An update on life, the universe and FOSDEM

February 02, 2015 in #blog #career #foss #IPTV #linux #volunteering #travel

It's been a few months since I last posted on this blog, so here's a digest of what I've been up to during that time.

RTS Awards Ceremony

(Picture credit: Buket Nazlican)

Collecting the RTS Young Technologist of the Year award

While it was announced earlier in 2014 and those of you following me on Twitter will have seen various tweets about IBC2014, a convention I attended as part of the award, the Perspex trophy itself was formally presented to me at the Royal Television Society's annual Craft & Design Awards event at the London Hilton in Park Lane.

RTS Trophy

I was selected by the judges based partly for my career up to this point, partly because of the fairly extensive volunteer work I do with organisations like STEMNET and Young Rewired State and also because of the impact the award would make as a learning exercise/motivator for me and my fellow colleagues (who work in an organisation that is, after all, relatively new to sportscasting and IP-based pay TV!).

I imagine my work in BT's internal challenge cup competition may also have played a part (more on this shortly). I attended the RTS London Conference, compiled a presentation based on what I'd learned at IBC and presented this at a formal round-up event hosted by the Royal Television Society later in the year. The awards ceremony itself took place in early December.

Outside Broadcast van

My thanks go to my line managers for nominating/endorsing me for the award, the folks in charge of BT's graduate scheme for putting me in contact with STEMNET (in so doing giving me the volunteering bug!) and the Royal Television Society for what's been an amazing experience. Also, a big thank you to the awesome people I've worked with/studied with/been educated by up to this point, without whom this would not have happened. :)

The 'TV Time Savers' in Monte Carlo

A project that started out as a training exercise (along the lines of "Hi Bob, here's a Raspberry Pi. See if you can subscribe to IGMP feeds and sniff RTP packets with it!") has evolved into a device TV engineers heading out into BT customers' homes were raving about.
The aim of the device is to give TV engineers a testing box they plug in at the same place the YouView/BT TV box is to verify if problems customers' problems are related to the network/connectivity or if it's the box under their TV that's the problem. Up until this arrived engineers were left with only their own ingenuity to figure this out, and so would sometimes swap out a box by mistake. This is very annoying for customers, who are usually quite attached to their recordings!

But, thanks to having a device that performs a variety of network tests (which lights up different parts of a PiGlow based on results and hosts a webpage with more in-depth logs) there has already been tangible improvements in customer satisfaction levels and fewer repeat visits needed from TV engineers.

Custom Protocol

PiGlow attachment for Raspberry Pi

Flashing, spinning and showing different colours are a great way to indicate to engineers visually if there's a problem or not.

The device also performs a variety of other tests beyond network ones (such as verifying a customer has the right packages). For this I designed a custom network protocol to handle client verification, software updates and receiving yes/no answers to certain questions. For obvious reasons nothing sensitive or personally identifying is ever transmitted (all look-ups are performed server-side) and because we aren't releasing the protocol specification it's not practical to decode the byte stream sent over TCP without access to the relevant source code.

I found having to write my own protocol specification and go through the drafting & revision process with someone who's been involved with them before has given me a whole new appreciation for the work that must go into RFCs, format specifications and document standards!


Monte Carlo

So, what's Monte Carlo got to do with all this? Well, BT has its own internal challenge cup competition. As part of this a team was formed of engineers, interested parties and business/accountant types and by pitching the benefits to judges from around the company we reached the finals. As BT appreciate that employees are essentially doing these projects in their own time (but are saving the company millions, which they can spend on things customers prioritise) they flew us all out to Monaco to both compete with other teams and take in the atmosphere there.

While we didn't win the competition, I'm proud to have worked on this project with some amazing people and to have got through the various rounds up to that point. Over the coming month(s) we'll be finishing things off by rolling the devices out to all the TV engineers in the field and planning how the solution will be supported/expanded/incorporated into other systems over the longer term.


Geeking out at FOSDEM '15

This was a great chance to catch up with former work colleagues, see what the world of open source is up to and re-acquaint  myself with fine trappist beers!
I'm not going to write an entire blog post on the event as it'll be covered in-depth by people who are paid for such things (and sat in the lectures!). However, the stack of DVDs filled with GNU/Linux, BSD and desktop variants will no doubt feed into future blog posts :)

Future Sign

What's coming up next?

I intend to at some point finish the Coursera MOOC I started on Scala. It was largely the RTS Young Technologist award that derailed this due to the need to attend IBC2014 mid-way through the course. (Not that I'm complaining! :D). At some point I'm also hoping to enrol on CompTIA Linux+ so I can get LPI accredited for my GNU/Linux skills. Who knows, maybe I'll be taking my LPI exams this time next year at FOSDEM '16?

When it comes to personal projects outside of work I'm still playing around with VPSs to see what I can host myself 'in the cloud'. I'm bouncing around the idea of writing a light-weight office suite that hooks into other cloud services you can use through your browser. More on this if something happens! :)

I've also been finding imaginative uses for Raspberry Pi units on my home network. I have a Model B acting as a print & backup server, and I'm in the process of setting up a B+ as a retro console emulator for my living room.

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