Weeknotes: 24 July

A pretty quiet week, perhaps surprisingly given that this week saw a huge change in Coronavirus regulations.

Moving microphones. Again.

We shifted our choir microphones forwards, to pick up our newly expanded cohort of singers. Picking up and distinguishing the many sources of sound in our building can be tricky, so we’re constantly reviewing how all our microphone arrangements work.

Getting the video where it needs to be

Last week we did a lot of work to install camera equipment in the tower. This week, we started working on things to display the video where it’s needed.

We’ve got a couple of Raspberry Pi miniature computers which are perfect for this kind of thing, so we installed some software called VLC on one, which can connect to the video streams from the cameras.

A small video screen showing a live video stream from the belfry. On screen are three hung bells.

On the day this will be on a much larger screen, but everything in testing worked exactly as planned.

Weeknotes: 17 July

This week we’ve mostly been up in the tower. As we mentioned last week, we’ve been getting things in shape for the YACR Open Day on 1 August. Buckle up, this is a long weeknote.

Let’s talk about the tower

Most people have never seen the inside of our tower. From the outside, it’s quite difficult to imagine what’s up there. Even when you’re inside, from the staircase it can be difficult to figure out exactly which floor you’re on. Fortunately, in one of our history booklets, there’s a lovely line drawing that can help people picture things.

A black and white cutaway drawing of a church tower. It shows a ground floor, four internal floors, and a roof. There is a spiral staircase linking all the floors. There is a bell on the fourth floor.
Line drawing of the interior of St Mary’s church tower by M Metcalfe.

The ground floor is pretty boring, full of cupboards with things like gas meters and electrical distribution panels. On the first floor, our organ. The second floor is what’s known as the “ringing room”, and this is one of the two places we’ve been busy. The third floor is known as the “clock room”, and holds the mechanism which drives our church clock. Up on the fourth floor is the belfry, holding our three bells. Finally, the roof.

Getting between all these floors involves a pretty narrow staircase and in some cases an unexpectedly large step. As you get higher these steps are also very uneven, and occasionally not lit as well as they could be, so climbing past the first couple of floors without a reason is generally discouraged.

Fortunately – or perhaps, unfortunately depending on your point of view – the tech team have been tasked with making sure people can see what’s up the tower without making the climb themselves. So, without further ado, here’s what we’ve been up to.

Continue reading “Weeknotes: 17 July”

Weeknotes: Saturday 10 July

This week has mostly been spent up the church’s tower, moving equipment and planning for upcoming events.

Bong

In readiness for the YACR Open Day, we’ve been up the tower to plan ways to get video from our belfry and ringing room to other places in the building. We’ll have a full write-up of this when we’ve installed it, but we’re having to install some temporary power, lighting, networking and screens in various places, with plenty of climbing up and down a narrow spiral staircase.

Moving the wireless bridge. Again.

Although we moved our wireless bridge in April, we were never quite happy with its positioning. The signal was great, but it was potentially in the way for people climbing to our belfry. With an open day coming up where more people would be using this space, and with plants to regularly ring the bells, we decided to move it again.

The new location keeps the improved signal quality (and even improves it very slightly), but means that both the wireless bridge and the cabling are now well out of the way. The only downside is that if you know where to look you can now see the bridge from the outside of the building.

Offsetting our carbon

Our Energy Footprint Report highlighted that we could do better with offsetting our emissions, so along with the Church as a whole looking at offsetting our day-to-day usage the Tech Team are trying to offset all our equipment purchases. Because we’ve bought some new equipment for the YACR Open Day, we’ve offset our emissions and planted some more trees.

Because we also like clever uses of technology, our Green Whitkirk page also automatically updates the number of trees we’ve planted and the amount of carbon we’ve offset.

Debugging some software problems

We’re currently experiencing a problem with the software controller for our video mixer, which means we can’t easily access some of the features we normally use. We’re still in the process of getting to the bottom of this.

Weeknotes: Saturday 3 June

Another week down, and another week of technology here at Whitkirk.

“Is it plugged in?”

Last week, after replacing part of it, we ran into another issue with the president’s microphone pack which meant some people (especially those watching the streaming service) weren’t able to hear as clearly as we would have liked.

Continuing on the theme of wear and tear, the metal contacts inside the microphone pack which connect to the battery had become flattened with years of use. Fortunately this was an easy fix – we bent the contacts back into place, and hopefully we’re now good for another few years.

To help make sure this doesn’t happen in future, we’ve added a check for this problem into our quarterly maintenance schedule.

In case of emergency…

We’ve written up our ‘break glass’ procedure for bringing a streaming service to an abrupt stop if we need to. We hope that we never have to use it, but it’s better to have this kind of thing prepared in advance and part of training for our technicians.

Weeknotes: Saturday 26 June

Another week has gone by, and here’s what the tech team have been up to.

Replacing a microphone

Those of you listening in on the service last week can’t help but have noticed some sound glitches with the Vicar’s microphone. Technology can suffer from wear and tear the same as anything else, and in the case of the microphones we use for people who lead our services (they’re called lavalier microphones, but you might hear them called “lapel microphones” or “clip-on microphones”) this wear and tear accumulates relatively quickly compared to more static microphones, as they’re put on and taken off.

This wear and tear is what led to the failure of the microphone (or, more specifically, of the cable connecting it to the radio transmitter pack), so we’ve replaced it and made sure we have a spare on hand.

We’ve also added a microphone check to our pre-service checklist, to help us spot this kind of problem before it affects the quality of a service.

Removing some code and improving some privacy

We’ve done a review of how we monitor users behaviour on our website and what we then do with that information, and we’ve decided that we can remove our on-site analytics. That means no trackers, and no cookies.

The result is faster loading times (the code we used for analytics was one of the biggest bits of the site), and better privacy for visitors.

Community Centre wifi improvements

We’ve rearranged some of the wifi access points in our Community Centre to give us better coverage, and more importantly we’ve swapped from a wireless mesh network to using some of the internal wiring which we added during our refurbishment.

Using the wired network increases speed and robustness of the system, and we’ll be running some tests to see if we can make our guest wifi available to more people.

Nicer sharing on social media

We’ve added some new code to our webpages which gives social media (like Facebook and Twitter) an instruction to use a specific image and description for each of our pages. This means our lovely header images (we talked about these a bit before) are now used if you share our content, rather than a service having a stab and getting it wrong.

Weeknotes: Saturday 19 June

It’s been a pretty quiet couple of weeks for the tech team as we settle into the long period of Ordinary Time between Trinity Sunday and All Saint’s Day, so we’ve used it to catch our breath, tidy up some loose ends and start planning for the future.

And then there were two

We now have two technicians capable of streaming services, giving our technical lead their first Sunday off in over a year. Over the summer we aim to get this number even higher so that we can rota our team in the same way that we rota readers and server.

Never skip documentation

We’ve improved a whole bunch of our documentation and checklists, making things more reliable and increasing our bus factor.

A place for everything

Our Community Centre Management Team generate a lot of documentation and paperwork as part of keeping our Community Centre up and running. We’ve helped them move this into a new online document store, meaning it’s better protected against disaster and more accessible for people who need it.

Boosting the signal

As we plan to reopen the bar in the Community Centre we’ve been doing some work to make sure we can support cashless payments more reliably and make them faster. To do this we’ve started putting together a solid proposal to revamp some of our network equipment.

Weeknotes: Saturday 29 May

It’s been a quiet week for the tech team. Quiet, but not silent. Here’s what we’ve been up to.

We supported the APCM

Every year we’re required (by law!) to hold some meetings with the parish. This year, as with last year, we held the entire meeting online, supported by the technology team and infrastructure team.

Hopefully next year we’ll be back in person!

We tidied up even more cables

On top of our tech desk is now tidier than before, but underneath still isn’t as good as we’d like. We spent some time this week getting things a bit more organised and cables more tightly bundled, which makes it easier to see what goes where, and by making things clearer it simplifies and reduces risk if we make changes.

We thought about our choir microphones

We’re never happy with “it’ll do”, so we identified some ways we could improve audio quality when it comes to our choir. We’ll be testing out an improved microphone placement in tomorrow morning’s service.

Weeknotes: Saturday 22 May

Another week has gone by, and the tech team have done some more stuff.

(Re)discovering the light

We did some investigation on how the church’s lighting is controlled behind the scenes so that we could make some recommendations on future improvements.

At the moment we don’t have any particular plans for this, but many things have been suggested including coloured lighting, more granular control, automation, and integrating our external lighting. Knowing how our existing system works means we can make more informed decisions about which of these are feasible, both in terms of raw cost and in terms of effort, so that we can decide which (if any) are worth pursuing.

Thinking about the North aisle

Possible future works in the church building would involve moving the tech desk, so we did some thinking about where it could go and the implications for how things would look.

Before anything happens here though there are plenty more hoops to jump through!