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ChurchTechWeekly--Foiled Again!

Yesdterday after lunch, I notced a slight swelling on the side of my face near the top of my jaw. By the time I went home, it had become worse. But, I figured I could tough it out and do the show. During dinner, it swelled even more and was becoming quite painful. I decided to go to urgent care. 

Long story short, I have an infection of a salivary gland. Its not terribly serious, but it did keep us from recordeing the show last night. Hopefully, we can get back on track for next week and from there on out. We have many great guests and shows planned, so stay tuned! 

CHCC Renovation: The Lobby Video

It's gratifying to know that the video was done before the floor was!

It's gratifying to know that the video was done before the floor was!

For the last 10-15 years, the Coast Hills lobby has been the home of some really high-tech video. A pair of 27” CRT displays flanked the doors to the sanctuary. They were fed by—wait for it—RF modulated video, originally from the Panasonic MX-50, which was all composite. Yeah, it looked awesome. 

A few years ago, we upgraded to a Ross Crossover Solo, but I didn’t update the video because it kept getting cut from the budget. Thankfully, we had a flood. One of the CRTs was destroyed (Yes!) and the other mysteriously stopped working. Hmmm…

So it was time to update when we re-did the lobby. Somewhat on a lark, I did a Sketchup design of the new lobby to help leadership visualize what was being discussed. In that design, I stuck four 55” flat screens on the side walls, and four 42” flat screens in front of the doors for digital signage. We ultimately trimmed down to two screens on the right of the lobby, but that was it. 

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Routing Needed

The previous CRTs were fed the same signal from a DA. I wanted to be able to address each screen individually. That meant a matrix switcher. I spent a fair amount of time going back and forth between which one to buy and ultimately decided on a Blackmagic Compact VideoHub, a 40x40 SDI matrix. When I installed it and fired up the software, I immediately regretted it. The software is very flaky and after 3 hours, I never did get VideoHub Control to work. Thankfully, the other VideoHub software works, though only through USB. While it will work, I will not likely use any more of their products. The bitter taste of poor implementation lingers long after the sweetness of the low price is gone. Next time, Ross or For-A.

Anyway, each TV in the lobby—and the building for that matter—is its own destination on the router. That means we can route program, ProPresenter, or any of our four digital signage channels, or any other source to any TV. The wiring is more complex, but the flexibility it provides is pretty great. 

Digital Signage Choices

I looked around at plenty of options for digital signage. We could have used ProPresenter with a couple of Dual Head2Gos; or AppleTVs or even four Mac Minis with Keynote. But I settled on DigitalSignage.com. They provide signage for many restaurants, hotels and other retail venues. It’s not the most elegant user interface, but it is very powerful. There are robust scheduling rules that make it possible to come up with really custom signage for each event during the week. The service is free, and they sell custom-built players. We went with the MediaBox 200, which is basically an Intel NUC with a Core i3 processor and dual HDMI outputs. 

Two of them give us access to four channels of digital signage. It’s all accessible from the web, so it’s easy to manage. The only trouble we had was with our firewall. We had to assign static IPs to each MediaBox and open up those ports so they could communicate with the cloud server unencumbered. 

Again, time will tell if that was a good choice or not, but I can report that their tech support is pretty good and the system does work as advertised once it’s configured correctly. 

Monitor Options

While you can go to Costco or Amazon and buy a cheap display for your lobby, we chose to buy LG commercial grade displays for our install. The cost is about 30%-40% more, but the power supplies are more robust, and the displays are warranted for use in commercial installations. If the display was only going to be used occasionally, or was for a weekend only use, I would likely go consumer grade. But these will be on 10-12 hours a day, 7 days a week, so they need to be robust. They can also be controlled via RS-232 if you like.

As the router is SDI, and the displays take HDMI, we had to convert. I used the Monoprice HD-SDI to HDMI converters for this job. At under $100 each, they are the most budget-friendly options around, and they seem to work just great. I’ve had one around for testing for over a year, and we’ve had no issues with it. My guess is we’ll have the occasional power supply go bad on them, but we’d have to replace all of the 3-4 times before it would have made sense to go with a more expensive option. I don’t think that will happen in the next 5-7 years. But I could be wrong…

So, that’s the lobby. Next time, we’ll talk about the PA and the lobby speakers.

“Gear

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The Story of Redemption in Furniture

One of the projects I undertook during our renovation was the building of the tech booth desks. I’ve spent the last three years cribbing design ideas from various tech booths around the country. I integrated those ideas in with the needs I saw regularly as a TD. Last time, I talked about the design specifics and construction details. This time, I want to look at it from a different perspective. 

One of the things I hear often around the Visioneering offices is how we can tell a story through architecture. As I spent close to 100 hours building these desks, I had plenty of time to think about the story they tell. If you know me at all, you know I don’t do much of anything without intention. Building these desks, I made some very intentional decisions that not only led to a solid desk, but also tell a story. 

Be Where You Are

Sometimes, we think that in order to do ministry, we have to go to some exotic, far away place. But most times, we’re called to serve right where we are. While I could have used oak, maple, teak or my personal favorite, cherry for these desks, I chose Douglas Fir and Redwood. Both these trees are native to California and remind us we don’t have to go far to make an impact. 

We Are All Flawed

One thing we regularly hear from those outside the faith is that they don’t like church because it’s too fake. As Christians, we’re really good at putting on our happy face and hiding our problems when we go to church because we’re told that once we get saved, our lives should be happy and blessed. Except sometimes they aren’t.

The world still beats us up. We lose jobs. We lose marriages. Our kids screw up. Our parents screw up. We screw up. We can be abused. Life isn’t always easy. 

I’ve built a lot of furniture in my life, and normally, I try to make it perfect. But on this project, I intentionally left some flaws in place. While the half-lap joints are incredibly strong, they are not perfect. There are some gaps. I didn’t try to fill them in because I wanted them to be a reminder that we’re not perfect. And it’s OK. It’s OK to let people know things are hard right now. Of all places, the church should be a place where we can be broken, and be OK. I suspect tech guys know more about this than most, and I wanted this reminder present. 

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Jesus is a Strong Bond

For those half-lap joints, I used Gorilla glue. It’s billed as the world’s strongest glue and having used it for 20 years, I would agree. It’s an expanding, gap-filling polyurethane glue. When you spread it on the joint, it expands to fill the gaps. As I watched the glue expand during set up, I thought about how Jesus fills in some of the cracks and gaps in our lives. He creates an incredibly strong bond between us, the Father and other members of His body. 

I left the glue exposed in those joints to remind us about this. Again, it’s not perfect, as Jesus doesn’t make our life perfect. He does however, anchor us. Just as no one will ever be able to separate these two pieces of lumber, no one can snatch us out of His hands. 

God Doesn’t Only Use the Beautiful People

When you look at those on stage in many modern churches, you would be tempted to think that only the beautiful people can make a difference for Him. When we build furniture, we typically choose the best pieces for the front and the beat up ones for the back. While I did some sorting on this project, I decided to put a few pieces that were a little more rough out front. These pieces are still incredibly strong and will do their job faithfully despite not being as pretty as the other ones. I did this to remind us that we shouldn’t look only at outside appearances when choosing someone for a task.

Transparency Matters

I chose a clear polyurethane finish for these desks. Again, it would have been logical to paint them and use laminate for the tops. Had I painted them, I could have filled all the gaps, plugged all the knots and filled all the holes. But, I believe church is a place where we can all go, flaws and all, without having to cover it all up. At the same time, I did spend considerable time sanding off the rough edges and smoothing things out. I know God has smoothed off many of my rough edges over the years, and He continues to do so. I’m not yet perfect, but hopefully I’m a little less rough then I was. 

When we’re serving together, we shouldn’t have to hide our struggles. Often, God uses other people around us to smooth our edges, but that can’t happen if we show up looking perfect. 

I could go on about all the ways I see God’s story of redemption in these simple tables. Some may say I’m reading too much into this, or that I’m just lazy for not finishing them further. But I really do believe that everything speaks, and it’s really a question of what it’s saying. My hope is that these tables will keep speaking long after I’m gone.

Roland

CHCC Renovation: Tech Desks

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I’ve been posting a few pictures of the progress of my new tech booth desks on Twitter and they seem to have generated quite a bit of interest. So here’s a quick post on how I designed and built them. 

Designed in Sketchup

I typically use Trimble Sketchup for my design work. While there is a pretty good learning curve, it’s not terribly hard to use, at least as far as 3D programs go. It’s easy to draw in scale, which is critical for visualizing how everything is going to work. Plus, there is a huge library of previously built models that you can drop into the plan. I have iMacs, monitors, speakers and keyboards all over my model, which helps me figure out how big thing need to be.

If It Ain’t Over Built…

My dad and I used to joke that we should start a construction company, and if we did, our motto would be, “If it ain’t over built, we didn’t build it.” In that vein, I used 4x4 Douglass Fir lumber for the legs and all cross pieces. Each piece is joined to the other with a half-lap joint and glued together with Gorilla glue. Gorilla glue is crazy strong, and it expands as cures to fill in any gaps. 

We cut the laps first on a sliding compound miter saw, then finished them with a router. With the saw, we set the depth to just under half the thickness of the wood and made repeated cuts to remove a bunch material. After knocking out the remaining slices of wood, I used a plunge router and spiral cutting bit to finish the cut to the right depth. Cutting the ones in the middle of the wood was easy. But the ones on the ends required a piece of 4x4 clamped to the work table near the end of the piece I was milling to hold the router up. 

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Mid-Span Support

One of my biggest issues with most tech tables is there is always something to smash your knees or thighs underneath the desk table. I didn’t want that problem with these. So I located the mid-span cross brace below the table top 12” back from the front edge. I figured this would be far enough that you could comfortably raise the chair up enough to get as high as you want to to mix without hitting anything. 

Most of the tables are under 6’ long, so I wasn’t worried about sagging; especially with two 4x4s holding up the top. But FOH is 10’ long, and that’s a long span for a desk, particularly one with so much weight on it. To fasten the top to the base, I used PL Premium adhesive and 4 1/2” Timberlock screws. Now, for this assembly to sag, the entire thing has to deform, which should be hard.

The top is made of two piece of 3/4” 8-ply plywood, that are fully glued together. I spread Titebond glue over the entire surface, and screwed them together every 12”. As FOH is 10’ long, and it’s hard to find 10’ plywood, I had to join a few pieces. I used a full 8’ piece on the bottom with a 2’ end, and two 5’ pieces for the top. Putting the seam right in the middle will hide it almost completely as the console will be sitting right there. Looking back on it, I should have used plate joints (also know as biscuits) for those seams. Next time…

They’re Strong & Mobile

Overall, the desks are pretty tough. I’ve sat on all of them, and there is very little deflection. Even the FOH desk hardly moves, and as the SD8 is 51” long, most of the weight will be about 3’ from each leg. So I think we’ll be OK. 

I put 3” locking casters on each desk as well. I have always hated having to climb behind the desk to work on the I/O of the consoles. So I decided to put casters on them, so it’s easier to pull the desk out and get back there and work. You can’t skimp on casters, and I found these for about $8 each at Home Depot. The desks roll very nicely and should last a long time. 

Here is the Sketchup file if anyone wants to see the actual design. I’m not going to post construction drawings for them because they take a lot of time to generate, and are only useful if your tech booth is the same size as mine. Grab Sketchup and modify the sizes to suit your booth if you want.

Roland

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