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!

Weeknotes: Saturday 15 May

Another week, another weeknotes. Here’s what the tech team have been up to!

More technicians!

We’ve trained another video technician, increasing the number of people who can stream and record services.

As with other parts of the Church, it’s important that our technology is understood and usable by enough people to make sure the workload is spread out. Over lockdown this hasn’t been the case, so we’re trying to correct that as quickly as possible.

It’s also a great opportunity to revise our documentation and make sure that it’s clear and comprehensive.

Defeating the cable snake

Anyone who has ever put more than two cables in the same place will know how quickly they get tangled. Our tech desk has literally dozens of them, for audio, video, data and power. You can imagine how chaotic this can become.

One of our ongoing battles is making sure all our cables are kept as tidy and organised as possible. It’s not just for the look of things (although we all appreciate a clean desk), but also to help make faults easier to diagnose, make changes simpler, and make it less likely that moving one thing will disturb something else.

To help in this we’ve re-organised a chunk of our cables (with more to come) using some adjustable, re-usable cable ties. These haven’t just let us keep our spare cables from becoming tangled, but we’ve also used them to help bundle and distinguish cables between different parts of kit.

Weeknotes: Saturday 8 May 2021

Another week, another weeknotes! Here’s what the technical team have been doing:

Further audio refinements

We’ve made some more adjustments to how we pipe audio from our in-church microphones and into our video stream. This gives the technician more control over the different sources of sound, and hopefully will help to reduce some of the echoing which becomes apparent when certain combinations of microphones are used.

Moving the wifi

We’ve changed the position of our wifi transmitter in the church, which should now give better coverage across more of the building.

Weeknotes: Saturday 1 May 2021

Happy long weekend everyone!

The last week for the tech team here at Whitkirk has been all about configuring, optimising and planning. Here’s what we’ve been up to.

A bit of printer tweaking

We’ve changed how our printer is configured to connect to our network. This is a hangover from the days before we had a network spanning two buildings, and the printer was instead plugged directly into the office computer. The change makes it more reliable, more visible to our network management tools, and most crucially enables us to queue print jobs remotely using our VPN.

Optimise all the images

Following on from last week’s website tweaks, we’ve gone through our entire collection of uploaded images and run them through an optimiser, shaving an average of 60% off the size of each image we serve. These small changes add up, especially for people on lower bandwidth connections, making our site seems faster and more responsive.

Continue reading “Weeknotes: Saturday 1 May 2021”