Archive for the 'Tech stuff' Category

on multi-tasking

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

Today as I was cleaning up the kitchen, my son wanted to use my laptop for a game on the internet. He’s 9 1/2 and he’s pretty computer literate. He asked my permission and since I had a work-related document open in a word processor, I asked him to minimize it.
Then I followed up with, “do you know what minimize means?”
He said, “of course.” He said something like, “didn’t you know what minimize meant when you were my age?”
And I said, “not like you do–I don’t know how old I was when I learned what minimize meant.”
He asked if I was in school. (I graduated from high school in 1980). I told him that the word has been around a long time as a non-computer word, but he and I talked about it’s origin as a tech-related word. “Computers didn’t always do a bunch of things at one time. You had to only do one thing at a time.” In hindsight I guess I could’ve told him it was more like my cell phone worked, but without all the icons.
(I didn’t make him listen to this reflection, but I’ll let you skim it: I think there may have been one high school in town that had a computer or two, but it wasn’t mine and computing was really primitive compared to what we do today. We had punch cards in college and I typed one long paper on an apple II in the spring of 1985. Not long after that I did some desktop publishing on an early mac, but you had to switch those floppy disks, between the application disc and the data disc, until later when you got dual drives and subsequently a hard drive. At work in the late 80’s to very early 90’s we had an IBM mainframe and later dos PCs. It would’ve been between 90 & 93 when windows first appeared on my desk and I owned my first mac sometime around then. Real multitasking on a computer began happening in my world sometime in the 90s.)

My habits evolved as the tools did.

On the other hand, my son has never had access to a computer that didn’t multitask. Sure he can focus on one thing at a time, but he always has the choice. He has so many more options than I did.

I wonder how all of this will make him (and his generation) different than I am and ultimately how the world will be different? Surely they think differently. I don’t have any earth-shattering thoughts or judgements to pass along. I could speculate, but I’ll save that for another day. Mostly it was just an interesting conversation that got me thinking about him and me and our world.

Using Google Reader

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

I am now using Google Reader to keep up with content on the web. I found that I was working to visit a few/several sites on  a regular basis and having some difficulty keeping up with what I’ve read.

The service is free. You just sign up at: http://www.google.com/reader – If you have a google account, you can sign in under your existing username/password.

To begin adding content, anywhere you see the RSS (really simple syndication) icon click on it and the feed url (webpage address) will be listed in your browser address field. Highlight the address and paste it into the “add subscription” field on google reader and you are done. Visit google reader as often as you like, whenever it’s convenient for you. New information will be there along with links to the original blogs.

Also, I’ve removed the rss feed from my blog to Facebook. First, I found that it fails sometimes. More importantly, If I’m going to spend time generating content for reflection or conversation, I’d like to be able to maintain the conversation. Hosting it on the blog will make it more permanent and gives me the ability to censor comments or save. Thanks for jumping in here.

Collaboration

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

I like to think that I’m pretty good at keeping up with what’s going on. I spend time reading about trends and technology. I pay attention to the new vocabulary including the names of new efforts and enterprises aimed at changing the way we communicate and work. The marketing folks would call me an early adopter and in some ways I am, but I’d add that I’m just paying attention

It seems to me that the rate of change is accelerating. Technology including media formats don’t hold their place as long as they used to. (I’ve got some boxes of audio cassettes you can buy if you don’t believe me.) So if you want to leverage the tools at your disposal, you have to be pretty quick at learning about todays tools and being able to figure out how to apply them, because many of them will be change tomorrow.

I watch my sons use You Tube walk-through videos to learn to conquer the challenges in their video games. A few days ago I wrote about my seven year old son using You Tube to find a recipe. I wouldn’t have thought of that, though I’ve used You Tube to fix appliances at my house. You might be surprised to find out who in your surroundings can teach you. If we want to leverage our abilities, both individual and our cooperative, we’re going to have to be on our toes.

I stumbled on this music video on the web. This creation is worth a watch. It is a video promoting the EP of a band and somebody knows how to get these folks to work together (or at least how to get these folks to appear to work together).

I’d like to cooperate this well when I grow up.

This amazing video for the Japanese band Sour’s single “Hibi no Neiro” was cut entirely from Webcam footage shot by (and of) their fans.

If it doesn’t open click here.

Mobile Surfing

Friday, September 18th, 2009

After I posted in cyberspace  that I figured out the laptop to cellular connection via bluetooth, I had several inquiries about how I made that happen. So as I sit in the elementary school pickup line, I am writing and posting this on my blog using that connection.

An important word of caution came from a friend who suggested that I double check with my cellular company to verify that my cellular plan covered these these data transfers. I was told this can get expensive quickly if you’re not covered. So, I’ll pass that word of caution along. Check in before surfing.

You have to have a laptop that does bluetooth and a cell phone that does bluetooth. Set them up to discover each other (references later). If you don’t have bluetooth, you can likely get a usb cable that will allow the connection. The webpage I used to get my laptop to talk with my phone was this one. I had to use the instructions here to make a few tweaks to the network settings.

My basic connection steps now are, 1) untether the phone by dialing a code 2) Sync the laptop with the phone via bluetooth, 3) choose the bluetooth network connection 4) surf 5) re-set the network to wireless lan 6) re-tether the phone.

Now I can work in airports, starbucks, mcdonalds and fancy shmancy hotels that  sell wi-fi without purchasing wi-fi. Happy surfing.

Sound Advice: on (church) audio support

Monday, August 24th, 2009

I am continuing a series I am calling “opportunites for improvement (OFIs).” These are mistakes I see often in (church) sound system operation. My experience is that successful audio support is not entirely an art or a science. In my experience it is more of a practice.

I’m a listener. Throughout my years, I have experienced some incredible gatherings of people when I have lost myself in an experience. One of the reasons I have gotten lost is because I didn’t even think about how well I could hear. The audio operator did such a superb job of attending to the medium — the thing in the middle — between the message and me, that I lost myself in the message.

On the other hand, one of the most distracting elements in a worship service or other gathering can be poor audio support. Included in an audio-supporting sound system is the operation by a human resource. The operator’s job description is one of support. If the only time the operator is noticed is when s/he is thanked for a job well done, they have succeeded. If listeners have to think about what or why they cannot hear, what the ringing sound is, or what is about to ring, then there is some room for improvement.

For some reason, a man standing behind a sound console full of knobs is a very territorial creature (ladies don’t seem to share this condition). This can be true from a volunteer working a very small gathering to a professional standing behind rows and rows of knobs. I have seen sound operators in church events treated unkindly and impatiently when being asked to do something simple by an individual making a small request in an unreasonable and even angry tone. Likewise, I have not been spoken to as disrespectfully at any other time, as by a sound operator when I made a simple (and warranted) request. I don’t know all of the sources of our intensity–there is certainly some defensiveness in the mix, but the world/church could use some servanthood in this supportive role. I think a primary source of stress is poor training. Often we put someone with limited or no training in a fairly visible role and then we ask the improbable of them. There are varying levels of success with this kind of recruit-and-ignore strategy, but I think the odds are against success.

What follows is a draft of my list of opportunities for improvement, 12 so far. These are not for you or for the guy at your church, but maybe you can pass this along under the heading of “tell this guy named Ron what he missed.” If I have been in your church, you can rest assured these are not written with any one person in mind. The challenges seem to be somewhat universal and this list is the result of observations of repeated behaviors, so I am REALLY not talking about you. I would like to hear your comments and opinions, so jump in the conversation.

Here is the first draft of my list:

  1. Creating noises in the soundbooth — talking, dropping things. Under the role of support, you could include being seen and not heard. If there are flags being waved in a soundbooth, you might be causing a visual distraction as well.
  2. Allowing feedback, that all too familiar ringing sound in your ears — big distraction, big no no.
  3. Allowing “almost-feedback” — a signal functioning right at the level of feedback, if there’s a pre-hint of feedback coming, that shifts focus away from the matter at hand.
  4. Not paying attention to or not knowing what is coming next. If someone steps up to a microphone, (whether printed in an order of service or not) have it on in anticipation of the sound. This can also happen if you are tardy or miss a soundcheck. The first note of a song or word of a speech are as worthy of being heard as the middle.
  5. Poor training — Not having a working knowledge of signal flow in your particular setup is a problem. This would include every knob on the soundboard (I have a story here for another post–“have you seen how many knobs are on this thing?”), knowledge of what each piece of gear does and how sound flows from input to speaker. For instance, feedback is caused by sound at any give frequency or pitch (or several) flows in a loop. There are work arounds, but in general never point a microphone at a speaker. Troubleshooting is impossible without knowledge and knowledge is improbable without training. Know the quirks of your system: rarely does everything work – there’s usually a weak link–a bad cable, or a bad channel on the board or a bad wire input mounted on a wall somewhere, or a bad speaker, etc. You don’t have to spend top dollar, but cheap gear will probably give you cheap sound… you get what you pay for. Continuously evaluate the weakest link in your system/equipment chain. For example, if you have a bad microphone, your output is only going to sound so good.
  6. Not listening — Mixing for the auditorium (literally – a room for hearing) or “front of house”–(FOH) with headphones on, is a mistake. Your ears are your best friends when you are supporting live sound – this is where the art comes in. If you’re not listening to what the audience is listening to, you might miss something really obvious. You can achieve the same result with over-reliance on pre-marked settings – like stickers or pencil markings left by an expert about where levels should be. This can work against success as much as it works for it. Appropriate use of headphones might include monitoring a broadcast signal, a recording mix, a monitor feed, or input from a specific channel. If your situation includes recording, ignoring either the room mix or the recorded mix leaves someone out in the cold.
  7. Remaining at the soundboard – assuming the room sounds the same everywhere. This goes for “front of house” and for monitor mixes. An occasionally walk past the stage monitors can be a really informative trip. I have a friend who mixes church sound with a full size monitor speaker right by his board. He often checks each monitor mix as it is being produced on stage.
  8. Using the attenuation/gain as a volume control. Turning this knob, (the result of not setting this level prior to operation) changes all signal levels flowing into and out of the channel, including the monitoring system that musicians are relying on. This level can usually be set with a meter (using the pfl/solo button), rather than waiting for the level to peak and then backing it down. This is the most often made mistake I witness from poorly trained church volunteers. When setting the attenuation/input gain, use the meter and adjust the volume so you have a strong signal, but allow enough headroom for the signal to get louder.
  9. Running stage monitors post fader – If monitor sends on individual channels are not pre-fader, then changing the level of an individual channel in the auditorium mix or house (FOH) for the listeners also changes the levels for the musicians and people speaking. This creates a big obstacle/distraction for leaders who are working on focusing on the task at hand and can shift their focus from the message they’re trying to communicate to compensating for the changes they are hearing.
  10. Overuse of effects on vocals – this strategy is often used to enhance or even mask the quality of a vocal sound, but you can only help so much.
  11. Poor equalization (bass/treble). Certainly there is a large degree of taste or preference that goes into choosing how an input sounds, but an instrument should only sound so thin. Good EQ can go a long way toward eliminating feedback. If you cannot understand what the person speaking is saying, all the volume in the world will not make up for poor EQ.
  12. Wireless problems – Wireless systems can be a great thing. Using a different system every week, we tend to shy away from wireless systems because often the wireless signal has to be attenuated on the microphone. This is a variable we choose to eliminate from our lives. If you have the same source of problems every week, this may be an issue for you. This is at the last of the list because it is not necessarily a problem.

Okay, I am done… Share this with a friend, or not. Jump in and tell me what I missed or where I got close.

I’m listening, Ron