Windows 8 Bluescreens

Windows 8 Blue Screen of Death

There are always silly articles when a new version of Windows is leaked or becomes available for preview.  Windows was once supposed to have a chartreuse screen of death when Vista was released.  This is the “new” BSOD, at least so far.

It’s perhaps too cute to make the release, but it’s functional, considering that in most instances I am troubleshooting from the crash dump or the event log so it’s not as important that I have the specific bugcheck code on the screen.

Unfortunately, some vendor’s drivers will make this screen harder to diagnose from;  Intel provides the storage drivers for virtually all of their desktop boards, including our Dells at SATV and my laptop.  When that driver crashes the machine, it does so with a bugcheck code of 0x8086.  Which is a “vendor defined” code that is nowhere to be found in a search.   It means you need to bug Intel for a driver fix.  I’m not sure if that code will present itself in this blue screen.

I have a suggestion for a new blue screen design:

Clippy's Blue Screen of Death


SATV Update Part 3: The Future

Our new Drobo SAN

As I write this, it’s been a year and a quarter since SATV hatched our idea for internet broadcasting.  We still had a few things to pick up.

Over the spring, I bought a GPS module for myself, for experimentation.  With some open-source software, I found that it would make an excellent, cheap time reference.  For less than $200, we could keep our facility timekeeping—our on-air timekeeping—to within 1/1000’s of one second.  Sal agreed, and we got a GPS module of our own.  I’m planning a  guide on cheap GPS timing in a future series of posts.

We’ve long been worried about our server storage.  We now have several terabytes of video at SATV.  We need a backup and data recovery plan for off-site.  While we figure out that, we got our first SAN, a Drobo B800i.  It’s loaded up with 14 TB worth of storage.  We plan on using it to backup both our video servers, plus our SBS machine and the backup DC it is paired with.

I’m well aware that we need something more for offsite.  I plan on talking with our city’s IT director (who, in an irony, was once my boss—I interned for her the summer after I graduated from Salem State College (now University)) to see what resources she may be able to bear on our problem.  She was the one who first asked about airing government meetings over the internet!

As a member of the Salem Commission on Disabilities, I’ve known for a long time how important TV coverage is to us as we conduct our business. Government transparency has been cited so often that the expression is clichéd now. But I have seen first hand how important it is and when Sal wanted to implement video-on-demand I jumped in with both hands and feet. 

We got a nice hat tip from the Salem Gazette for our efforts. 

This whole project has been a labor of love for me, and while I want to give Sal Russo the credit for our overall leadership, I’ve worked in the background to give us the IT experiences and resources that we all accept without a second’s thought.  Now, a thought about the future.

SATV receives its funding through a contract with our cable provider, Comcast, and a franchise agreement that our city has negotiated every 10 years for nearly 30 years.  In Massachusetts, at any given time, one of our neighboring communities will either be going through the franchise negotiations, completing the franchise negotiations or just starting discussion.

When I started this project a year and a quarter ago, Sal and I had been discussing the last of our payments from Comcast in our current contract period, and we decided on the strategy and spending that I’ve just described in the past three posts.

We are about to think about our future as an organization.   It’ll be a challenging and intensive process;  I was involved in our planning for the current agreement and it was a stressful time.  With our economic and political situation, I have not enjoyed thinking much about the future.

But it is here nonetheless.

I’m already planning replacements for several big-budget items, including our impossible-to-fix Inscriber.  I am well aware of Microsoft’s roadmap, and the fact that Windows XP will be completely out of support in 2014.  Not long ago, we needed two huge road cases to broadcast in the field.  They’re obsolete now.  We’ are thinking of a suitcase and a laptop.  If that.  Years ago I could not hope to have my own personal camcorder, but today I have a camera I can hold in my hand that shoots excellent HD video.  It cost me just $100.

Those are the realities that SATV and I have to adjust to.  I normally love working with technology—it really has been a labor of love for me—but it could be difficult and dispiriting for a while.

But we can’t argue with the results so far.  I hope we can be just as relevant tomorrow as we are today.


SATV Update Part 2: Video on Demand WIN!

May 2011 Video on Demand stats annotated

In my last post I talked about the new video-on-demand system we got at SATV.  Recapping, this is a rack-mount Windows Server 2008R2 system that runs IIS and Windows Media Services in a custom system that will handle all the programming playback and ingest needs for a small public-access cable facility.  It also transcodes programming for on-demand playback  through the built in WMS.

This past May we introduced this capability to the community of Salem, Massachusetts.  How was it received?

It was all WIN!

This past spring, Salem lost our former mayor Sam Zoll.  He was only our mayor for a few years in the early 1970’s before being appointed to the bench, but he was a much-beloved individual with the foresight to stage-manage his own memorial service.  It was filmed and broadcast on SATV, but on a Friday afternoon not long afterwards, we had our VOD server transcode the file and we published the link on our web site.

In the screenshot above is a capture of my internal reporting tool (using PowerShell and Log Analyzer) that runs once a month and gives us stats on what people are watching.   It shows that Zoll’s memorial service was accessed over 270 times, and had a total viewing time of over 26 hours!

It was only overshadowed by Salem Now, which featured a very popular Salem band, The Extras Band, giving an excellent performance that was easily in the realm of American Bandstand of my youth.  That show had over 500 accesses!

In a time where organizations like SATV’s must take advantage of new social media, our new system was very fortuitous indeed!

Now that we had the system working, I needed to make it as reliable as could be.   We had been having glitches with the network in our cablecast plant for quite some time.  We had an 8-port gigabit switch and an 8-port Cat 6 patch panel, both of which were overloaded.

We purchased a Dell 2824 24 port managed gigabit switch to replace the old switch, but I found a problem with our patch panel:

Leviton Cat 6 patch panel with broken jack

When I first designed and built our Cat 6 network a few years back, I used a Leviton 12-port panel in this and a few other rooms in the facility.  This panel was designed to be oriented just as you see it.  Note that the RJ45 tab is on the side as are the contacts.  Note the broken contacts on jack #6.

The jack was stressed and was destined to fail.  $150 later—and a reorientation—that problem was fixed:

Reoriented patch panel

And this is our network switch:

Dell 2824 Network Switch

We still weren’t done.  Following a very visible power failure in our facility last year, Sal and I were determined to not have that happen again, or at least, we wanted to ride out any power transients in a much smoother way than before.

We purchased two Eaton 5130 1500 VA UPS units, each with an SNMP/web network card and an external battery.   We can access these directly from the network without needing a PC to control them.  We use Spiceworks to manage our IT and that app has UPS support for our units.  A happy day!

SATV Cablecast 2011-07-13 014

We redistributed our older Powerware 5125 units to power our server, and perhaps more importantly, part of our control room from which our studio shows are produced.  We have a total of 4 managed Eaton/Powerware units, 1 unmanaged APC and one unmanaged TrippLite.  During a summer in downtown Salem that saw National Grid trucks on the street every day, and a 5-hour blackout at my own apartment building one Sunday afternoon, this new hardware is most welcome.

We were finally getting closer to perfection. 

In my final post, I talk about the last few things we’ve bought, but more importantly. I talk about our future and what it means.


SATV Update Part 1: Up to the Present

TRMS VOD and SX-4 servers at SATV

I haven’t posted for a long time.  During the past year at SATV, we have made a number of improvements to our IT that have given us new capabilities to serve the city of Salem and its communities.

Earlier this year, we got a new video server from Tightrope Media Systems;  We have been running their media system for years and have been running their SX-4 video server for several years.   It has two channels of encoder input and four channels of encoder output;  three of the four channels normally feed each of our three cable channels, 3 for public access, 15 for education and 16 for government.  The extra playback channel is used as a spare.  The two input encoders are used to capture analog video for playback.

Our plant was originally built to ingest (input for broadcasting) VHS, DV and DVD video content, but after several years almost all of our on-air content comes from MPEG-2 files that are served by our SX-4.  DVD’s are transcoded and demultiplexed with a utility provided by TRMS, so our DVD players have been getting less and less use.

Over the past few years, the Internet has continued to encompass more and more everyday activities as time goes on.  Many public access TV facilities have been offering their content online.  Also, the City of Salem has wanted and needed to have government meeting coverage available online and on-demand.

Last year, I worked with Sal Russo and the staff to plan the implementation of a VOD (video-on-demand) system at SATV.  The new VOD server would require a number of changes to our network configuration and an upgrade to our level of service from Comcast, from which we purchase Internet and phone service.

The first challenge I needed to confront was our firewall.  Once upon a time we had Microsoft SBS 2003 which included ISA Server.  It was an excellent firewall and I still miss it.  However, most of the SBS community didn’t share my enthusiasm for this product so Microsoft elected to remove ISA.  After we migrated to SBS 2008, we had no firewall.  We were left with the NAT features that were in our cable modem, an SMC 8014 used by Comcast.

This was barely tolerable at the time we installed it because we did not have very many incoming connections;  our schedule web page accessed our SX-4 directly and that was it, not counting the occasional VPN connection from home.  A VOD service would make us serve a lot more connections and much more traffic.  That was why we needed to move up to (and pay for) the next tier of service from Comcast.

And we needed a firewall.  I chose a Zyxel USG firewall appliance.

Zyxel USG firewall appliance

What I liked about this firewall were the seven ports that could be configured to be in multiple zones, with forwarding rules for each.  I used this to put our public WiFi access points on their own separate network, routed via a VLAN on our core managed switch.  This was a very nice side benefit that worked great.

This past February we got the VOD installed, and about six weeks later, we started playing programming on-demand over the internet.

How did it go?

That’s for my next installment.