Battling with networks
Berlin: Every now and then I like to give you a glimpse behind the scenes in the chaotic life of a technology journalist who often struggles with his own technology. In Berlin for the last couple of days the battle between me and my gadgets has been particularly intense.
More importantly, I brought Andrew Webb, a multi-skilled cameraman/editor whose main job is to film pieces for the web - he knows he only got the job because of his name. As well as shooting material for this site, I asked Andrew to help me film reports for network news, always a high pressure assignment.
First I had to make my new radio kit work, something I've struggled with in the past. I needed to do some live broadcasting early in the morning from my hotel room - and immediately hit a hitch when the Comrex was unable to join the hotel's wi-fi network because instead of just a password it needed a complex log-in.
I turned instead to the wi-fi produced by a mobile 3G dongle, or MiFi. Network coverage looked a bit thin, but once I'd put the MiFi on the window sill, we were up and running - and speaking to the world.
Our first television report seemed to be going equally smoothly. Having raced around the IFA show we made our way to the BBC Berlin bureau to hand over the digital files to an editor. We had booked a line to feed the story to London at 1730, well in time for the Six O'Clock News. As we fed our material London told us they could see the pictures, but the audio was not coming through.
With minutes to go, the fault on the line somewhere between Berlin and London - nobody could agree where - was endangering our report. But Andrew realised he could extract the sound track and send it over the Internet by FTP to London, where an editor managed to paste it onto the pictures just in time. Phew.
Today we were asked quite late in the day to file another piece for the One O'Clock News. With no time to get to the BBC bureau we had to try to feed that over the wireless network in the IFA media room, packed with the world's techie journalists. it turned out to be painfully slow - so again we found a window, fired up the trusty MiFi, and got our one and a half minute report across to London in about 40 minutes, just about hitting our deadline.
I filmed some of the process on my phone to make a shockingly poor web video which does at least give you a flavour of our day.
What lessons do I take away? Networks, whether they be wireless, 3G, or a fibre line from Berlin to London, can always let you down. In which case you need smart human beings to get you out of a hole.