Turkey, bacon and smoke. What's not to love?

Turkey, bacon and smoke. What's not to love?

It’s Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. And as I reflect on the past year, I am again realizing that I have a lot to be thankful for. Yesterday, I was baking with my oldest daughter in preparation for today and I said, “It’s pretty amazing what’s happened in the last year, huh?” We’ve had so many changes in the last few months our stress-for-change score is pretty much off the charts. But as we settle in to our sixth month in our new home, in a new city, I think we’re beginning to realize the upsides of all that change.

A year ago, we had some pretty big stress in our family that almost caused us to cancel Thanksgiving. None of us felt like celebrating, and we almost gave up on it. But we decided that being thankful was a choice, and while things looked bleak, we chose to celebrate God’s goodness despite our situation.

A year later, most of those issues have been resolved, and we are set to enjoy a great day today. It’s nothing short of amazing what God has done in the last 12 months. Even as recently as six months ago, I couldn’t see where we’d be today, and yet, here we are. This is in no small part to the prayers of so many of my friends. You know who you are, and if I haven’t said it lately, I’m very thankful for all of you!

Every time I show someone around our new home, I’m reminded of how thankful I am for it. After being crammed into a perfectly adequate but really small town home in SoCal, it’s so, so nice to have some room to spread out and host guests. The fact that it costs us 1/2 as much per month as the other house is an added bonus. 

I’m thankful to have joined the staff of CCI Solutions just months before my old company imploded. I get to work with some insanely talented people who love the Church and love what they do. It’s great to be working along side my friends. 

I’m also grateful for those of you who read this website and listen to our podcasts. I hear from many of you, and really enjoy meeting you at trade shows. I’m thankful for what you are doing to further the Kingdom. I’m also thankful I get to play a small role in encouraging and equipping you to do your job. We live in fascinating times. 

Finally, I’m thankful to live in a city where smoking my Thanksgiving turkey is not only tolerated, it’s encouraged. Speaking of which, I need to get back to tending the smoker. Which is really just my way of coming up with an excuse to stand out there and enjoy the smell of hickory and oak turning my ordinary bird into something extraordinary. Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!


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Redefining Rest

With few exceptions, the tech guys I know are all blessed (or cursed, depending on the perspective) with a high work ethic. We all tend to live by the “get it done no matter what it takes” creed. That leads to long days, late nights and many weekends not taken off. Generally speaking, those are good traits. This country needs people who will work hard for a good cause. And since Sundays keep showing up with alarming regularity, a good tech guy or gal can be the difference between a service that connects people with God or one that’s distracting. 

The downside of this work ethic however, is that we almost never take time off to rest. I put myself in this category. I realized the other day that I haven’t taken a week off since March of 2014. That is way, way too long to be continually working. Sure, I’ve taken a long weekend here or a random day off there, but not an entire week. A full week is really what’s needed (sometimes more) to reset our internal systems to we can keep on going. But even when taking a week off, there is a problem.

Be Productive!

I keep hearing that phrase in my head. I want to be productive. And no matter how much I really just need to lay in bed until 9, enjoy a lazy morning and then take a hike through the woods, I have this clamoring to be productive and get stuff done. I want to build shelves in my closet, fix the gutter on the shower door, clean my office, move the website, reply to emails that are 5 months old (sorry if you’ve emailed me; I’m really behind…). I feel like I simply need to keep doing something. I need to rest, but I justify it by saying because it’s not “work,” I am getting rest. But I know it’s a lie.

Redefine Rest

Yesterday, I had a bit of a revelation. As I was struggling with how to spend my afternoon, it all of the sudden hit me that I need to re-think my time off. Instead of simply considering it time I’m not working—at my job—I need to create an actual goal I can accomplish. I’m task-driven. I like to figure out how I’m going to accomplish something and then do it. It’s why I’m good at my job. But it can be a problem when I simply need to chill out. Unless I redefine my goal.

Yesterday, it occurred to me that what I need to do is set a goal to rest. I need to remind myself that the point, the goal, the successful outcome of this week will be to get rest

I am tired. I have been running at a pace that is not sustainable and I need to do a better job of pacing myself. I need to take more regular breaks. I know all this. But the start of that process is to get some rest, plain and simple. So I decided that the only way I can consider this week a“success” is if I get a ton of rest. And that means not doing a whole lot. Sure, I’ll take some hikes, go to the range, spend a bunch of time in the kitchen with my wife and daughter and maybe I’ll even build those shelves. But the real goal of this week is to rest. All those tasks can wait.

You Need To Rest

Why am I telling you this? Partially it’s to keep myself accountable. When I put this out on the old inter-webs, it’s harder for me to start taking on a ton of work. But it’s also largely because I suspect there are some of you out there who need to hear this. You need a break. You need to give yourself permission to take a week off and sleep in. You need a whole week of doing nothing. But you struggle with it because you feel you need to be productive. 

So here you go; I give you permission to take a week off and rest. I’m following my own advice here; I was going to write this yesterday, but I went for a walk in the woods instead. Managed to get within about 12 feet of that deer up there. That was very relaxing. Except for my knees—they’re still sore... 

Relax, take time off, do things that are fun and restorative for you. The work will wait. Believe it or not, the world will keep on spinning even if we’re not there to make sure it does so on cue.

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Don't Forget to Check the Cable

We’ve been talking about the transition to IP-based networked AVL systems for quite some time. I just finished up a big install for a church in which every system is IP-based. Audio is Dante, lighting is Streaming ACN and while video was SDI, the router and switcher lived on the network and were remotely controllable. All these systems are extremely flexible, powerful and offer the church great capabilities. They also come with some setup and configuration challenges. I spent as at least 2-3 times the as long getting everything playing nicely as I did actually tuning the PA and building show files.

These system can also be challenging to troubleshoot. And with everything now in IT switches, it’s easy to assume that any problem you have is IP related. However, sometimes, it’s something far more simple—and frustrating. Here are few examples of things I ran into that turned out to be a lot simpler than we originally thought. 

Is It Getting Power?

We installed an RGBW house light that was driven by DMX. The fixtures have their own control box that sends out a proprietary control signal that we initially had some challenges with. Once we worked that out, it all seemed to be working, until we lost half the lights in the youth room. The lights were split into two circuits and two runs of control. Those runs coincided. I spent a few hours trying to troubleshoot the control signal, wondering why it wouldn’t turn on. 

Finally, I grabbed by non-contact voltage tester and found out they weren’t getting AC. I went back to the relay rack and found a fuse blown on the relay tray. Curious as to how the fuse was blown, I shut power off to the relay panel and tested all the hot busses for shorts. Sure enough, we had a short in a different circuit. The electrician accidentally landed a neutral on a hot lug and when we put the relay tray in, it blew the fuse. We didn’t know that, as we hadn’t used that circuit yet. And when we pulled the trays out to connect DMX, we mixed up the order and ended up with the blown fuse in the house light slot. Before you go spending a ton of time trying to sort out IP/IT/DMX/SCAN issues, make sure the fixtures are actually getting power. Lesson learned. 

Is the Pinout Right?

In this same system (it was a frustrating day), we came out of a SCAN gateway to DMX to drive the control box. The gateway used a terminal strip, and the control box used a 5-pin connector. So, we cut the end off a 5-pin cable and landed the wires. My installer had done the exact same thing in another room in this install, so it seemed logical to land the wires the same way.

Three hours of troubleshooting streaming ACN, DMX, gateways and all that nonsense and one of my guys suggested opening up the 5-pin to verify the pinouts. Sure enough, the manufacturer of this 5-pin cable (who will go unnamed, but will not see a ton more business from me) decided that sticking to a single color scheme for all DMX cables is simply too much work. In one cable, shield, data + and data - were bare wire, black and red, respectively. In the other room where I had so much trouble, it was bare wire, red and green. Once I swapped wires, all worked fine. 

Lesson learned; never trust a cable manufacturer to do a good job managing colors in 5-pin (or even 3-pin for that matter) cables. 

In each of these cases, a simple analog cable caused me a ton of headaches. I should have checked them first, but I was sure it was a network issue. When troubleshooting newer systems, don’t forget the basics. Is it hooked up properly? Is it getting power? Is the In cable going to the In port? Often, we spend a lot of time trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.