Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

Travelling light // A look at the gadgets that help run Sidepodcast on the go

Published by Mr. C

In the comments recently Trig pointed out Sidepodcast has a habit of making him want more gadgets and gizmos. It reminded me I was supposed to write a behind the scenes post about recent changes to our live setup. This is that post.

Know your limitations

Last year, around the time of Silverstone testing and the British Grand Prix, we put in place a rudimentary system that allowed us to follow comments on this site, upload photographs and even stream some live video. In most respects everything worked as planned, but we found ourselves with an excessive amount of equipment to carry, whilst being severely restricted by battery life. Additionally as soon as a website thread hit more than 500 comments, it became nearly impossible to load it over the air.

For 2009 we intend to solve those issues and improve our coverage, without breaking the bank.

Keeping it real

More by luck than judgement, the real time commenting system that was introduced to help us follow conversations during a live show, actually appears to solve the limitations we experienced connecting via 3G.

Previously it was necessary to load a whole thread's worth of comments just to catch up on the most recent submitted entries. With the new system however, we'll be able to quickly access only the latest comments and add to the conversation with the minimum of fuss. The amount of data transferred is relatively small (and we're working on reducing it further), which means costs should also be lower than before.

With no effort whatsoever, the commenting limitations can be ticked off our list.

No expense spared

Live Blogging gadgets

Reducing the amount of hardware we carry was a bigger problem, but technology marches ever forward and thankfully costs continue to fall. The picture above details our revised hardware line-up for 2009, which is smaller, faster and better in so, so many ways.

I should point out that the Sidepodmug is in shot only as a guide to the relative size of the surrounding equipment. It provides no purpose other than to contain liquids, and we've no reason to carry it anywhere.

Paranoid Android

Although Christine's mobile phone did a reasonable job of tracking comments last year, she returned from Silverstone with very sore thumbs. Thankfully her contract expired recently meaning she could grab herself a brand new HTC Googlephone, free of charge and for the same monthly rate. With it she gets a decent keyboard, a proper web browser and improved 3G connectivity. It ticks all the boxes in terms of cost and productivity, but it's pretty much the same size as the old one.

On the photography front, a compact Panasonic LX3 was purchased recently at a handily discounted rate - which earns it points on the cost front. It's much smaller than the usual DSLR we carry around, took good pictures at the recent trip to Red Bull's factory, but struggled with the shadows at Williams HQ. We're still 50/50 on whether we should rely solely on the compact during this weekends Autosport International outing, but its size makes that a tempting prospect.

Lastly we have the laptop. I can't explain how unbelievably heavy the old Windows machine was to carry around, but by Sunday at Silverstone my back was in agony. On top of that, the damn thing lasted for just an hour on a single charge, meaning I was lugging a brick around for the best part of the day.

To improve matters, we bought a cute little Asus Eee PC, which has a tiny screen and an even smaller keyboard, but features a built in card reader for transferring pictures, and a USB slot suitable for an already owned 3G modem. The machine comes with a poor version of Linux pre-installed, subsequently upgraded to the latest version of Ubuntu, but we're still suffering some teething troubles on that front. Thankfully the device has a runtime of about 6-7 hours on a full charge, plus it's lovely to carry around. The downside to the Eee PC is the purchase price, which we could probably have done without.

When all else fails

So that's a long winded way of saying outdoor things should see an improvement this year. Nothing is perfect by any means, and we're still planning to keep Christine's mother-in-law on hand back home to ensure we can relay messages via telephone and keep in touch with the site if everything else fails.

We have no solid solution for video streaming as yet. The process is battery hungry and 3G bandwidth is limited, but it's on our list of things to address in the future.

If you're attending any F1 related events this year, please do let us know what equipment you're planning on taking and if there's anything you recommend we should be using or need to consider.

Incidentally, if you have a relatively modern mobile phone, the Real Time Doohickey is excellent for keeping up with the flow of conversation around these parts, whether attending races or just away from your desk for more than say, five minutes.