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Google Wave's Goodbye
Written by Ian Edwards   
Thursday, 12 August 2010

I was a bit surprised to see that Google have halted development on Google "Wave" (for the announcement go here). Wave was only launched a year or so ago and offered a radically new way of communicating and interacting via the web. Probably too radical as it turns out as despite some very clever technology Wave never really caught the attention of users.

This will not only be disappointing for the Wave development team but the growing number of third parties that were building apps and gadgets for the platform. In particular it could come as a setback for Novell who have had Novell Pulse, a similar product intended for enterprise collaboration, under development designed to integrate with Wave. A statement from Novell here indicates that they are continuing with their plans for Novell Pulse which is pitched at the enterprise where they see a growing demand for better collaboration and networking tools (beyond email).

While this may seem a defeat for Google It takes some confidence to pull the plug on a project like this and shows just how fleet of foot the company is. Wave was pitched betwen corporate e-mail (it takes a while for businesses to adapt to new ways of working) and social networking sites such as Facebook. I don't think it was that Wave was no good, far from it, but it's competition is currently too well entrenched, particularly in the consumer space. Google realises this and, having developed technology in the Wave project that will no doubt turn up in other products, has decided to move on. Can't wait to see what they come up with next.

Weathering Solar Storms - are you ready?
Written by Ian Edwards   
Tuesday, 10 August 2010

An interesting talk from Dr. Jim Wild of Lancaster University's Space Plasma Environment and Radio Science Group recently highlighted the ever present threat from the Sun. I'm not talking about the risk of sunburn, it will take a little more than factor 15 to mitigate this risk.

Our planet is constantly bombarded by charged particles emitted from the sun. It is these particles which interact with the ionosphere to cause the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights).

Every now and then the Sun will discharge a massive burst of these particles into space associated with Solar flares, and sometimes these flares are directed towards Earth.

Interaction between the Sun and Earths magnetic field - image NASANow normally our planet is pretty well protected against solar radiation by a force field (not invented by the writers of Star Trek as you might suppose)  which has been protecting our planet for millions of years - the Earth's magnetic field.

The danger comes when particularly massive solar flares occur. The stream of electrically charge particles is effectively a DC current flowing through our upper atmosphere. This current is grounded as it travels along the lines of our magnetic field which direct it towards the poles. This induces a corresponding current in the Earths crust and it is this current which can take out power infrastructure on a continental scale. An event such as this is now thought to have been responsible for the collapse of Quebec's power grid in 1989 leaving six million people without power, and this isn't just a case of resetting a trip. DC currents flowing through ac transformers can destroy the transformers, which are not trivial to replace, so the grid can be out for weeks if not months (good news for transformer manufacturer's though).

Actually there is not much you can do to mitigate against this, but when you are doing you business continuity / disaster recovery planning be aware that infrastructure you rely on on a daily basis could very easily and with little or no warning just not be there.

For further reading and better science than my explanation go to ...

Jim Wild's website

Made in Birmingham - Built to Last!
Written by Ian Edwards   
Tuesday, 10 August 2010

An era came to an end for me recently when, after 14 years of continuous operation, the audio routing matrix I designed and made in Birmingham for Capital Radio in London was finally switched off for good. The picture shows Global Radio engineer Hirjii doing the deed.

Global Radio engineer Hirjii Patel switches off the Kaye SwitcherA radio station usually consists of a number of studios which take feeds from several outside sources (outside broadcasts, other studios in the building, phone lines etc) mixes them together with local audio (playout systems, microphones) and outputs the result to one or more transmitters. In the early days of commercial radio this was a fairly simple affair as there were usually only two studios which flip flopped between being on-air, few outside sources, and usually only one transmitter feed.

It all got a bit more complicated in about 1988 when the IBA (Independent Broadcasting Authority) ruled that radio stations which up to then had been simulcasting on AM and FM should provide distinct programming services on the two frequencies or risk losing one of them. This meant additional studios and additional transmission outputs, but it was more complicated than that. Studios had to be able to feed AM or FM or both. If feeding both transmitters jingles and commercials needed to be separate - this meant that transmitter unique audio needed to be mixed in downstream of the studio - before the transmitter. At the same time stations started to merge / take each other over so for example a program made in Birmingham might be fed with different ads and jingles to Birmingham and Coventry. If that wasn't enough, this was in the days of the two and a half second profanity delay. It had to be possible to switch a delay unit into the transmission chain so that unwanted profanities (occasionally from phone in callers) could be deleted before transmission. This all complicated monitoring - how could the presenter hear the jingles and ads if they were being mixed in after the studio?

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