Dodoid Presents: A History of SGI

Last evening I stumbled upon a couple of interesting things on YouTube. Dodoid is a channel run by a young man who seems to have a thing for old technology, in particular computers from SGI. He has accumulated a series he calls, “The Complete History of SiliconGraphics (1982 – 2009)” It’s a nice romp through some history reminds me of the early parts of my working life.

No, I didn’t work at SGI. I was involved in video production. Some of the people I worked with were occasionally involved in graphics and animation, which is where I first crossed paths with SGI. That was about the the time of the SGI Personal Iris Workstation.

Later, when I moved into helping to sell graphics systems to post-production and broadcasters, I occasionally competed against software solutions running on smaller SGI systems. This was back in the mid-90s when PCs really didn’t do video in a serious way.

I recall being at Fox in LA and seeing their editorial teams working on SGI Onyx systems. Back then they ran Autodesk’s Flint or Fire software for editing, and Flame for special effects. I see that Flame still exists.

Smaller animation houses would run Softimage 3D animation on Indigo or O2 workstations, with an Octane or Onyx to render.

The Indy workstation included “IndyCam” a small fixed focus cameras intended to make it possible for users to video chat in real-time. As such, it may well be first computer to include what we now think of as a “webcam.”

IndyCam

Some of the sales people I worked with across the US were also resellers for companies that has SGI-based products. I can still recall the utter heartbreak some felt when SGI turned away from Irix on MIPS processors, turning to Windows NT running on Intel CPUs. There was a palpable sense of abandonment by a sales force that had fought hard to differentiate professional workstations from common PCs.

It’s nice that some young people, like Dodoid, are drawn to this corner of computing history. Although, I do admit that remembrances of troubleshooting SCSI interfaces still gives me a headache.

Then there was the time that Majortech thought they might get into selling IBM’s Power Visualization System, aka PVS. That was IBMs attempt to compete with SGI for the high-end of the entertainment business, leveraging hardware they had designed for industrial and medical imaging. That’s a story for another day.

Kudos Where Due: Phillips Hue Smart Bulbs

We’ve had remote control lighting of some kind for almost twenty years. In the early days it was simple X-10 remote controlled outlets. For a while it was some Z-wave stuff. For the past two years it’s been Phillips Hue lights, which leverage Zigbee.

A few weeks ago one of the Phillips Hue bulbs began to occasionally turn itself on, completely on it’s own. This particular bulb was in my night stand. After going to bed, I’d ask Alexa to turn off the bedroom lights, which she would do as usual. A few minutes later my night stand lap would turn itself on.

The first time this was completely unexpected, and quite a shock. The second time wasn’t so shocking, but each time got progressively more annoying.

One Sunday morning I reached out to Phillips via the contact page on their web site. Also, via their Facebook page. Surprisingly, someone responded to the FB query with some simple suggestions; disable all third-party app integration and see if it still occurred. Also, try moving the bulb into a different lamp.

I removed the Hue connections to Yonomi and IFTTT, the two smart home apps that I’d used in the past. Over time the Hue and Alexa apps had themselves grown to encompass the functions I wanted without using these services.

Disabling all third party apps meant severing the link between the Hue lights and our Amazon Echo devices. Thus the only remote control of the lights was be via the app on our Android phones. No more asking Alexa to turn lights on or off by room. That was sure to annoy the Mrs. Nonetheless, it was only for a day or two as a diagnostic process, so I did as they requested.

As a backup, I ordered a Phillips Hue dimmer that would give us acceptable remote control of the bedroom lights. This dimmer acts in the Zigbee realm, so we’d have remote control even if we took the Hue hub off our local network. Taking it offline is the ultimate act of isolation from third-party apps.

Even before the new dimmer arrived the bedside lamp again misbehaved. On that basis, we know that the problem is not some remote app or service. We were narrowing the scope of possible causes.

Then something unexpected happened. Someone from Phillips called me. They were responding to the email contact. Given the experiments I had already run they were quickly able to point to a fault bulb as the most likely cause.

Further, they were able to decode the serial number to determine when that bulb was manufactured. That would suggest if it might still be under warranty. The bulb in question was made in June 2016, and most likely purchased in October 2016. Thus it was under warranty and Phillips would replace it.

Just knowing that the bulb itself was the cause of the behavior was useful. Until it can be returned, I moved it to a different location where its odd behavior would not cause a problem.

Kudos to Phillips for being in touch and being informed.

Sennheiser’s New SDW-5000 DECT Cordless Headsets

A Polycom VVX-600 and Sennheiser DW Pro2 headset are my workaday tools of choice. They have been for years. Polycom VVX remains best-in- class. The DW Pro 2 gives me hands-free flexibility and cordless mobility, sufficient to reach the coffee machine, which is clearly a critical issue.

This pair addressed my quest for practical tools leveraging HDVoice. They explain why I’ve not put much effort into reviews of new desk phones in recent years. The matter has been largely settled hereabouts.

However, they not perfect. There’s room for improvement. In particular, the advent of WebRTC brought a tide of Opus-capable services that would benefit from full-bandwidth audio. The 16 KHz sampling required to support G.722 was great in 2010, but nearly a decade down the road it seems more than a little limiting.

Continue reading “Sennheiser’s New SDW-5000 DECT Cordless Headsets”

Pixel Receives Pie

Android Pie

Today my Pixel phone received an update that was reported to be Android Pie. This was the general rollout of Pie, which is Android 9.x. Since I participate in the beta program I’ve actually been running an earlier version of Pie for a couple of months.

USB Headsets

One of the new things in Pie is the ability to access the USB port for general purpose functions. Specifically, it now supports both generic UVC and UAC devices.

USB Audio support has been around for quite some time. Given a suitable USB-on-the-Go adapter I have connected a USB headset and it just worked. I’ve done this in the past, using a USB call center headset with my Nexus 5 and Pixel.

I’ve also used a miniDSP UMIK-1 calibrated microphone to make sound measurements using AudioTool. This combination worked especially well connected to the now discontinued nVidia Shield K1 tablet.

USB Cameras

Similarly, you can connect a USB webcam and it will be available to apps on the phone. Most apps will not have access to the USB camera. They simply aren’t aware that it’s possible to have such a device.

I’ve used USB Camera along with a common Logitech webcam. The USB-Type-C-to-A adapter that comes with the phone makes the physical connection possible. Once the app is running it can record and stream the camera output.

Webcam-via-Pixel

It can be added in vMix as a stream source using a simple URL as shown below.

Webcam-via-Pixel-in-vMix

With a little experimentation I suspect that this could be used to record or stream the output of a UVC compliant video capture dongle. That would make the phone effectively an RTMP encoder for live streaming.

USB Ethernet

While at Cluecon last month I had occasion to connect my Pixel to Ethernet. The main stage at Clueon was in the Lucerne Room at the Swissotel, which is in the basement. There’s no T-Mobile coverage down there so I had the Pixel connected to the Cluecon Wi-Fi.

The Wi-Fi for Cluecon attendees was sensibly configured with client isolation. No-one connected to the Wi-Fi could see anyone else also connected. As it should be.

That also meant that my desktop, connected via ethernet, could not see a live stream from the Pixel while on Cluecon Wi-Fi. This got in the way when I wanted to use RTSP Camera Server to turn the Pixel into a roaming wireless camera.

As a quick experiment, I connected a USB-Ethernet adapter to the Pixel. I’ve carried one of these ever since buying the Lenovo X1 Carbon, which lacks on-board ethernet.

Putting the Pixel into airplane mode it was thus on the same wired network as the desktop. So arranged, the desktop could “see” the RTSP stream from the app.

I later discovered that the Cluecon “Presenter” Wi-Fi, a separate network, had client isolation defeated, making it possible to roamed untethered with a phone acting as a wireless camera.

Greater USB device support in Android will doubtless be handy.