Sunday, April 27, 2008

Lousy Customer Service

Is it just me, or does the concept of operating a service station...say, a brake & muffler repair show...dictate that you actually be available for service when people need it???

Let's see, when do people have the most free time to take their car in for repair? That's right - it'd be the weekend. So why the hell are NONE of the car repair places open for business on the weekends?!?!?!?

Seriously, I just blew a solid hour calling places on a Sunday and if anyone actually even picked up the phone, they proceeded to tell me that they don't have mechanics in on the weekends.

Grrrrrrrrr....

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Being the Boss is Fun, Until You're the Boss

So I'm encountering some drama at my campus. It's elections season, include election of the student rep to the Board of Trustees at Hobart & William Smith Colleges, and the Hobart side of the vote has experienced some irregularities. I won't go into more details, they're not really necessary. But one of my student DJ's interviewed one of the student candidates on the air about it, and I never knew about it until another group of students got annoyed and wants copies of the airchecks.

I must say that of all the things that could concern me here...it concerns me the most that I got blindsided by this. I'm starting to understand that what the worst thing that any boss ever wants is to have some random person walk into their office saying something to the effect of "What the hell is going on here?!?"...and you have no idea exactly the what the hell really is going on because one of your employees said/did something "wrong" and you didn't know about it.

I'm not upset that one of my students did something that someone else thinks is "wrong", mind you. A measure of trust is required to run a station and it's inevitable that mistakes will be made. And for the record, I do think this student mildly screwed up...but nowhere near as badly as some other people think.

What I am upset about is that it feels like I'm not doing enough as a manager to keep an eye on these situations. To provide teaching and guidance for my students. And that I can't do that because there's just too much else going on that's demanding my attention.

I suspect I'm having "new manager jitters" here. After all, I have 25-30 students going on the air every week, unsupervised (recorded, but unsupervised) and at least 95% of the time they're either doing a good job, or at least they're not screwing up. That's a pretty good ratio, all things considered.

But still I feel like I need to be doing something more here. Hmph.

Friday, April 18, 2008

NAB: Back home

I have returned to the land down under...eight feet of snow. Heh, it DID actually snow in Geneva last Sunday, but it's a pleasant 75 degrees and sunny today.

To put a bit of a wrap on the NAB trip, I would say that there were really only three things that were interesting and "additive":
  • Nautel's impressively small - yet high-powered - transmitters. They had a 44kW TPO FM that was perhaps the size of two or three refridgerators.
  • Nautel again with their cool peak-smoothing of IBOC carriers. This could be really important if the FCC decides to allow more watts on the digital side.
  • iZotope's ANR-B automatic noise reducer, which gets high "coolness" points and is remarkably useful, too.
In all fairness, both Logitek and Enco had interesting things, although Logitek's is more about announcing what's coming up in the future for their product line (a move more towards IP audio, similar to Axia's LiveWire) and Enco's product is ready now but is for a concept that is still more in the future than it is today (iTunes tagging and PADapult for HD Radio).

John Kean/NPR Labs' receiver interference report was fascinating but unfortunately short on details...I understand it has to pass through CPB first and will be released in about a month, which is good. It promises to give a FAR better idea of what pubradio stations' coverage really is.

And that really sums up the show in a nutshell: lots of interesting ideas tossed around, and a lot of learning what we don't know ("negative" info)...but not a lot of hard "additive" info to take home and use.

For example, in my case I've got to put in an order for a new transmitter in the next four weeks or so, and I have to decide whether to gamble that the FCC will not authorize IBOC carriers to be increased to -10dB (from -20dB), and thus get a lower-powered transmitter that is much cheaper....or gamble that they WILL authorize it, and thus pay for a much higher-powered transmitter that's much more expensive. The problem is that more digital watts cannot happen in a vacuum; you must also proportionally increase analog wattage, and that proportion is steep. As in, increasing our digital TPO by 10dB will require DOUBLING the analog. Eep!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

NAB: FM IBOC heterodyning translators

A big thing I came to NAB looking for was frequency shifting (heterodyning) FM translators that will pass HD radio carriers. I badly want one for WEOS's translator: W212BA.

So far I'm coming up empty. Vendors shall remain nameless to protect the guilty...awful lot of vaporware, some of which is pretty outrageously overpriced...but I will mention that Larcan (see above pic) is promising to take orders June 1st and ship 6 weeks later. Price is still awful steep: $9500 for 100 watts, $11500 for 250. I sense these OEM's are pricing based on the "discount" of not having to pay iBiquity licensing fees, rather than any computation in the real world.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

NAB: Worst pun ever

God save us from engineer humor.

NAB: REALLY COOL NOISE REDUCTION

This is REALLY cool. For $5k, I am seriously thinking about buying one. EVERY npr station should stop by the iZotope booth and listen to their ANR-B. It's perfect for noisy phone calls and othr noisy audio.

NAB: New entrant to HD Radio transmitters!

Well, well, well...it appears there's a new player in the HD transmitter game. RVR is not exactly known for high quality gear...they're more known for "pretty good" considering it's pretty cheap. That, and for manuals written in BADLY translated Italian.

Should be interesting. The guy said sales would begin in a few months, which with anything HD typically means it's vaporware that won't be ready for years....but maybe that timeline will prove to be true. More importantly, they're specifically trying to undercut the big three's prices (Harris, BE & Nautel). That might be tough since so much of any HD gear's cost is iBiquity licensing fees.

Monday, April 14, 2008

NAB: Cool portable PA speaker

Here's a nifty little battery powered PA speaker on a stick. Wired version is about $160, wireless mic is about twice that. This looks REALLY handy, I might pick up a few for WEOS events.

NAB: Portable HD Radio

HD Radio (iBiquity) has a fairly large booth in the north hall this year. In it they have two dozen HD tuners set up (nice!).

Unfortunately the only "portable" tuner isn't very good. It's not a walkman-style tuner, but more a fairly easy to carry battery powered little box. However, I fiddled with it for about three solid minutes and couldn't figure out how just to TUNE the damn thing.

That's pretty bad user interface design. :-(

Floor layout?

I've noticed in recent NAB's that the north hall...traditionally the "radio" hall...was getting kinda sparsely populated. This year it's fuller...but about a fifth of it appears to be non-radio vendors.

How depressing.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Vegas, Baby! Vegas!

I'm about to join the Logitek users forum in a minute, but wanted to give a quick recap of the Public Radio Engineering Conference.

My biggest impression was that this year it feels like I didn't learn as much. I think that's partly because I've been in position to learn a LOT in the past two years since my last PREC...so there's less to surprise me with...and MOSTLY due to the fact that this year just has more questions than answers.

The 80000000 lb gorilla at this year's conf is the -10dB HD injection issue. Increasing our HD injection by 10dB solves a LOT of the current technical problems plaguing IBOC. But it also drastically complicates our transmission faciities, and there's many, MANY very serious questions about both adjacent channel interference and even self-interference digital-to-analog.

All these questions have no answers yet but they affect everything so much that a lot has been put on hold in the meantime.

I guess it's not that I didn't learn as much...it's that I learned a lot about how little we know at this point.

In other news...David's book (www.ibocbook.com) got some nice plugs during some sessions. Sweet.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Managing Expectations...or "It's a Long Season"

Ugh. Y'know, I thought I had the perfect setup for a lovely weekend. The BoSox are playing in Toronto, an easy three hour drive from my digs in Rochester. Tickets are a mere $9 each...granted that's in the nosebleed section, but hey - for nosebleed section the seats were pretty good: almost in a straight line behind home plate. We could see all the infield action nicely. And the weather was beautiful for the drive up and back...I was vaguely surprised they didn't open the roof. Toss in about $30 for munchies and sodas, another $25 for parking, and perhaps $25 worth of gas, and we've got a $100 Saturday that was guaranteed to be a lot of fun.

I mean, c'mon...it's the Red Sox against the frickin' Blue Jays.

Errr....ummm....yeah. So much for that idea. Yeesh, I wasn't expecting Buchholz to throw a no-hitter, but to get through five without looking ridiculously shaky would've been a reasonable expectation. Not to mention the bullpen to, y'know, not suck the big one? Yeah, that'd be nice, too. A reliever that didn't pitch so bad they designated him for assignment right after the game? Is that too much to ask?

Plus was I alone in thinking Buchholz really needed to stop throwing to first in a vain attempt to pick off a runner and focus more on just striking out the guy in the batter's box? Apparently not, given the hordes of Jays fans around us that booed him long and loud about it. And while obviously I'm no baseball expert, I still think the Sox management are trying awfully hard to put a positive spin on this 10-2 disaster (itself part of an 0-3 weekend of ugliness).

Oh yes, for the record? I still think Yankees fans are nastiest, but really the Sox fans - obnoxious as they are - are no worse than the Jays fans. I suspect all baseball fans are more or less the same after seven innings of Budweiser, though.

On a related note, I've been to Montreal before, but never Toronto. It was exceedingly strange to be in a foreign country that seemed, for all intents and purposes, exactly like the United States. I mean, besides the speed limit signs being in km/H instead of MPH...and the appearance of different kinds of money here and there...you'd be hard-pressed to know you were in Canada just by driving along the highway. I guess you've got to get off the road and experience the local character more, but we wanted to get back before it got too late so we didn't stick around and had dinner on the road. Eh, perhaps later in the season when the Sox visit again.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Not Much to Say

Not much to say as of late...lots of late evenings at WEOS engineering live events and not much to talk about otherwise. Well, not on anything I feel I can add something useful to, anyways.

Two items of note: this Saturday I'm making a run for the border; seeing my beloved Red Sox play at Toronto. Next Wednesday I head out for Vegas to attend the Public Radio Engineering Conference and Nat'l Association of Broadcasters Conference for a week. If I see cool stuff, I'll blog about it.