Archive for the ‘ChurchTech’ Category

TapThe Complete Church Laptop?

22 Jul 2010 12:56 by Rick

The complete church laptop containing everything you need to run your church office and services. From Kevin Mayhew Publishers: £1995 reduced to £1495 (out of stock—presumably built to order).

Sounds good—at a price. So let’s see what you get.

  • An unspecified DELL Laptop with dual screen capability (for projector not supplied), sound card (for PA not supplied) and wireless (for WiFi not supplied). It is hard to tell from the picture but it looks like a small wide-screen model. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say it is the 4GB i3 Studio 15 w. 1GB ATI graphics card @ £600
  • Windows 7 (version not specified—Home Premium included in above price).
  • 15 months McAfee Security (included in above price).
  • Microsoft Office (presumably home & student edition as there is no Outlook but that is only a non-commercial licence!—£100)
  • Mozilla calendar & email (free).
  • iTunes (free).
  • Spotify (but no subscription).
  • 12 Months 2GB cloud backup (not sure about DataSafe but can be free from some places like Mozy).
  • 2200 hymns and songs in MP3 and PowerPoint format, presumably with a perpetual licence to play and show them (they are publishers after all). No mention of an update service.
  • Some service-sheet templates.
  • Software pre-installed and configured.

So £700 worth of stuff plus installation and some data content. It doesn’t look good value to me unless that perpetual license is very expensive. They don’t mention that if you obtain any other songs then you may need CCL, PPL and/or PRS licences to show and play them.

TapDigital Double Cross

19 Jan 2010 18:51 by Rick

Three years ago, back at the start of 2007, I wrote about the Digital Dividend and the impact on the use of radio microphones. The conclusion then was that there was no planned effect on the unregulated channel 70 and that they were proposing that the currently licensed channel 69 would also become deregulated. Well they had their review and after public consultation changed their minds a little and proposed to leave channel 69 as it was, a licensed band (see para. 1.43). OK.

But it seems that they have now discussed it in Europe and collectively they have decided to clear the 800MHz completely—including channel 69. The detail of the proposal is that users of channel 69 are to be moved to channel 38. This will have an enormous impact on the entertainment industry and other users of radio microphones, talkback and instrumentation systems (collectively known as PMSE). That includes a proportion of churches that use licensed bands. Most of them will be using the unregulated channel 70 and that is not going to change but where there are interference problems or more than four frequencies are required then they will be using channel 69 and this will make a difference. It is estimated that one in eight will be affected. Effectively, most of the old gear will have to be thrown away and new stuff purchased because the frequency change from 854 to 606MHz is too great to allow simple re-tuning in most equipment. Mine can only be internally changed (at some cost) down to 690MHz channel 48. The situation is so serious that the Church of England has joined the campaign group Save our Sound to lobby government to change their minds or compensate users.

On top of that, channel 38 was previously used by radio astronomers and it is not certain that they are clear of it yet. Certainly its use for radio microphones is regionally limited and is not available in the North-West of England until 2012. There are other channel moves proposed but they will affect the larger commercial organisations rather than smaller operations such as churches.

TapLorelle on Church Website Design

21 Jan 2009 20:59 by Rick

Lorelle van Fossen talks to Church web designers—and discovers that she knew nothing about the issues. Good article.

TapBible Verse Plugins

2 Jan 2009 18:01 by Rick

While developing the new church website (which, by the way, is now online) I came across a couple of plugins that automatically link a bible verse reference to the text. I was reminded to write about it today, ironically, by a spam which linked to a very crude online bible using free web space from Blogspot. I am not sure which version has been bootlegged.

eBibleicious

eBibleicious was the first plugin I investigated. It links to eBible.com and seemed to be simple and efficient but for some reason does not work at all if the visitor is on Virgin Broadband. bweaver.net has a review with some screen shots which show what could have been, but the developer blog has been quiet since March 2008 so I think it has all but died.

The Holy Scripturizer

The Holy Scripturizer is a plugin that I found later. It is also not well advertised and the developer blog has not been updated since june 2008 but perhaps there is nothing more to do; it works fine on WP 2.7. There are a lot of the same ideas as eBibleicious using the ESV website as source, but has the added benefit of multiple versions in link only (i.e. not popup) mode. The NRSV comes from Oremus Bible Browser which is the one we normally use. Almost every English language version is covered and a lot of others as well, mostly via the Bible Gateway. It parses most standard bible references and is working brilliantly on the web site with virtually no training needed.

TapWordPress Event Plugins

23 Oct 2008 13:45 by Rick

Looking for plugins for WordPress (or probably any other package) is very frustrating. First you have to search the directory (which, I agree, is a big improvement on what it used to be) and sift out the possible from the unlikely. Then look at the descriptions, which are often completely inadequate, and test the promising candidates.

Upcoming ServicesI have been looking for an Event system for the church web site—one that allows you to post-date items and list upcoming events, particularly services. There are a number based around iCal and Google Calendar but I didn’t want to get into that level of complexity and, anyway, a calendar based presentation is not as direct and immediate we wanted. Eventually I narrowed it down to two: WP Events and RS Event. Another one which looks promising (but complex) is Events Category but I haven’t had time to look at it [Update below].

WP-Events

Pro—Actively maintained and developed by the author (Arnan de Gans).
Supports start and end dates and times, multi- and all-day events.
Provides sidebar widget and main page hooks for upcoming events and archives plus function calls for experts.
Allows different categories for events.
Incorporates Event Location. This is not something that we would use, preferring to put this sort of information into the description.
The dedicated admin page (Manage Events) has full information about each item.
Allows HTML tags in sidebar for images and markup.
Very flexible configuration.
Simple implementation so easy to hack.

Con—Uses a separate database table for events so they are not found by the search engine.
Excerpting is done by character count rather than word which can break HTML.
Non-standard interface for creating events which is not foolproof for the non-geek e.g. no implicit tags and validation.
Events cannot be in more than one category and they bear no relation to WP post categories.
There is no single event display without creating a separate WP post and linking to it.
The More link appears even if there is no more.

RS-Event

Pro—Uses extra metadata on standard posts to indicate start date/time. Hence search and ordinary posts listings work.
Provides sidebar widget and function call for experts.
Allows different (standard WP post) categories for events.
Events can be put into multiple categories
Very easy to use, suitable for admin staff.
Simple implementation so easy to hack.

Con—the author (Robert Sargant) has vanished so it is no longer supported, though a working version patched for current WordPress can be found at LivingOS. A hacked version exists with some extra features by Nudnik.
Uses standard (rather inflexible) WP excerpting which doesn’t allow markup.
You can’t tell from the admin pages (Manage Posts) the date of each event.
There is no recording of end date/times so no concept of an event duration or multi- and all-day events.
Non-widget configuration has to be done by editing the theme files making the theme site specific (because it refers to categories explicitly by ID).
Requires an unpublished hack to get event date/time to appear in archives, search listings and single post pages.
The More link appears even if there is no more.

I have included both in my demonstrator so the user can choose. I think they will go for the second as it is easier for them to use—the extra work has already been put in my me.

[Update 24 Oct 2008]

Events Category

Something that has saved a great deal of effort is that the author of Events Category (Weston Ruter) has provided an excellent write-up. Reading this I can at least superficially evaluate it without having to download and test it.

Pro—The aforementioned write-up and I think it is maintained though there is a suggestion that it does not work with WordPress 2.5+.
Uses extra metadata on standard posts. Hence search and ordinary posts listings work. In addition, the output method uses the WordPress loop with additional template tags so customising it is flexible and straight forward.
Supports start and end dates and times and hence Multi-day events.
Events can be put into multiple categories
Allows multiple sidebar widgets and plenty of scope for theme writers.
The start date of an event is easy to see from the Manage Posts admin panel (because it is the post date).
Easy to use, suitable for admin staff.
Incorporates a comprehensive Event Location and integrates with various calendar systems.

Con—The start date of an event uses a forward dated post which loses some information, though the update tracking in current WordPress provides this information for audit.
Looking at the (well described) method of operation it is probably fairly complex, modifying deep parts of WordPress, and hence hard to hack. I am not sure I could get it to work with current WP.

From that analysis I don’t think we will be using it but there are some great ideas there that I may adapt for use with whichever system we do go with. One thing the exercise has demonstrated is how many different ways you can use to achieve the same objective.

TapColour Management

24 Jun 2008 20:37 by Rick

To those who look carefully, photographs on web pages look dull compared to how they look in photo editors. I always thought it was due to the low resolution but apparently it is all about Colour Management Profiles. These are instructions placed in the image file which tell the receiver how to render the colours and are intended to allow matching on different devices—e.g. Screens on different computers, projectors and printers. However, Firefox has always ignored them; until Firefox 3. IE ignores them as well; Safari does read them but in a different way.

In Firefox, if you go to the about:config page and set gfx.color_management.enabled to True then, after a restart, it will be activated. All the photographs will look just a little bit richer, brighter and more sparkling. The photo purists are wondering why it has not been enabled by default?

Well if you have tried it in Windows you will see—everything else will have taken on a different tinge compared to what it was before, mine went pinkish, others have reported a cream bias. The greys are no longer neutral because in the process of doing it to photographs that come with built-in profiles, they have applied a default profile to everything else on the page and it all looks wrong. The official Mozilla page says that it relies on a properly calibrated monitor. Well mine is as close as I can get it without special hardware but that is not the answer. What you also need to do is set the default profile gfx.color_management.display_profile. You would expect this to be the actual values for your monitor, but that is what Firefox is already doing. What you need to do is set it to C:\WINDOWS\system32\spool\drivers\color\sRGB Color Space Profile.icm to stop Firefox altering it and allow the Windows display driver to make the correction for the screen. Brad Carlile has a good test page—if the greys still look grey and his three test pictures all look the same then you have got it right. The Apple Mac doesn’t seem to have a problem, just set the enabled flag to True and it mostly works. Safari (at least on the Mac) does it like this by default.

Secondly, plugins, particularly Flash, do not compensate, so sites that blend from backgrounds to Flash will no longer be seamless—but my fix seems to solve that as well, unless they are trying to blend Flash with JPG which would be unusual. I haven’t got this working for the Mac yet. and, although Flash blending is ok, apparently Safari falls down for a similar reason; the CSS and GIF backgrounds don’t blend seamlessly with JPG and PNG images. This may also affect my fix but I haven’t had a chance to experiment with it yet. What I need is another comprehensive test page. Update: It is a heavy read, but this page by G. Ballard explains it all and has a lot of test pictures or this excelent article by Jeffrey Friedl.

Finally, it also takes 10–15% more processor power to render the pictures so those on older systems will see a noticeable slow down on picture heavy sites.

I first though that I would be switching it off again until they get this sorted out properly, but having found the profile hack I will leave it, I don’t care about Flash anyway.

TapVMware Fusion 2 (Beta)

7 May 2008 11:16 by Rick

Team Fusion have announced the availability of the first public test of the new version. The big advantage for me is that they will be supporting multi-screen clients so I will be able to virtualise my EasyWorship preparation platform—the last major application I have on a real PC. I wonder if that means it will be usable from a MacBook live to a projector?

Update: Apparently it does 🙂

TapClickety click

4 Dec 2007 11:51 by Rick

Have you noticed that if you listen carefully to a news program like Today on BBC Radio 4, you can hear a keyboard being typed in the background. I find this infuriatingly distracting, especially when it is quiet first thing in the morning. I enquired of a computer tech friend at the Beeb a while ago if they suggest a silent keyboard for use on air because we wanted one for use in church but he said that they had no particular recommendations and just used whatever came. I was surprised considering the effort they put into the acoustics of other equipment in the studios and I would have thought they would specify a membrane device even though they are much slower to use. Alternatively I would suggest an under-desk keyboard shelf (perhaps with a clear window for non-touch-typists) to screen the noise from the microphone.

TapMedia Players (4) Troubleshooting

2 Aug 2007 08:52 by Rick

The way Audio Visual playback works on a PC is that your player software of choice looks at that the file and decides what format it is from a 4 character code in the headers. This will tell it what codecs are required (they are separate for video and audio). It will then read the data from the file and pass it to the relevant codec. This will decode and expand the data stream and pass it back to the player software for display. The decoder parts of the codec have standard algorithms so, assuming they have been coded correctly, it doesn’t matter which one you use.

The best known codecs types are

MPEG-1—used on Video CDs.
MPEG-2—used on DVD and SVCD.
MPEG-4—used on HD-DVD and Blu-ray.
Sorenson3—used by Apple QuickTime videos.
WMV—Windows Media Video sponsored by Microsoft.
Realvideo—now used mostly for streaming video.

but there are subdivisions such as mp42 and mpg4 which are both MPEG-4 codecs.

The best known audio codecs are

mp3—the generic and (probably) public domain codec.
WMA—Windows Media Audio which compliments the Microsoft video codec.

Some codecs do other things like the splitter which separate the audio from the video content. There are also surround sound decoders, subtitle extractors, language separators for multilingual files, chroma-key generators and digital signal processors for sound and picture manipulation. Even Audio and Video hardware drivers are considered as codecs by some applications.

Codecs come as installable packages, often in bundles, and are stored in C:\WINDOWS\system32 as .dll or .drv files.

How to find out what you need

AVI Codec Analyser tells you what you have installed and what you need to play any particular file but I can’t relate the two and it doesn’t seem to recognise QuickTime at all.

GSpot is popular doesn’t seem to recognise many for me.

MediaInfo gives similar information in a much more readable format (with many options) and supports QuickTime.

Finding missing codecs

If you find you need a missing codec, the best way is to search for them by name. Many will be found in the K-Lite package from codecguide.com

TapMedia Players (3) In practice

18 Jul 2007 11:16 by Rick

In part 2, I described a method for getting the three primary applications installed safely on your system. You should be able to run any media files that you come across with it’s optimum application. In the case of generic files such as .wav, .mp3 and .mpg you may not have assigned a player, in which case, ask for the list of options when prompted and select which one you would like to handle it. At fist un-tick the box “Always use the selected program” until you have a feel for which player is best for you (and which ones work!) If you change your mind later, open a file with the right mouse option “OpenWith …” and chose an alternative.

DVD Playback

Note that none of these are actually capable of playing a DVD by themselves. They still needs the relevant codecs from a third party. If you go to The Plugins option table and click on “Look for Plugins on the Internet” you will be taken to a sales page with a number of options (Roxio, CyberlLink, InterVideo and nVidia at present). Fortunately you will find that you probably already have one which came with the DVDROM drive. If not then there is a freeware alternative available called DScaler.

The other thing that you will notice is that whatever you set earlier, Windows Media Player or an application that came with your DVD/CD drive may be the application selected automatically when you insert a disk. This is not directly related to the application itself but the Autorun features set on the drive. What I suggest is that you go to My Computer, right click on the drive icon and select preferences. On the Autoplay tab select each media type In turn and tell it to “Prompt me each time to chose an action.” This will give you a chance to think about it and make your decision later for each type of disk.

Online

One feature that you do want that comes with all the players is the browser plug-ins that enable inline and streaming content to be handled correctly. This is what the question about MIME types was about on the real Player install. Fortunately all three now come with plug-ins for IE, Firefox and, I think, Opera. There is a fourth application that I haven’t mentioned yet which is important in this context—Adobe Flash Player. This doesn’t present too many complications, it is a single function application unlike the others, only works from within the browser and comes with its own codecs built in.

Part 4 will talk about troubleshooting problems.

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