Cablecast: Cleaning Up

After 2-1/2 years of planning, 3 months of preparation and 10 days of work, we are finally done in Cablecast.  Above, you can see Mike Sosnowski, my ward councilor, at the Salem Senior Recognition Days opening ceremonies, which aired for the first time on the new equipment, and the first program ever played off a hard drive at SATV.

I’m happy to reach this point, but it wasn’t always fun getting there.  One theme that comes up again and again in my work is the dramatic differences between broadcasting and IT.

I have been an IT professional for over 20 years and associated with SATV for nearly 15;  I have enough experience with video equipment to consider myself a broadcast engineer in my own right.

For example, computer people take for granted that they can take any video or image file and play it back on anything.  In the broadcast world, that is often an extra-cost option.  When we got our Inscriber broadcast graphics machine, we wanted to play video clips on it. 

That was an extra cost on the license.  Much extra cost.  But we needed the same capabilities on that machine that our avid video-producing members take for granted in the real world.

On our current project, we found that our  otherwise excellent Tightrope SX4 video server doesn’t work the way we expected;  I thought users—staff members like Dave Gauthier who book programs on our schedule—would use a Youtube-like interface.  Why not?

But we have to do what seems like old-school file transfers circa Windows or Unix in 1995.  It’s the most stressful thing in IT and elsewhere to use a new piece of equipment and find out your mental model of it is off.  Way off.

We got a few programs encoded on it and life is good.  I got a reminder of just how much we need networking and how much we take it for granted":

Our old 8 port Dell Gigabit network switch.  It’s already full.  We need a new switch and very likely a managed switch like our backbone switch that feeds the whole facility.

On a happier note, our two UPSs run a lot cooler than before:

Finally, one last photo.  I photograph almost every image on both my blogs, so I never have any self-portraits.

Thanks to Dave Gauthier, Patrick Kennedy, Sal Russo, Ted, Dennis Dutra, Leo Jodoin and everyone in the SATV community who helped out on this project and read my blog.


Cablecast: (Mostly) Done!

We’re done!

After a long day, we have programming flowing out of the new cablecast.  It was, through no one’s fault, the most stressful day I have experienced in a while.  Renovations always are.  I’m typing this at almost 11 PM at home, after most of us got in at 9 AM to start our day.  Dennis was still there when we left.

Things are mostly OK, except for audio on our police scanner and TIC Network.  This is why Dennis is working late. 

We ended up not using our old cablecast machine to import DVD’s.  For some reason, the Tightrope DVD import software does not work in Windows 2000 despite having all the prerequisite software (.Net 2.0, Windows Installer 3.1, etc.)  We used our existing Dell machine that plays back TIC Network, for our DVD importing.  Over the short term, I see another machine in our future.  In the long term, of course, we’ll do even more hardware upgrades.  Technology tends to do that.  This project will drive everything else we do in IT over the next year or so.

For my part, I can see the end of the project from here.  I just have to do some housekeeping on the new machines and, most importantly, learn how to use them.

My friend Leo will be happy to know that the first program of ours to go out of the new video server was the opening ceremonies of Salem Senior Recognition Days.

And I also hope to return to a regular schedule, as do Dennis, Ted, and the rest of us at SATV.

I’ll have a wrap-up tomorrow with a few more pictures.

Cablecast: One Week Later, Video!

For the first time in a week, this is what you’ll see at our front desk.  Cablecast was cut over to the new machines late this morning.  Classic Arts is on our Educational channel at left, through an analog satellite feed at the high school;  Free Speech TV is on Channel 3, through our Dish Network, at center.  Far right is Channel 16, our government channel.

There are still a few quirks, as one can see a Windows taskbar on Ch. 16.  That really can’t be fixed until I have my turn in there in a little while. 

(While the old TRMS machines were on the air, one of them put Windows bluescreens over the air at least twice.  But no one ever took pictures!  Not one of my machines are to be found on The Public Computer Errors Pool.  I’m actually hurt.)

Dennis and Ted are working on the audio feed for TIC Network as I write this, so I hope to have that service running for our viewers again soon.

Next tasks for me are to provision (get working) the machine we’ll use to transfer DVD’s into our server, and most importantly, cut in both UPS units and make sure the loads are balanced.  I presume if the load display on the UPS shows six lights out of five, we’re doing it wrong!

Lastly, I appreciate everyone in Salem and the SATV community that has visited my blog.  I apologize for some of the IT terminology that may go over your heads;  I write this blog for a professional audience, while A Salem Blog is community oriented and more political.

Next post, we’ll be fully on the air, and more importantly, we’ll get to test our video server!. 

Cablecast: On the Air!


Sometime last night, Dennis and Ted transferred the database from the old Cablecast machine to the new machine and put us on the air.  We are not fully operational yet but we can switch sources and run satellite feeds, which we are doing.

My work today was to move the Supergoose environmental monitor back to the cablecast area.  It’s very hard to see, but the Goose is in the leftmost rack at the top.

Our bulletin board is still run from the old Carousel machines;  you can see the Windows taskbar on the display to the right.  We can’t fix that without rebooting that machine.

Tomorrow, the new Carousel machines will be turned up and I’ll be able to join up the new machines to our domain.

Cablecast: Fixing problems on the fly

Our engineer, Dennis Dutra, suggested this topic, feeling I wasn’t technical enough in this blog.  A facility like SATV is somewhat betwix and between in the broadcast world.  We have a lot of broadcast-type equipment, such as our Knox router, but it often has to work with consumer equipment, as broadcast equipment for some categories is either non-existent or very expensive and out of our budget.   (For example, in professional audio, there are a multitude of devices that will interface your iPod to professional balanced audio inputs.  We don’t have anything like this.  Yet.)
Our Dish network receiver looks terrible through our Knox switch;  the consumer video output has too much of a DC component in it.
Enter Dennis Dutra’s Ultra DC Component Remover:
It’s a coax cable with a capacitor that blocks DC.  Ham radio operators like me use such cables to couple RF connections together. 
It’s the one amusing moment today, as we ran behind schedule again and are frustrated, like anyone who has ever been through a house remodeling can attest to.
Tomorrow or Wednesday will be my turn to work on the IT equipment in that room.

Cablecast: Almost there

Dennis setting up our SX4. 
Continuing with our installation.  Dennis, Ted, Dave and myself were here Saturday to watch over things, but as I anticipated, most of the time was spent finishing the rack wiring from Friday, so there wasn’t anything photogenic to show you.  I did busy myself with some hardware swapping Saturday morning, swapping a DVD drive into the machine we normally use for our console in cablecast.
It isn’t a real project without an emergency delivery, and we had ours Saturday.  We couldn’t use our old RS-422 8-port card, necessary for deck control, with the new machine so Tightrope overnighted us a USB to serial device,  the Quatech ESU2-400, an 8 port RS232/422/485 interface box.
Still waiting my turn to set things up.

Cablecast: Wiring it.

Most of ther equipment is in the rack, except for those few items that are backordered.  (It wouldn’t be a real IT project without a few backorders!)  Here, Ted of Dutra Video Systems, is wiring video connections. 
The rack so far:
Ted is behind the tape decks.
Dave Gauthier is hard at work.
Finally, I patiently await the IT phase of this project:
All I need to do is make sure my cables are in order and wait.  I may be working as soon as Saturday, but it’ll probably be Monday when my turn comes up to provision these beautiful servers!