Production Blog

17-Apr-24 : A Milestone

We reached something of a milestone today. I finished the last remaining module - the SCENE loader - for the ZEIT Replacement CPU Boards. It's taken two and a half years to get this far. All of the existing CPU boards have been allocated to customers. However, I have another batch on the workbench awaiting completion so if you order a board then you won't have to wait too long for delivery.

What's next? We need to build an ATEM system so that we can support the small number of ATEM customers out there. At the same time, I'll get to work on porting the ZEIT Desktop softwae across to the new boards. I'm optimistic that this won't take all that long because the systems are massively different.

For the moment, I plan on taking a break for a couple of days before beta testing the ZEIT Rack unit, which begins next week.

11-Mar-24 : A moment of reflection

Further to last week's missive about the problems OEM's face trying to get their stuff manufactured in the UK, here's just a taster of what happened last week.

1. In the last update, I talked about how we had asked a UK-based PCB manufacturer to quote for a relatively simple job. At the same time, we sent the file to JLCPCB in China, who fabricated, tested and shipped the board back to us before the UK company had even sent us a quote for job.

The quote from the UK company came back last week. It was nine times more than what our Chinese PCB fabricators were charging for the same job. And, yeah, if we wanted the PCBs in blue instead of green then we'd have to pay more.

2. In 2022, Barclays Bank sent us a form to fill in, which we did. Ten days later, the same form arrived. Fill it in or we close your business account. We rang Barclays Customer Service and filled the form in over the phone. A month later and the same form arrived again. We filled it in and sent it off. Ten days later, the same. Then they said that if we didn't fill in their wretched form then they'd close our Business bank account within the next ten days even though we'd been in the black for a decade or more. We closed the Barclays account and moved to Lloyds a week later.

Barclays closed our local branch in 2022. They closed the Hetton branch in 2021 and the Durham branch in 2023. Our nearest branch is in Sunderland. Last week, Barclays sent us a message over Facebook to announce that they'd opened a temporary branch in a grubby, hard-to-find office in Durham and they would like to invite us in for a free consultation because they wanted to do more to support the local community. My response was polite. I even won one of Facebook's Top Fan awards for my contribution. :)

3. I ordered a quantity of components from a UK-based supplier. At the Check Out I was surprised and disappointed to find that the order was subject to a £10 handling charge. Huh? That's your cost, not mine, Bucko. Annoyed, I ordered the same components from a US-based company. They arrived two days later, £20 cheaper, all import taxes paid.

4. I spent Friday evening re-creating the #zeitsequencer artwork in Graphic (whilst logged in to to the Din Records Listening Party) and started to get the most awful flashbacks to 2006 when the company printing the front panels delivered the above. They said it was my fault. They said the source file had been corrupted. None of this was true. They'd accidentally changed the QuarkXpress file and didn't want to pay the re-print fee out of their own pockets. I checked said company's web site. It was still there... even though they'd closed down nine years ago.

This is typical of the struggle that UK-based OEMs have to go through just to get even the simplest of jobs finished.

And this is the reason we get our stuff made in China or the US these days.

27-Feb-24 : Deja Vu

There's a profound sense of Deja Vu kicking around the office this morning, an intense feeling that we've been here before, that the same old mistakes are festering stage left, ready to re-surface again.

The new i/o boards arrived yesterday. They were sent to China for fabrication two weeks ago, turned around within three days and sent out on the next available FedEx shipment. We were able to track every step of their journey via Myanma, Germany, France and finally the UK using the FedEx web site. They arrived here exactly as promised, on schedule and under budget.

And yet, of the three UK-based PCB fabrication companies we asked to quote for the same job, two didn't bother to reply and the third is still putting together a response.

We're not going down this route again. Once bitten and all that.

It really is staggering to discover that after all this time, and especially in this difficult economic climate, that British businesses cannot even come close to achieving what their foriegn competitors can apparently do with ease. It's actually surprising and disappointing in equal measure. To find that none of these outfits have apparently learned any lessons? Wow... That's a staggering degree of arrogance there.

Anyway, I can't see us going back to using British companies if this is the way they're going to behave.

16-Feb-24 : AI Tools

We've been using a suite of AI tools to develop new and existing products, mostly to get a feel for how the coming wave of AI-based technology can be harnessed to build better instruments. Above is an enhanced version of a photo I took in 2007 of a ZEIT desktop unit using a poor quality, low-resolution digital camera.

I'm not sure what language that is but it is sure is pretty... Sort of...

AI is a whole new frontier. Our furtive exploration into that Undiscovered Country has taught us some valuable lessons. What we've discovered so far is that whilst, on the surface, AI looks clever, sophisticated and maybe even a threat to jobs etc, it's also remarkably dumb. It makes mistakes. It doesn't get context. ChatGPT is supposed to take my job. It can write a program faster than I can but, of the few simple tasks I've given it, the end result was a Hacker's paradise. That hasn't stopped us exploring the possibilities. We're not luddites. How long before AI solves the problem of the buffer overflow? Not long, I'll wager.

Anyway, AI. Learn it. Makes sense.

19-Jan-24 : Paddle Boards

We've finally run out of the original i/o boards for ZEIT and ATEM sequencers, which means I finally have a good excuse to re-design them.

These boards have an interesting history. One day, I might write it all down. :)

Then again, I might not.

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