Personal Recollections of
Laboratories: 1981 to 2005, by J. S. Spicer,
Report No. FFFF (Version 1.1 –
corrected 25 Jan 2006)
I. SPICER, J. S.
1. TELECOM RESEARCH LABORATORIES
RESEARCH LABORATORIES REPORT FFFF
PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS OF TELECOM RESEARCH
1981 TO 2005.
have decided to christen this report with the sequence number FFFF to signify
that it is the last Research Laboratories Report (RLR) that will be written by
an employee of the Australian Telecommunications Commission.
apologise to all other employees of the Research Laboratories for having the
audacity to assume that this is the last RLR from TRL.
report is merely a personal perspective – it is not in any sense a history of the
Research Laboratories during my time here - such a document would require many,
many authors. Instead, this report is a vehicle to collect some of the
insignificant (and not so insignificant) events that happened to me at the
2. REPORT FORMAT
typesetting, cover-sheet and format in which this report is presented mimics
that used by the Research Laboratories during the mid 1980’s.
the 1990’s the publication of RLR’s decreased. The written output from TRL (and
of communication more generally throughout Telstra) migrated to a new form –
that of the Powerpoint-Slidepack.
report is a hybrid of both forms of written publication. The reason for this
The physical typesetting is a reminder of how things once were.
The bullet-point based form of communication used in PowerPoint slide-packs is
used, as many staff can only consume information in this format.
There is some international concern that the PowerPoint form of communication is too restrictive. For example, see
this version of The Gettysburg Address:-
also acknowledge previous staff member Rick Coxhill (www.coxhill.com) for
influencing the format of this report.
3. INCIDENTS AND MEMORIES
- The design
and commissioning of the Telstra
Media Lab (1995).
- The cost
& network-modelling of large-scale video-on-demand delivery systems
Frustrating Project Work
- VISTA (Video Indexing with Stored Text
Access) – 1995.
- If there
was ever proof of Telstra’s inability to identify something worth
commercialising, this is it. This was leading-edge application
development work, some of which we are just beginning to see emerge now
(ten years on), but by other vendors, not Telstra.
- A Sony
Grade-1 Professional Video Monitor for $21000 in 1993 on the basis that
it was needed to show video delivery over IP (when a cheap TV might have
done the job!)
- A concave
projection screen 8ft x 6ft (never used).
Jenkins bought a Texas Instruments Speak
and Spell toy (1982) to demonstrate that his Section Head (Max
Cassidy) could be talked into supporting the silliest of ideas (the
argument being that is was required to determine a baseline for
state-of-the-art technology in text-to-speech).
- First Photo of myself at TRL (1981) –
- Writing to
a consumer electronics manufacturer to complain about product quality
using Telecom Australia letter-head (for a product that had
not been bought by Telecom)
Wragge “carpeted” me for this (circa 1992).
Media Player – combines and blurs the relationship between a data-file
and a rendering-program.
- Use of
multiple layers of Perspex on a fluorescent light fitting to channel
light where needed (for the Telecom Confravision
service. (Relies on total-internal reflection like optic-fibres). A
prototype was built.
- Use of a
single low-voltage lamp to simulate a point source of light, combined
with a shadow-mask to meet ISO lighting requirements specified for
subjective image quality testing. Neville Theile liked this idea (of
Theile & Small loudspeaker modelling fame).
- My first
Section Head (Max Cassidy) said:
The hardest thing in research is
knowing what to do (1981). This simple sentence predicted the next 24
years for me.
Jenkins (1982). See photo below, with a new Apple II computer, along with
a Tektronix CRO (now impossible to find in TRL). I’m amazed the Apple II
computer is not running “Space Invaders” – but at least we were used an
over-the-top-Barco monitor on it!
- At my
job interview, Jim Park asked me if I had heard about packet switching. I
said that I had heard of it (on reflection later, I realised I had
not). Strangely, Jim Park did not probe me for more information about
it (it was usual to find out were the limit-of-knowledge was in job
with a Tangible Change or Outcome
- Speakeasy secure communications adaptor for ISDN
& PSTN. Terminals are still in use by the defence department.
Class-5 (E5) to Senior Technical Officer Grade 2 (STO2), within earshot,
standing in the lab, in raised voices – Your personnel file has “do not promote” stamped on it!
publication of Research Laboratories Reports (RLR’s) was the primary
method for conveying the outputs of work to other parts of the
“Commission”. There was a whole Section of staff dedicated to managing
the RLR process (as well as other publications such as Branch Papers and
Annual Reviews). When I started Frank Arter and Alan Mitchell were in
- For a
junior engineer, the publication of their first RLR was somewhat like a
passage-of-rights – or that is how it felt to me. In my first year at the
Labs (in Business Communication Section), I documented my work on video
conferencing as a final report, intending it to be an RLR, but it was
never published. It was reviewed by Des Clark (an Engineer Class 4,
Section Head of Human Communication Section) who said that it needed a
lot of work to get it into shape!
- In 1982 I
rotated to Line and Data Section, headed by Bernie Smith. I reported to
John Millott. It was he who taught me how to write a proper RLR.
- From the
mid 1990’s onwards, the publishing of diminished, and was replaced by a
new cultures of “slide packs”, created with computer software called
Powerpoint. With this culture, all information is placed into a
hierarchical structure (even if the information is not hierarchical in
nature) of bullet points, which makes it easier to digest, but has the downfall
that the finer points are not usually considered.
- The third
Disposable Media Player presentation to the FORD committee (at the first
one, I had been told I was just on a fishing expedition). I drank some
Brandy before giving this presentation.
- My worst
- Reading to
Hugh Bradlow, from a pre-prepared
script, the proposed project work for a FORD project. (It got me
through the presentation, but was laborious for everyone. I also lost a
lot of street-cred doing that.)
Ellershaw providing gifts to his staff on leaving TRL (the gift was some
free advice:- that I search too long for the perfect answer to things).
- Jim Lucas kicked a hole in a partition
wall, showing frustration with TRL management! His farewell gift was a
section of wall ...
in Excellence (circa 1999)
- Most Stable
- Human Communication
Section (it changed name many times, but the focus of work was still the
same – I feel).
Christmas Choir, 1995. Made with the then new gear from the Media Lab. Download it from here:
- Waste of
$30,000 promotional video of the Telstra Media Lab (1996). The tape sat
in a cupboard and was never seen.
Employee Opinion Survey. The survey itself is OK, but the actions
resulting are where the trouble is.
- Best Answer
to a Question from the Floor after a Presentation
Spicer to Dr. Nesan Maheswarin
Bradlow (Director, TRL 1995-2005) at his finest-moment
- Best Pranks
the top row of digits, with the bottom row of digits, on an early
press-button telephone used by Dave Harcoan.
TO2 (Steve Wood) sprayed an IC with instant-freeze while out of the room,
and then I believed him when he said that I had stumbled on the invention
of a solid-state refrigerator (1982).
- A paper by Paul Bysouth, Peter Hicks and Jim Park:-
- In 1995,
with newly acquired Photoshop skills, the creation of this photo of Peter
Hicks in the Transport Platoon of his National Service Army Regiment
(circa 1970). See below:-
opening-up enough to all other staff
- Charging Rick
Coxhill about $70 for an Apple computer motherboard, which cost quite a
bit less than that.
on-leave during the Bruno Sorrentino affair.
- That TRL
would not implement this paint scheme (below) for the Clayton site, nor
the logo below it.
- Changes for
that inhibits the teamwork between Sections, became apparent when client-based funding and marketplace competition appeared.
New-Wave Labs (circa 2000)
- Maybe even
the CTO? (time will tell).
- Brian Keck
”Just woken from a 20 year dream
…not all bad”
Coxhill - www.coxhill.com/trlhistory/miscell/memories.htm
Occupational Health and Safety Risk
current gate-house deign (however, it is OK to have something that is un-safe,
just as long as its documented).
Millott taught me how to write an RLR. In my first year at TRL, my
written report wasn’t published as it need too much work to get it into
shape. One suggestion for report writing was:
- Say what
you are going to say
- Say it
- Say what
- 1994 to
2003 – multimedia and video delivery work under Luisa Conte (see below).
- Not so
Winston Tan, building video interfaces for networking
- Things that
- My car – a
1964 EH Holden
- You will, somewhere,
sometime, see a metallic green EH Holden Premier Station Wagon on the
road, and chances are I will be driving it.
has been a fantastic place to work. I have benefited far more from TRL, than
TRL has from me. I am fortunate to have arrived at TRL at a time when the
vision of people like Harry Wragge had been realised. It took 70 years to build
TRL, and 10 years to dismantle it.
say it’s the people here that count and I entirely agree. You have been great –
thank you very much.