ProQu24

Controlling Audio With ProPresenter

Our church is a small one. So its not always especially easy to fully staff our tech booth, and sometimes, one must fly solo, which adds to the workload, and sometimes stuff gets forgotten, like unmuting microphones for the choir or the person reading the scripture.

Fortunately, there is some tech than can help us in this regard. We use ProPresenter for our graphics presentation, and an Allen & Heath QU-24 console for our audio. The Qu-24 is connected to the Mac that runs ProPresenter via a USB cable, which shows up in the Mac as a 32 in/32 out audio device, as well as a MIDI device. This is primarily to be able to use the console as a multitrack and DAW interface, but it also lets us play back audio from ProPresenter media cues without ever leaving the digital domain, and saving us a couple of inputs on the board (although there’s no shortage of those). But because it’s also a MIDI device, this gives us some options with ProPresenter’s $99 MIDI module add-on. The Qu series boards can also do MIDI over IP (in fact, the Qu-Pad remote control app for iPad uses MIDI over IP to work its magic). If you’re using MIDI over IP with a Mac, you’ll need a special driver for the Mac. No driver is needed for USB.

First, a few resources we’ll need:

In the Qu Series, mutes and mute groups are controlled by a sequence of a Note On/Off message. The specific note determines the channel or mute group being controlled, and a the velocity value determines if it’s being turned on (Muted) or off (Unmuted). Velocity values below 64 turn the mute off, and above turn it on.

Meanwhile, over in ProPresenter, since Version 6, we have the ability to add MIDI Note On/Off cues to a slide. See where this is going? Unfortunately, ProPresenter doesn’t have the ability to do anything other than MIDI notes in a slide at the moment, so we can’t get really crazy with starting recordings or anything else requiring non-note MIDI messages.

So how do we know what notes emulate button presses? The documentation provides this handy method:

OK, this requires thinking and math. Not so helpful. This is where the MIDI monitor comes in. Download it and run it, and it shows everything coming across the MIDI interface. Push the button you’re interested in, and lo, MIDI Monitor helpfully shows you what note you’re interested in:

In this case, G#4 is the mute group for our choir. A4 is the mute group for the speaking mics on the chancel. A1 is the lectern mic.

Screenshot 2016-11-20 13.51.30So now, to be able to add a cue at the beginning of a song the choir is singing, I simply have to add two cues to the first slide to turn on the choir microphones:

  • NOTE ON, G#4(80), 63
  • NOTE OFF, G#4(80)

Then I can add a slide at the end of the playlist entry that then turns them back off, or add these to the beginning of the next playlist entry:

  • NOTE ON, G#4(80), 127
  • NOTE OFF, G#4(80)

Likewise, when someone is at the lectern reading scripture, I can unmute that channel automatically using the corresponding note number, and mute them again when they’re done.

On the flip side, you can also use note on/off commands to control ProPresenter. So you *could* also use the Mute, SEL, and PAFL buttons on unused channels to trigger things in ProPresenter (you also want to make sure that you don’t overlap these with the mutes and mute groups that you are actively using so as not to inadvertently advance a slide when hurriedly muting a channel). ProPresenter also conveniently tells you what the last note sent was, so you can actively push the button you want to use, make a note of its number, and put it in the action you wish.

 

Another approach you can take is to create a presentation in ProPresenter containing blank slides with the various functions you wish to use. Then you can copy these slides into presentations and add a Go To Next timer to them to automatically advance to the next slide. I would also recommend using slide labels and colors to clearly identify what each slide is doing:

Screenshot 2016-11-20 13.47.55

 

If you have controllable lighting and your lighting console also has MIDI capability, This comes in handy as well. And if you’re really a one-man band, and like to do things like pads underneath certain worship elements, you can use this to trigger those as well. But if you get to that point, you may want to look into QLab to control all of them at the same time.

So there you have it: a quick and easy way to automate some of your workload with the Qu series boards. If you’ve got another board that you use, let me know in the comments if you do (or would like to do) something like this. Would also love to hear if anyone is using hardware MIDI controllers like the Novation LaunchPad and how you have it set up.

Additional Info:

Summary of MIDI Messages (midi.org)

In the wild: EGO cordless electric mower

It’s a clean, green, mowing machine!

mower_largeI’m going to veer off my usual topics here to give you my thoughts on a recently acquired tech toy of a different flavor: My lawnmower. This is NOT a sponsored post.

When we moved into our previous house almost 11 years ago, we went on a coupon-fueled shopping spree at Home Depot, and picked up your standard 4-stroke gas-powered mower. It worked well, but after a while, the tedium of dealing with oil and gas and all those moving parts makes you think “there’s got to be a better way”. We’d been eyeing electric mowers for a while, but either they were corded (obnoxious – chance of mowing the cord is high!), or had enough battery life to make you need a wagon full of spare batteries, and in neither case did they have enough oomph to cut grass that had gone more than about 12 hours since the last mowing.

When the Toro died this spring (I think it busted a rod, or something else pretty major in the engine), I started looking at battery-powered options again. At our new place, the lot is nearly half an acre. Anyone in their right mind would have bought a small riding mower. Consumer Reports narrowed me down to two options: The Black & Decker CM1936, with a 19″ deck and self-propelled version for $439 at Amazon (now $379), or the EGO LM2001, with a 20″ deck for $499 at Home Depot. I was initially leaning toward the B&D’s lower price, but was eventually won over by the EGO’s slightly wider cutting deck, its 5-year warranty, and the 30-minute charger (which would have been another $130 for the B&D). That the EGO is 50 pounds lighter was a big plus as well.

Since Home Depot had it in stock, I headed over there and picked it up. It comes in a large cardboard box that easily fit in the back seat of my full-size Toyota. Because the mower handle folds down and collapses, there was no assembly to speak of. It’s pretty much a matter of taking it out of the box, removing the requisite bits of tape and protective film, and a few plastic bags, and putting the box on the curb for the recyclers to pick up. Virtually all of the packaging is recyclable, which is a plus.

EGO Battery Pack

This is alien technology. Or at least from the future.

The battery pack and the charger look like something right out of a sci-fi movie. The battery is the heart of the system, and battery technology has made significant progress in the last few years. Power tool manufacturers love to tout the voltage of their battery system, under the idea that “More Volts = Better”. Being a geek with a background in electronics, I know that this is mostly bunk, but when it comes to battery systems, there’s some validity to it, because virtually all power tool batteries consist of a serial/parallel array of 1.2V rechargeable cells. More cells = more oomph. EGO says the motor in this mower is 600 watts, which works out to a little over 10 amps. The battery pack is 4Ah, so at full load, one should expect about 25 minutes of use. Since in the real world, the motor isn’t under full load the whole time, it gets pretty close to EGO’s claimed run time of about 45 minutes. I’ve found that this isn’t enough to do my whole yard, but after the battery runs out, I’m usually ready to go sit inside for half an hour, and cool off with a cold beverage and some air conditioning, while the battery charges back up (and yes, it DOES only take half an hour!).

Performance-wise, it does OK with normal mowing, but heavy grass is something best approached in phases at different cutting heights (which are adjustable to 5 levels with a single lever somewhat reminiscent of the shifter in my minivan). On my gas mower, I’d usually deal with heavy grass by putting the discharge chute on and letting it eject the cuttings rather than mulch them. On the EGO mower, this plan is no good. While it comes with a discharge chute that attaches in the same place as the bag, it clogs easily, and is generally useless. Bagging works pretty well, though.

So easy a kid can mow!

Where this mower really shines is how easy it is to use. Much of the body is molded polypropylene, so at 40-odd pounds, it weighs about half what my old gas mower did (the B&D unit is actually 15 pounds HEAVIER than my Toro), and is so quiet that it won’t bother the neighbors. When sitting inside while someone is mowing, it sounds like a gas mower several blocks away. A typical gas mower is usually over 90dB, where permissible exposure levels are not much more than an hour. I don’t know offhand what this unit is, but it’s a LOT quieter. There’s no fuel to mess with, or oil changes, or any of that. When you’re done, it folds up neatly and can be stood on end, taking up no more than 2 square feet of your garage. Between the light weight, the quiet, and the lack of fumes, my 10-year-old daughter is actually willing to mow the lawn. (Another major motivating factor is that mowing the grass pays for her cell phone service).

Other than keeping it clean, there’s really no long-term maintenance to worry about. It comes with a 5-year warranty, although the blade isn’t covered, as it’s considered a wear part. There are no moving parts other than the motor itself (compare to a 4-stroke gasoline engine, which even with a single cylinder is a very complex piece of machinery).

As for energy consumption, a full charge is 224 watts of electricity. A full charge will run you somewhere between 2 and 4 cents worth of electricity, depending on where you live. The EPA defines a gallon of gasoline as equivalent to about 33.4kW of electrical energy. My old Toro would go through about a quart of gas to mow the yard. At nearly 4 bucks a gallon for the non-ethanol stuff that won’t wreck the engine, that’s a buck a mow. With 2 charges, that’s also about 20x the amount of energy that the EGO uses to achieve the same job. Oddly enough, the “fuel” cost of the electric mower is also about 1/20 that of the gasoline.

EGO in storage mode

If carbon footprint is something you care about, 1 full mow is about half a pound of CO2 if your electricity is from natural gas, and about a full pound if it’s from coal. Zero if it’s from nuclear, solar, or wind. The gasoline mower belches out about 4.5 pounds per mow, along with a whole bunch of other nasty stuff that your car has the decency to clean up first.

As for quirks, there are a couple. The handle has a couple of different safety interlocks, and must be fully extended and locked for the mower to operate. There’s a dead-man switch on the push bar, much like virtually any other mower. There’s also a removable safety key that must be pushed in to start the mower. I’ve found that when mowing close to bushes that the slide lock tends to come undone, allowing the handle to slide in just enough to cut the mower out. The first few times, you find yourself standing there wondering why the mower won’t work, until you notice the bright green latch on the handle hanging open.

When going through heavy grass, if the current draw on the motor becomes too much, the green power light will start flashing yellow. If you don’t ease up on it, it will stop the mower. Once the battery gets low, the indicator light will turn red, at which point you’ve got about 3-5 minutes until break time. The battery is really good at delivering a fairly flat and constant amount of power, so there’s not really much decline in power until the battery decides to go completely dead.

EGO also has a blower, edger, and hedge trimmer that work with the same battery (they also make a smaller and lighter 2Ah battery for those devices, but all batteries in the EGO tool family are interchangeable, so if you find yourself about 10 minutes short on the mower, get the trimmer or blower with its battery, run the mower on the small battery for 20 minutes, and then switch to the big battery to finish the lawn while you recharge the small battery, which will be ready for trimming or blowing by the time you get done mowing. If you already have batteries and chargers, you can order just the tools without batteries directly from EGO for less money. Similarly, you can order extra batteries from them (the big one is $199, the little one is $129).

Bottom line, It may be a spendy piece of equipment, but not having to deal with gasoline, fumes, noise, maintenance, and being able to send the kid out to mow instead of doing it myself is well worth the price of admission. Oh, and it also has an LED headlight, for those midnight mowing escapades.

To Our American Brothers in Arms

This is from a blog post from a french infantry unit stationed with a US unit in Afghanistan. I’ve translated it for the benefit of those who don’t speak French (and as an exercise for my own language skills – it’s been a while!)

TO OUR AMERICAN BROTHERS IN ARMS

For some time now we’ve been sharing our lives with two units, the first and the fourth company of a prestigious American infantry battalion which shall remain unnamed due to military secrecy. To the average person, it’s a unit just like any another. For those of us who live with them and have gotten to know them, we know now that we have had the honor to live alongside two of the most famous units of the U.S. Army. Units that were presented to the world in a series of films about “Ordinary men. Extraordinary times.

Who are these soldiers from across the Atlantic, what are their daily lives and what support they provide daily to the men of OMLT? Few of them belong to Easy Company, the company that is the focus of the television series. It is now known as ECHO Company, and has become a support and logistics company.

A distinct accent. They are American. Not to say that they do not speak English. How many times did I need to write down what I tell them rather than lose precious minutes trying several pronunciations for a word seemed trivial? Whatever the state they’re from, each has its own accent, and even they admit that in some situations they have trouble understanding themselves.

Norman cabinets (Note: I’m not familiar with this particular idiom, but I’d take it to be roughly analogous to “built like a fridge”). Raised from an early age on Gatorade, protein and creatine, they are all two heads above us and their muscles remind one of Rambo in his finest hours. So not only do we already have this handicap that amuses them so, but we are often confused with the native Afghans: We’re but small fry, even for the beefiest among us.

Core values. Here one discovers America, as it often is depicted: the values they have here are brought to a climax, amplified by closeness and loneliness of the post in the middle of this Afghan valley. Honor, Patriotism. Everything here is a reminder: the American flag flapping the wind above the outpost just as it’s depicted on the care packages. If recruitment is often at the heart of the American inner city, dominated by gangs, nobody here has any other purpose than to carry high and proud the star-spangled banner. Each one knows they are supported by an entire nation, which does them well by anonymously sending them everything a soldier could find in short supply at the front: books, chewing gum, razor blades, powdered drinks (Gatorade, of course!), Toothpaste and so on. So much so that everyone knows he is supported in the difficult mission he is assigned. This is the first clash with preconceived notions: the American soldier is not an individual. The team, group, and the battle are at the center of all of his attention.

And what soldiers! We haven’t encountered a bad one. It’s strange how critical we can be! Even if some of them appear a little pudgy, they all give us lessons on daily life in the infantry. Beyond the wearing of the battle dress which seems to never bother them, (helmet, goggles combat rifle) long hours of guard duty at the outpost does not seem to bother them too much. The sole presence is a one square meter platform on a wooden tower above the stockade walls for 5 consecutive hours with night-vision binoculars, always focused on the direction from where the danger might come. No distractions, no breaks, standing like real statues. Ditto for the outpost as soon as night falls. All movement is in the dark with only a few red lights indicate the presence here and there of a soldier on the road. Ditto for vehicles whose lights are blacked out. Everything is done in the dark, fully understood at the JAPY pump. And in combat? If you saw RAMBO you’ve seen everything: always there to come to the rescue when one of our teams is in trouble, and always in a very short time. It’s one of their secrets: they can go from casual t-shirts to full battle dress in three minutes flat. When they arrive near the enemy position their mode of action is simple and confusing: they charge! Experts at the assault landing, they shoot first and ask questions later, which puts a damper on procrastination.

Here, seldom with raised voices and from 0500 the common tasks are done in short order and never grudgingly. In short, what we have been able to see, the helicopter en route, stopping next to a broken-down vehicle to see if all is well in the combat sections who stand in support of us even before knowing whether the mission is perilous, the American soldier is a fine soldier, a worthy heir of those who liberated France and Europe.

For those who do us the honor to welcome us into their combat outposts and every day demonstrate the finest qualities of military, for those who feel every day the heavy deployment of the U.S. Army on Afghan soil, for all those we owe this article, hoping to never discredit them and to continue to hear that we are all the same “band of brothers.”

Ramping up for Election Night

While I’m on the topic of Slashdotting, I had a conversation with Clif the other day about what it takes to scale up sites to handle the onslaught of traffic generated by people looking for web coverage of Election Night. It’s one of those nasty scalability problems where if you get it wrong, you’re utterly screwed and don’t get a do-over or a few hours to fix it. If you’re in the business of selling eyeballs and your site goes dark during the Big Game, you’re pretty much hosed. And broke.

Data Center Knowledge has a neat article about what goes on behind the scenes to ramp up for an event of this magnitude.

Keeping things in perspective…

I was perusing a technical support community on LiveJournal today and ran across an entry that made my jaw drop.

This poor IT worker had been working on building a new laptop for a VP’s admin assistant because her Outlook client was running slowly. Coming from a VP, it was a rush request and he got it ready for an early morning deployment. So far so good, doesn’t hurt to look good in front a VP who doesn’t dish out praise easily or often. About the time he gets the machine ready to go, another employee comes running into his office with a major problem.

A director who is working on a three-month mission to darkest Africa has ended up with a cracked laptop screen, rendering the entire unit unusable. Since they are only two weeks into this three month mission, it’s a little hard to get parts or a tech to them and they are almost SOL. As luck would have it, another team is heading out there for something, and can hand carry a replacement laptop out to them. Here’s the catch though, they’re leaving the building in 20 minutes for the airport. The only computer that’s ready to go is the one he just got done building. The only thing to do is to quickly setup the user’s email and hand the computer to the team, and wish them a good trip.

“I call my manager to make her aware that the laptop will be delayed a couple of hours as I build a new machine to replace the one I just sent out. She’s not happy, but I don’t care really. I know I did the right thing. ‘Dead in the water in a third world country’ trumps ‘Slow Outlook'”

The tech made a snap judgment call that seemed to be the right thing to do to ensure the business keeps running smoothly. All is well and good until office politics kick in and he gets called into a meeting. Whereupon he had to explain to the VP, his AA, the Program Manager, and the newly installed Help Desk Manager why he made that decision. 15 minutes later, he “left the office with a new bodily orifice, and stronger desire to drink.” Seems a little excessively painful for doing the right thing.

Alas, this is all too common in the business world. Ego and a sense of entitlement grab a hold of many senior executives who feel it’s their right to get new hardware out of IT simply because of their position. It made me realize how tremendously blessed I am to work in an organization where this sort of thing is an extreme rarity. Our executive team is very well grounded and humble, and this sort of ego trip just doesn’t happen.

That’s not to say that the executives don’t have the occasional drop-everything-emergency, but they do have the wisdom to discern what really does merit the IT department’s full attention and what can wait for us to get a chance to get around to doing it for them.

It’s those sorts of seemingly insignificant things that make Resurrection an awesome place to work. The positive impact on everyone’s stress levels of not having an executive team that behaves they’re royalty is something I can’t even begin to put a dollar figure on. Added to that is being secure in the knowledge that my manager will back me up unless I’m very obviously in the wrong, in which case I need to suck it up and take my lumps.

I’m sure that’s one of the things that made us one of the best churches to work for serve. It is truly a blessing to be part of this team.