Category Archives: Blog

Orem Summerfest With Fireworks

Yesterday (Friday) and today (you guessed it, Saturday) was the Orem Summerfest, a city-wide festival that includes a parade, a 5k run,  a baby contest, all you can eat pancakes, a carnival complete with rides, food, artists, salsa bands, ballet, theater and much, much more. This annual event is quite a change for the quiet little neighborhood that sits next to the city park where most of these events are held. I live less than a block away from the park and it’s interesting to see this usually calm neighborhood turn into Grand Center Station where every conceivable space is used for parking. Many of my neighbors take advantage of the crowds and help fund their kids going to camps in the summer by selling baked goods and other treats to passing festival goers. I really really enjoy seeing the artists practicing their craft, the various bands they bring in, and the fireworks. This year the fireworks display was exceptional.

Streaming Stake Conference

I work at BYU and it’s probably no surprise that I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some may find it surprising that not all full-time employees and not all of the student body at BYU are members of the LDS faith. There are usually about 400-500 students that are of another faith attending BYU.

Anywho, the basic organizational unit for a congregation in our church is called a ward. Multiple wards are organized into a stake. Every 6 months or so we have a stake conference where the members of the stake get together to hear the good word. In our stake, there are so many members we can’t all fit in the stake center (a large church building, not a large restaurant serving steaks) so this year they decided to stream the conference live via the Internet to the other 3 church buildings in our stake. The broadcast went well and we were able to enjoy the talks given by the members of our stake and church leaders. I have other responsibilities in my ward so I wasn’t part of setting up this broadcast. Those that did set it up should be commended for an excellent job. It’s quite an orchestration for pulling off a live Internet broadcast. Being able to attend stake conference in my home church building was wonderful. The broadcast was also streamed live to member’s homes, retirement homes and care centers for those who couldn’t attend due to illness or other reasons.

Being that I’m fairly passionate about streaming media, I can’t help but blog about tips and tricks for putting on a live event. Most of what is suggested here was followed today so this is more about general suggestions in doing a live broadcast. Whether it be for a religious event or other broadcast, these are some of the things I would consider.

A commonly used setup for a broadcast would go something like this: You have a camera (or a bunch of cameras with a video switcher) and an audio mixer that’s connected from the house PA to a computer (usually a laptop). That laptop has a live broadcasting application on it. I like Adobe Media Live Encoder and Flash video for its multi-platform playback capabilities and ubiquity across browsers and operating systems. This recording laptop should be connected to the Internet via network cable. If you’re trying to use a wireless connection to record the broadcast and the rest of the congregation has access to that wireless network, well, good luck. A congested connection may give you terrible results.  A dedicated line will help you send the best quality video to your streaming server. The streaming server in turn, sends the video feed to the various people that are watching the event. You’ll want to fine-tune the bit rates and size of the video you’re broadcasting to fit well within the bandwidth that available to you.

You could possibly use an online streaming media service like uStream. There are free accounts available that have advertising as part of the package. I think our congregation would not want to see advertisements before a spiritual broadcast. Also, many streaming servers (like Flash Media Server) support encrypting the video streams if you’re interested in a more secured delivery of the broadcast.

For projecting the broadcast in other church buildings a laptop is connect to a projector that is placed on a classroom table that fits quite well between two benches in the chapel. Cables of course need to be fed to the middle of the chapel. Yes, use an Ethernet cable. I’d recommend that all cables be taped down with gaffers tape. This is specialized tape that doesn’t leave a sticky residue when you take it off. I’ve found that the blue painters tape sometimes sticks to the cables and still leaves a sticky residue on some plastics.

On the laptops used with the projectors, it might be wise to create a separate account for streaming broadcasts. Turn off all notifications systems such as email and growl. It’s distracting to have personal notifications displayed to the entire congregation during the broadcast. Turn off any power-saving features like putting the hard drive to sleep or screen savers so the broadcast isn’t interrupted. Having a separate account makes it easier to do broadcasts without having to worry about turning those things off in heat of the moment.

The table with the computer and projector should be roped (or taped) off. I’d recommend even the bench behind it and the middle section of the rows in front of it. We had a curious toddler almost take down the entire system a number of times during the broadcast. You can reserve just the middle section of the benches so people can sit on the sides. Don’t forget to reserve a row for yourself so you can get quick access to the setup.

Our congregation has quite a few older folk and the audio signal was a little too soft even with the laptop and PA turned to full volume. Make sure you have plenty of headroom before starting the broadcast. We had to scramble in getting a mixer inserted between computer and PA system. We made that transition between two talks and luckily it went remarkably well. Speaking of testing, having multiple dry run-throughs is absolutely critical to a successful live broadcast. Test the actual equipment with the actual setup in the actual buildings you’re going to use. Cell phones are pretty handy when doing run-throughs.

Lastly, it’s always good to have a backup plan. What are you going to do if you loose network access? Perhaps cell phones could be used to patch the audio through to the PA. Whatever you do, make sure everyone knows the plan.

I love seeing technology used to save time and resources. In the past, the stake leadership would have to conduct two separate meetings for stake conference by dividing up the wards for the two times. Now they can accommodate more people with less time. I can see the day when a stake conference broadcast is managed through, and is available afterwards on the lds.org site through single-signon. Wouldn’t it be great to have these important messages focusing on just our stake available to us just like the general conference messages? Well, I can dream can’t I?

Making the Move to Mobile

I attended the Making the Move to Mobile symposium yesterday hosted by the University of Utah and Apple Computer. I particularly enjoyed learning about the transformations we’re experiencing in this digital age and also how faculty and students are using mobile devices to improve teaching and learning. The big takeaway for me from this symposium is that these small and thin devices have tremendous capabilities to store and retrieve data, annotate documents, gather individual responses in a classroom, connect with peers and mentors, and allow students to share their ideas through blogs, forums and social media.

I particularly enjoyed hearing George Saltsman, Executive Director of the Adams Center for Teaching and Learning at Abilene Christian University talk about his experiences in using the iPod Touch and the iPhone in the classroom. Because every incoming students gets the choice of an iPod Touch or iPhone (the students signs the contract for monthly cellular service) there’s a lot that can be done that wouldn’t normally be possible in a classroom.

Through a university website (developed by students by the way), faculty can setup polls, wordclouds, wordstacks, brainstorming activities that engage students in learning activities. Faculty also have tools to help run the class. I liked the idea of marking attendance online and having an email sent out automatically to students that are absent. It was mentioned that student attendance improved because of this feature. Other features for faculty include a random student picker and a option to help faculty learn student’s names.

Another feature I really liked is the ability for the faculty to setup a blog for an assignment. Students can then email pictures, video, and text to an email address that then publishes the content to the blog for other students in the class to read. Those blog posts could lead to more in-depth discussion in class. Some of the materials used for the ACU website are available as open source code. You can get more information at http://source.acu.edu/

In all, it was a great conference. There were lots of great ideas on how smart phones and tablets can been used in learning. I think as these mobile devices come down in price and increase in capabilities we’ll continue to see an increase in their use on campus. Now would be a good time to survey your student body to see who is using what. Yesterday would be a great time to start thinking about delivering your content tailored for a mobile experience.

Catastrophic Change Control

When I came into work this morning there was the following comic strip sitting on my desk:

 

Dilbert.com
So true, so true!
Nothing, I repeat NOTHING can completely destroy a development schedule quite like changes to a project’s specifications during the development cycle. It’s only natural for clients, when they see their project in action, to get ideas of how their product could be improved. It’s up to the project team to insist on following procedures to escape the perpetual development mode syndrome.
Paper and low-fidelity prototypes can go a long way to help give our clients a better idea up front on how the product will be used. Ideally, the client and project team should agree before any development begins that the feature set will be frozen until the development cycle is done. Features can be requested, but any implementation will wait until the next development cycle. Critical projects might warrant documented change control procedures up front (perhaps even signed and notarized) to ensure everyone is in the know of how the “must haves” are to be implemented. Don’t let this happen to you! Implement a change control process.

CDI Animated Banner

Way back in 1999 I was the manager of the Curriculum Development Initiative at the College of Fine Arts and Communications at Brigham Young University. We were doing some pretty cool cutting edge things back in the day with wired sprites in QuickTime and even got showcased on Apple’s website.

 

One of thing we were experimenting with but never saw the light of day was an animated banner for our website. We wanted to showcase some of the cool things found in QuickTime so we added the flame effect that was part of the effects API of QuickTime at the time. We used Macromedia Flash 3 to create the running guy, and to sync the audio. QuickTime Player Pro was used to mash everything together.  I found this banner rummaging around old hard drives the other day and thought it would be fun to share so here it is in all it’s blazing gory. Anything with flames belongs on the net right?

Click image above to view the video.