of them configure using a web browser, which is also cool. All this, coupled with a SlingBox, will allow our techs to maintain and work on our equipment without rolling a truck! 

So, now that project has taken place, I should be able to concentrate on doing more Flex/AIR and CF stuff. I’m hoping to integrate some of my new found knowledge of the video world into some of my future apps, so watch out!

360|Flex Sessions being posted

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As a part of the new ‘hyper-drive’ project that Adobe is running, all of the sessions at 360|Flex in San Jose are being recorded.  All of the videos are HD quality, with the audio and video directly from the speakers.

More information is available from Ted Patrick’s website (http://www.onFlex.org). All the videos are being posted to the AMP (Adobe Media Player). The videos are currently being transcoded and posted, and should be all up over the next few weeks. There are lots and lots of great sessions at this conference, and the nice thing is that all this content is now available (for free!).

Degrafa and Flex 4 are now one!

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Flex 4 will be using the Degrafa framework instead of doing separate paths and projects.  This is really exciting news, as the code that is generated from Thermo will be compatible with the Degrafa engine, which also means that code exported from Fireworks will also have Degrafa compatibilities.

Congrats to the Degrafa team!  Excellent work to the Flex team for choosing a very worthy project to partner with!

Editorial Update : This was a message that was talked about during one of the Keynotes at 360|Flex many years ago.  It ended up being that the Flex 4 team consulted with the Defgrafa team, and ended up using many of their structures and layouts, but did not incorporate the entire engine.  At the time of this update, Degrafa is not compatible with Flex 4 — you should use FXG in its place.

New stuff with Astro / Flash Player 10

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So, some new information on Astro (Flash Player 10) is leaking out, including some things mentioned at the 360Flex Keynote…

  • True 3D — X,Y,Z planes
  • Access to filesystem (without hitting a server).
  • Direct access to sound buffer!
  • Pixel Benders, filters, etc.
  • Hardware Acceleration
  • Advanced Text formatting

A video that polyGeek captured of the Keynote is available here : YouTube Video

Flex Authority is out!!

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So, I finally got my copy of Flex Authority, and man does it rock!  Not only does it have my article (yes, I’m writing a column now), but it features articles from some of the greats like John Wilker and Peter Bell.

If you are at 360|Flex, make sure to grab your copy; otherwise, make sure you subscribe! It will quickly become one of the best Flex resources out there!  It’s from the same guys who make Fusion Authority Quarterly Update, and the quality is just as high.

I’ll be there in heat, soul, and now in person!

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Yup, i’ll be going to 360|Flex next week in San Jose!  It was a stretch, but after some help from some friends, I’m going to be able to make it!

I’ll see you all at the best Flex party, erm, conference, on earth!

We’ve lost the war.

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After I called the second customer for the day to find out if they had received an e-mail I had wrote them, I relized that email’s usefulness has pretty much come to an end.  I’ve now been reduced to relying on a second medium to make sure that my communication of the first medium is successful.

How have we gotten here?  It’s been a long game of cat and mouse. "Us" versus the bad guys.  At first, it was us versus the spammers. They wanted to pedal their wares for the low cost of a mailing list, rather than the high cost of a postal mailing, or a telephone call. People started blocking sites that sent out messages to people that didn’t want them, so they started getting creative; they starting scraping our email addresses from newsgroups, websites and other mediums. We started to get more and more spam, until we HAD to employ policies of blocking portions of our email.

Next came the scammers, virus writers, and the phishers. Their goal was not to sell you a product, but rather coerce it out of you. All of a sudden it became dangerous to NOT scan and filter your email. Now we were reliant on a piece of software to determine if message was not only something that was authenticate, but also if it was something that is safe to open. 

No software can get this right 100% of the time. And even as we get better and better software, the spammers, scammers and viruses are getting better at a faster rate.  I took a look at the stats on my mail server — almost a half-billion messages were rejected for some reason or another, and about 2,000 messages delivered.  How many of the messages blocked were real, or something that I wanted? The messages are gone, so we may never know.

So how do we fix it?   I think we are past the point of fixing email as it exists today. A possible solution was to tie email to DNS, how ever as recent vulnerabilities have shown us, even DNS isn’t sacred. My original thoughts revolved around having a public key in your DNS entry, and only accept mail from sites that have encrypted their email with the correct private key. Don’t accept unencrypted email. Of course, this means that SMPT would need to be thrown out completely. A much better system could be devised, i’m sure. 

I hope the IETF comes up with something soon.  Or maybe, we just say that email is dead and gone, and we move on to something else, like Jabber or Facebook Messaging :P

Confessions of a Conference Host

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Well, the first Michigan FlexCamp is over.  I told myself, that if I made it to today, I must have accomplished SOMETHING.  Well I’m here :) I will have to admit, although the conference ran pretty smoothly, the days and weeks up to the start of it, really felt like a scene from Wayne’s World 2, minus the scene of Jim Morrison giving me advice. 

In total, the conference was pretty much sold out.  Everybody that gave me feedback had a good time, and it seems that everybody at least walked away armed with more information.  I only had 4 no-shows, but we had 6 walk-ins, so that was OK.

In going over my notes, I’d figure I’d spread the love and share some of my thoughts:

  • Do I pay the speakers?
    • With the budget I had, I wasn’t able to pay or compensate any speakers. Every speaker that spoke really deserved it, and some could have probably used it.  I know one of the speakers I had came all the way from Chicago (which, in my estimation would be about $80 in gas). Would I have gotten better speakers if I would have paid them?  I doubt it, but I would have probably ended up with /different/ speakers.  I probably wouldn’t have had to do three sessions
  • How much do I charge?

    • For a conference, where you plan on giving the end user anything more than marketing, I think charging is not a problem. I charged $25 for a single day, and $40 for multiple days, and people didn’t bat an eye. Had it been much more, people would have thought twice before committing.  Had it been free, people would have reserved their spots and not shown up. 
    • What did I do with the money?  Well, I got the deluxe conference room, and I paid for breakfast and lunch.  That made people happy.  The conference room I got had leather chairs, ethernet and power outlets at each seat.  This had another effect, as people wanted to stay at their chairs.  While some people did mull around during breaks, most stayed at their desks and did the networking thing there.
  • Some things to do different:

    • Get a team together early.  I biffed on this one, and ended up doing a majority of the work myself. I completely underestimated how long I would spend talking to potential sponsors and attendees.  If you can only get three people, get:
      • A person to recruit sponsors
      • A person to recruit attendees
      • A person to book speakers, location, technology
    • Connect with local user-groups early and often.  I found that I got a large majority of my attendees from other UGs.  Managers of the Linux UGs, Java UGs, .NET UGs, ColdFusion, Apple, and Adobe UGs were very helpful in getting the word out.  I pretty much contacted every UG I could think of, and got a great response. 
    • Don’t depend on local advocacy offices for help. In Lansing, there are many associations that are supposed to promote IT use, and IT learning. Even the unemployment office has an initiative to promote learning IT.  None of them cared about a "small-time" conference, even with the cost and proximity to their city.  This was a huge disappointment to me, as I’ve been tooting their horn for a long time as the solution our region needs to encourage additional IT growth. 
    • Make it about the community.  This is one that got inspired by Tom and John from 360|Conferences, and worked out really well.  I promoted local usergroups, and even fielded questions on how to start your own.  People (I think) liked that.
    • Don’t expect to have the local media cover your event.  If it is a slow news day, they may talk about it after the fact, but don’t expect it. The TV stations didn’t care about good news for the area.  The two local papers in my area demanded that I buy advertising before they mentioned it in the Business section.  I figured that they needed something that would break up the news from the national feeds.
    • Find a GOOD conference center.  I’ll come out and say it : The MSU Henry Center made my life much easier than it could have been.  While they were pretty expensive, but really flexible.  They charged at a per-person, per-day model; we were allowed to use any room that was open.  They even took care of the reservations for the food.  I just had to tell them how many were coming (and they didn’t even freak out when I doubled the numbers at the last minute).
    • Take pictures! I completely forgot to take any pictures!  I know Betsy from TechSmith took some, so I’m hoping to get some sort of documentation.
    • Plan for the unplanned.  Leave some money in your budget for the small things you need at the end, like printing badges, folders, labels, paper, etc.  The food guys hit me up for a 20% service fee at the last minute too, so watch your contracts!
    • Use EventBright! I thought long and hard about doing my own registration system, or using the one they just debuted on our campus, but decided to take Tom and John’s advice on Eventbright.  For the 2% they take out of your ticket prices, they are well worth it!  They allow mass-emails, discounts, different tickets, and they will keep track of custom information. When you want to download or view the data, it will dump into Excel.
    • Don’t forget about the PayPal service fee! It’s small, but if you are counting pennies, then it starts to add up.
    • If you are doing an informal gathering at a restaurant, you should tell them long in advance that you are coming.  I didn’t (because the place I choose was usually empty on Wednesday nights during the summer), and they were planning a patio party.  This meant we couldn’t all sit as a group. 
    • Set your prices after you have done some real hard planning.  I set mine kinda early, before the reality of the number of sponsors we would get.  Luckily it worked out in the end, but it could have been bad.
    • Don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched.  Old cliche, but still holds true.  I had one sponsor talk the big talk up until the last minute, when they stopped returning my calls. 
    • Stuffing folders takes much, much longer than you might think.  For the first 80 folders, I think I spent like 3 hours.  The next 50, I spent much longer.  Don’t know why, but it happened. Don’t plan on stuffing on the day of — it just doesn’t work.
    • Don’t plan on doing ANYTHING the day of, except running the conference.  My first instinct was to do other stuff, and then prepare the badges at the last moment.  That could have been real bad as they took like two hours to print and prepare, rather than the 15 minutes I thought. 
    • And the golden rule:  Don’t speak at your own conference!  I did.  I won’t again.  Because I couldn’t recruit the number of speakers I wanted, I choose to speak some myself.  This caused a real conflict as I had to prepare for my presentation at the same time I should have been prepping for the conference. Even though they were topics I’ve done before, they still needed some prep-work. 

I hope this helps some people out.  As I recover from this week, I will begin the thought process if I want to do it again next year.  I probably will with the notes above in mind :)

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