All things going to plan, we’ll be leaving the relative safety of our tech desk and taking a pile of equipment with us; our trusty video mixer, a monitor, two cameras, a laptop and all of the associated cables. We’ve already done a couple of test runs, so we’re reasonably confident of things going to plan. In true Whitkirk Tech fashion, though, we’ve got a couple of contingency plans up our sleeves.
It’s been a few weeks since we last had an update from the tech team… because we’ve had a quiet few weeks! The period of Ordinary Time after Trinity has given us an opportunity to take a bit of a breather after the chaos of the last 18 months, but we’re starting to get back into things now.
The Heritage Open Days talk
As part of Heritage Open Days this year, we’ve got a talk! Although we’ve had plenty of talks given between the church and Community Centre over the years, this has been the first one since we’ve had our streaming equipment installed, so we’re sharing it with the world.
Since we’re not fans of doing things by halves, and since we’re always looking for opportunities to step up our game, we’ll be providing slides via projector and relay screen (to address some poor sightlines in the building), as well as interleaving them into the video stream using picture-in-picture features of our video mixer. We’ll also be providing a presenter display and clicker, for a little extra bit of quality of life.
The Temple Newsam Eucharist
Each year we hold a service at Temple Newsam House to celebrate the estate being acquired by the City of Leeds. This year, we’ve been asked to stream it live so that those who can’t attend in person can still join in.
Although we’re pretty confident that we can stream from outside the church building, we’ve been doing some planning and testing to make sure everything goes as planned.
More trees, less carbon
Both of the special events above have meant we’ve needed to get hold of some more equipment to help move video around, and as part of our ongoing commitment to reduce the harm we’re causing to the planet we’ve planted more trees and offset more carbon. Including our lasttwo offsets, that’s a hundred trees and two full tonnes of carbon offset by the tech team.
We’ve finished up our resiliency and soft-launch testing, and we’re finally happy to roll out guest wifi in the Community Centre! If you’re visiting us, point your phone’s camera at one of our wifi QR Code posters to get connected, or manually enter the network details.
Getting technical with Raspberry Pi, Omada, SMTP and HTTPS
One of the reasons we share what we do is that others might benefit from our experience. This is hopefully one of those blog posts, which explains how we made something work. More specifically, it explains how we installed the Omada Software Controller on a Raspberry Pi using Docker, set the SMTP options to send emails through Gmail, and finally set up an HTTPS certificate for the portal.
You’ll need to be moderately confident if you’re following these instructions, although if you’re confident enough to be trying to set up a managed network you should be fine.
Some of our networking equipment (and we’re slowly moving towards all of our networking equipment) is managed using something called Software Defined Networking. We’ve got a few reasons for this, but the upshot of this decision is that somewhere on our network we need something to orchestrate what’s going on. This is the “controller”, and since we’re using things in TP-Link’s Omada family, we need an Omada controller.
Purchasing a dedicated hardware appliance to do this job is on our list as part of some future upgrades, but to get things started we installed the Omada Software Controller on the PC on our tech desk. This had a few problems, primarily around the system going to sleep or restarting to install updates. This meant that the controller would occasionally disconnect for a few minutes, or disconnect entirely until someone manually restarted it.
We could have worked around this by adjusting schedules and configuring the application to boot on startup, but we’d still be left with one PC doing some things it wasn’t really meant to be doing in the first place.
Fortunately, there’s a solution which didn’t involve buying a new thing. We had a spare Raspberry Pi kicking around, and you can turn one into a controller. So we did. Here’s how.
Last Sunday we went for a new record for Tech Team involvement in one day, with two services and a bell ringing open day to support. Here’s what else we’ve been up to.
Taking it all down
All the things we put in place to support the YACR open day – cameras, screens, network devices and more – was only a temporary installation. So we took it all out again.
Better wifi coverage
One of the things we put in the tower was a network access point. Instead of putting it in a cupboard ready for the next time we needed one, we put it to work improving wifi coverage in the church.
Two access points in different parts of the building mean that no matter where you sit you’re now more likely to be in the range of one, and the position of the new hotspot gives much better coverage to the vestry area where people are getting ready. Since we’re increasingly using devices like tablets to read orders of service, this is a big step for the reliability of our network.
As part of our “do it right the first time” goal for rolling out tech, both access points talk to our Omada SDN controller. This means that as you move around the building the hotspots can intelligently and seamlessly pass devices between themselves without interruption, so everything behaves as one big network.
We want people in the church to be able to see what’s going on up the tower for tomorrow’s open day, so we borrowed the big screen from the Community Centre.
To make this work we used OBS Studio (formerly used at Whitkirk to handle service streaming before we bought our new equipment) to pull in the video streams from both cameras and combine them into a single picture-in-picture view of both what was happening in the ringing room, and what was happening in the belfry.
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.
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.
On the day this will be on a much larger screen, but everything in testing worked exactly as planned.
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.
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.