Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Category: IT (Page 1 of 6)

Back It Up For Easter


Image courtesy of  Jon Ross

Image courtesy of Jon Ross

This is one of those quick-hit posts that may save you a lot of headaches. A few years ago, we spent the entire week before Palm Sunday setting the stage, hanging fixtures and programming lights. It was a long week, but we got a lot done and we were ready to go for the Easter week rehearsals. 

On Palm Sunday morning, my lighting tech started having problems with the console. Some cue stacks wouldn’t fire, and some lights weren’t responding. He rebooted and it stopped working altogether. Several more power cycles and re-boots and we were able to set a few quick looks and save them in to our ETC Paradigm for playback from the touch screen (really glad I had 6 recordable scene buttons set up before that day!). That got us through service. It wasn’t great, but there was light. 

After services I grabbed my IT guy and we determined fairly quickly that the hard drive on the console was dead. That would be the hard drive with all the programming for Easter on it. Yeah, that hard drive. 

We ordered up a new computer (the existing one was coming up for replacement anyway) with an SSD and a backup drive and IT got it configured by Monday afternoon. Thankfully, Thomas, my LD had backed up most of his work to his hard drive before leaving the week before. So he didn’t have nearly as much to do in order to be ready for rehearsals. Still, it was a nerve-wracking few days. 

Moral of the story: back it up! If you don’t have at least 3 copies of every media and show file in at least 2 different media, you are at high risk of losing the show. Because if a drive or computer is going to fail, it’s going to fail right before a big weekend like Easter. Don’t fall prey to that. Some simple backups strategies will save your sanity.

Dropbox

There’s really no reason why you shouldn’t have all your show and media files in Dropbox. It’s free for 2 gigs, which is more than enough for most everything important. I personally pay for the pro version every year and have a Terabyte of storage at my disposal. After each programming session, copy all your files to Dropbox and you’ll have several copies of them (especially if you have that Dropbox folder set up to sync to your laptop or desktop computer). 

We had Dropbox on all our tech booth computers, which meant every file from every system was on every machine. Local sync makes that fast and easy. And, with all those local backups, restoring is super-fast, too. 

Clone Drives

Another lesson we learned after the Great Lighting Console Crash of ’11 was that we needed to have fully bootable backups of the system drives of each mission critical computer. For Macs, I use Carbon Copy Cloner. We had another program we used to copy the entire Windows partition of Bootcamped Macs, but I don’t recall what it was. You can probably find it on Google. Norton Ghost is something you can use to clone PC hard drives. 

The main reason I clone drives is that it makes it faster to get up and running. Sure, you could start with a new computer, re-install all your software and configure all your settings. But that takes time, and you might not have it. That may be something you want to do, but if you need to get up and running fast, plug in the clone and get back to work.

Of course, for clones to be useful, they need to be current. We updated our clone drives every month. That way, we were never too far out of sync. When prepping for big weekends, we’d update the clones as soon as programming was done. 

Console Show Files

A show file will get corrupted at the worst times. I always save copies of my show file to a thumb drive when I’m done mixing. Even when I’m volunteering on a weekend at my church, I save the show file to my thumb drive Saturday night. At Coast Hills, we always ran an external computer sync’d to the console, and that show file was auto-sync’d to Dropbox on shutdown, which meant we had about 10 copies of the show file in just a minute after we shut the console down. Never hurts to have a spare. 

Hopefully this will give you the incentive you need to back everything up this week before you roll into Easter week. My hope is that this will save at least one person a lot of grief next week.

Elite Core

DMX Over Cat5, Pt. 2

Last time around, we talked about using Cat5 cable to distribute DMX signals. In that implementation, it is really cable replacement. Instead of pulling DMX cable (not mic cable—there is a difference), we pull Cat5 for our backbone distribution runs. Fixture to fixture cables are normal DMX cables. Today, I want to talk a little bit about using Ethernet to distribute DMX. This will be an overview article as there is way too much information to contain in a single post. Also, some of the standards are still evolving, and it’s not always simple, especially when mixing multiple manufacturers. Come to think of it, we need to do a podcast on this…


Here is a basic DMX network diagram. This is courtesy of  Pathway Connectivity . 

Here is a basic DMX network diagram. This is courtesy of Pathway Connectivity

The Original Ethernet—DMX Protocols

In the beginning, we had things like: 

  • Strand Shownet
  • ETC Net1
  • ETC Net2
  • ArtNet
  • Pathport

Each of those protocols use Ethernet wiring and switchgear to distribute multiple universes of DMX throughout a facility. All of them require some time of break in and break out adapter, as well as at least one Ethernet switch to get all the nodes talking to each other. In and of themselves, they were fine. The problem was, none of them talked to each other. Some devices could speak multiple languages, but the languages themselves were not compatible. If having an all ETC Net2 system was what you needed for example, it worked well. But introducing another standard into the mix was problematic. 

Still, those protocols worked well. They offered up to 128 universes, unlimited outputs, signal management (splitting, routing, prioritizing), and because it was all based on Ethernet standards, it was inexpensive to install and manage. So far so good. But you were using Ethernet, and RJ45 connectors aren’t the most robust. And Category cable is fragile compared to a regular DMX cable. 

The New Hotness—ACN

As often happens, when engineers see protocol soup like we have above, they look for a way to create a new one that will do everything the old ones would do, and more, and do it easier. That’s the promise of ACN. ACN stands for Architecture for Control Networks and defines a series of nested Protocol Data Units—a whole series of TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) defining how data gets moved around.

What’s cool about ACN is that it is media agnostic; you can use whatever cable you want. It’s designed to be interoperable, so multiple manufacturers equipment can be used together. It’s supposed to be plug and play, which simplifies setup. It’s also two-way, meaning the end devices can report their capabilities to the controller, and the controller will know what to do with it. In theory, this means we can get rid of fixture libraries someday. 

ACN uses an Ethernet backbone, so configuration and system architecture is familiar. I’ve been telling you that as a technical leader, you’re going to need to know more about networking. We know that’s true of audio, and it’s becoming more and more true of lighting and media servers. 

What’s Available Now?

Like many new standards, it will take time to implement. While there are some media servers and the like on the market that use ACN, there are few fixtures that do. Hopefully that changes in the next few years. Right now, we have ETC’s variant of ACN known as Net3. Pathway Connectivity uses sACN (Streaming ACN) in their Pathport products. And believe it or not, these two can talk to each other!

The good news is that we can install ACN backbone systems now, and simply break in and out to DMX as needed. Someday when ACN becomes commonplace on fixtures as well as controllers, we remove the adapters and everything talks ACN. And this is happening; many of the Jands consoles for example, already speak sACN and will simply output their DMX universes straight to the network. 

This is an exciting time to be in this industry. I was with a friend the other day and he showed me an installation that required hundreds of universes of DMX to manage. There’s no way anything like that would even be conceivable using regular old DMX. But with ACN, it’s easily possible. 

If you want to learn more about this, check out Pathway Connectivities Resource page. They have some articles and a Power Point presentation with good info (it’s where I got some of this content—thanks for that, guys!). Now is a great time to begin learning more about ACN, as it will be the standard going forward. Hopefully, we don’t have to wait 10 years before we start seeing native ACN fixtures…

Roland

Today’s post is brought to you by DPA Microphones. DPA’s range of microphones have earned their reputation  for exceptional clarity,  high resolution, above all, pure, uncolored accurate sound. Whether recording or sound reinforcement, theatrical or broadcast, DPA’s miking solutions have become the choice of professionals with uncompromising demands for sonic excellence.

Backing Up Production Machines


Photo courtesy of  Jaymis Loveday

Photo courtesy of Jaymis Loveday

Last time we talked about my thoughts on upgrading (or not upgrading) your production machines. Today, I’m going to talk about creating a safety net for them. Again, these are lessons I’ve learned over 25+ years of managing mission critical systems, so learn from my mistakes. 

Maintain a Current Clone of Your Drives

Hard drives will fail. Usually at the worst time. Like Palm Sunday morning. Yeah, that happened. Even SSDs, which are proving to be pretty dang reliable, will fail at some point. The only way to get back up and running quickly is with a full image backup. For all my mission critical production machines, I had a small hard drive with a full, bootable clone backup on it. I used to have several to manage, but after a while, I just bought a 1 TB pocket drive and partitioned it to back up 2-3 machines on one drive.

On the Mac, you can use a program like Super Duper for my favorite, Carbon Copy Cloner to keep an exact copy of the drive. On Windows, you can use Ghost or a similar program. If the main drive fails, or an upgrade breaks stuff, you can boot from the backup, and effectively unwind time. Any time I made significant changes to the machine, I would update the clone, but only after I verified the changes worked properly. If an update went south, we broke out the backup and rolled it back. 

For those of use that find Macs make better PCs than PCs do and need to backup your Bootcamp partitions, my IT guy told me about a cool program called WinClone. To use it, boot into the Mac OS, and run WinClone. It will compress and clone your Windows “drive” and save it as a file to another drive. Should Windows go south, you can simply restore the Windows drive and it will be like nothing never happened.

This is great for the OS and applications, but you can easily lose files like ProPresenter songs, for example. But I have a solution for that, too.

Use Dropbox for Libraries.

I set up a Dropbox account for my important show files. I wrote a full guide to this in an article called Back It Up: Presentation, but the gist is that you store (or maintain a cloned copy) of your show files, songs, templates and maybe media in a Dropbox folder that is automatically updated to the cloud. If you have to blow the drive out and restore from a clone, Dropbox will put your library files back. I don’t think I would ever run a production machine without Dropbox.

Maintain Incremental Backups

I really like Time Machine, especially lately. It’s a lot lower overhead than it once was and can really save your bacon if you delete or mess up a file. But, don’t run Time Machine backups during the service. Time Machine can be processor and disk intensive, and it’s highly possible that it will mess up your media playback. I prefer to keep Time Machine on an external drive so I can simply leave the drive turned off during the service. If you simply must have it on an internal drive, use Time Machine Scheduler to avoid service times. But honestly, an external drive is easier. Time Machine won’t even try to back up if the drive isn’t there, so it’s foolproof.

Clone Before Updating

Before we upgraded our production machines to a new OS, I went through and cloned all the drives. I did this so we could go back if something didn’t work. It’s a whole lot easier to simply restore the clone than it is to downgrade the OS, then Time Machine everything back. When it comes to upgrading, clones are your best friend. And honestly, drives are cheap enough now, you can easily maintain several versions of the clone if you want. Do one right before you update, then one right after. Small pocket drives from WD and Seagate are perfect for this task. At under $100 each, you can afford to have several for each machine. 

Hopefully this has helpful for you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to update some of my backups…

Today’s post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.

Upgrading Production Machines


Not what you want to see on Sunday morning...

Not what you want to see on Sunday morning…

We got to talking about this topic on one of the recent CTW episodes, and I thought it would be a good post. When I was on staff as a TD, I had a pretty strict policy regarding our production machines. Now that I’m working as an integrator, I dread the days following a major Mac OS update. That’s because I know I will soon be getting calls that start with, “We just upgraded all our iMacs to latest, greatest OS X… and fill in the blank software doesn’t work right anymore…” At that point, all I can say is, “Yeah, I usually don’t upgrade right away. Or ever, really. But you have a full image backup from before the upgrade, right?” Silence…

So in the interest of preventing said calls and emails, let me give you a few pointers on how to manage production machines. These are lessons I learned—many of the them the hard way—over 25+ years of managing production computers. It’s important to note that production machines are different from office computers. If an office computer goes down, you may not be able to get to your email for a little bit (except through your phone), but otherwise, nothing bad really happens. 

If a production machine goes down on Sunday morning, bad, bad things happen. If you upgrade on Friday and break something, the next 36 hours will be stressful. You really don’t want to be beta testing new software on the weekend. Here’s my guide to keeping your sanity with your computers. 

Don’t Upgrade Unless You Have To

Most of the time, you don’t have to upgrade your production machines. When I was at Coast Hills, most of my machines were running the latest version of 10.6 until early 2014 when we upgraded to 10.7. Why? Because it worked. If everything works on the OS you have, don’t upgrade it. I really like computers that start up and go to work every time without any fanfare. Avoiding unnecessary updates helps this.

My triggers for updating the OS are twofold: First, if some production software updates and introduces new features that I really need, and it requires a newer version of the OS, then I’ll update. Second, if the OS update introduces new features I really need, I’ll update to that version after the next version comes out. I like to stay about 1 version back at least. 

Don’t Upgrade Right Away

Computer code has become so complex it’s almost impossible to catch all the bugs and problems in a program before release, let alone an operating system. Apple is pretty good, but there is no way they can know how a new OS will affect every user. And many churches are still using older hardware and peripherals like audio or video interfaces, and a new OS can break the drivers for a while or forever. This is perhaps my #1 rule of OS updates: DON’T UPGRADE RIGHT AWAY. Let others beta test it first. 

I stay behind by at least one version because that allows time to get drivers and software updated and working solidly. Remember, we prefer reliable performance to fancy new features. 

Turn Off Auto Updates

One of my biggest pet peeves for production machines is auto updates. Windows used to be the worst at this, but now Apple has joined the fun in the last two versions. Unless you configure it properly, both OS’s will happily install new software or system updates all on their own and that can easily break things. Until I figured out how to turn it off, we kept having Windows kick up a message saying it would reboot the machine in 10 minutes to install updates every Sunday morning! Google it to learn how to turn that off. 

This does mean you should stay on top of a manual update routine, especially for security updates. But do that on Monday or Tuesday, then test everything thoroughly during the week to make sure it works. If you leave your computers on all the time, you really need to be careful of this. The last thing you want is to come in on Sunday only to find your software updated and no longer works right.

Verify All Software Will Work—Including Drivers

I just upgraded my studio Mac Mini to Mavericks, mainly because I installed a second screen and wanted to take advantage of the updated Spaces functionality. I waited so long because I wanted to be sure all my audio interface software would be good. I use this machine every week for CTW, and it has to work.

If you use an external peripheral that relies on driver software, be sure it’s approved for the OS you want to use before upgrading. I’ve heard from several people that they decided to upgrade their OS and now some critical external piece doesn’t work anymore. Remember, unless you have to upgrade, don’t. 

Those are a few suggestions for the upgrade process. If you take anything from this, it’s don’t upgrade. At least not unless you absolutely have to. Next time, I’ll give you some suggestions for creating a safety net for your computers. In the meantime, my friend Joel Smith has written a great guide on keeping ProPresenter machines working reliably. You should go read it. 20 Steps To Maximizing ProPresenter For Mac

Roland

Today’s post is brought to you by myMix. myMix is an intuitive, easy-to-use personal monitor mixing and multi-track recording system that puts each user in control of their own mix! myMix features two line-level balanced 1/4″ TRS outputs and one 1/8″ (3.5mm) headphone output, the ability to store up to 20 named profiles on each station, 4-band fully parametric stereo output EQ recording of up to 18 tracks plus stereo on an SD card. Learn more at myMixaudio.com

Making Cat5 Cables

I’ve done posts on making your own XLRs, 1/4” cables and Speakons. I’ve even shown you how to make your own BNC cables. But it occurred to me the other day that I’ve never done a post on making Cat5 cables. Honestly, I don’t like making Cat5 ends up. They’re very finicky and I find myself re-making them more often than I’d like. Part of it is the design of the connector itself, and part is just finding good parts. But even that is challenging. I was talking with a friend the other day who swears by the Cat5 ends at Home Depot. I’ve had nothing but problems with them. I bought some from TecNec a while back, and they came with a cool loading bar. I thought this would make it easier to terminate. And it did. Except almost none of them worked. 

But, as more and more of our jobs become networking, we need to know how to make a Cat5 cable. And for the purposes of this article, when I say Cat5, I mean Cat5e, Cat6 and probably Cat7. The process is the same, the components are different. So let’s get started.

Cut the Jacket Carefully


Sorry for the bad focus; the iPhone had a tough time with these...

Sorry for the bad focus; the iPhone had a tough time with these…

The jacket on category cable protects the four twisted pairs inside. When you cut it, be careful not cut too deep. The solid copper wire is fragile and if you score it, the conductor can easily break while you’re manipulating it. I like to run my blade over the jacket, then bend it at a 90° angle. This usually breaks the jacket and you can pull it off cleanly. 

Organize the Wires


Once the jacket is cut, splay the pairs out in the right order. This will be helpful as you untwist them and get them lined up in the right sequence. Once the pairs are ordered, untwist them and begin the straightening process. I like to take each wire and pull it through my fingers a few times to get it straightened out. As I do this, I start lining them up in order. 

Know Your Standards


Most of the time, we want to wire Cat5 cables using the USOC 568B standard. That means the wires will go in this order when you view the connector from the bottom (where the actual contacts are):

  • White/Orange
  • Orange
  • White/Green
  • Blue
  • White/Blue
  • Green
  • White/Brown
  • Brown

568A is similar, except it swaps the Orange and Green pairs. Most equipment will work fine with either, but when I ask manufacturers for recommendations, they usually suggest 568B. So that’s what I do unless the documentation specifically states otherwise. When you have the wires lined up right, it should look like this.


Cut To Length


Again, focus. Ugh...

Again, focus. Ugh…

Over the years, I’ve learned to strip the jacket a bit long, straighten the wire out and get it lined up, then cut it shorter to fit in the plug. It’s easier and it makes sure the wires are all the same length. You may have to experiment a little get a feel for how short to make your final cut. There’s probably a standard somewhere, but I eyeball it and it’s usually about 1/2” or so.

Insert the Wire Into the Plug


This is the hardest part of the job. There are little groves in the plug that the wire is supposed to slide into, but if you haven’t done a good job straightening the wire out, one wire may jump into the wrong groove and get out of order. So make sure you take your time, get the wires relaxed and going in the right direction. If you can’t take your fingers off them and have them stay in the right order, you’re going to have problems getting them in the plug. 

Make sure you push them all the way to the front. There are only two little IDC (Insulation Displacement Contacts) teeth on each connection, and you don’t want to miss them. Many a cable fails to work because one wire didn’t get in all the way. 

Crimp It Down


cat5-7.JPG

Once you’re all set, put the plug in the crimping tool and give it a good squeeze. I like the ratcheted crimpers because I know I’ve made a full press. But I’ve also used non-ratcheted ones for years and they work fine. Take the connector out and you should be all set. When you’re all done, visually inspect the end to make sure the wires stayed in the right order. It should look just like this one. After you do the other end, it’s best to test the cable with a two-part tester (assuming the ends are far away). You can find the testers almost anywhere at varying price points. 

 In case you’re wondering, this is a shielded connector, and we use those for video over Cat5. 

So that’s it. They’re not hard to make, just a bit of a pain. Personally, I’d rather make BNC cables all day long than a handful of Cat5 connectors, but that’s just me. The world is going Cat5, so we better know how to use it. 

“Gear

Today’s post is brought to you by Heil Sound. Established in 1966, Heil Sound Ltd. has developed many professional audio innovations over the years, and is currently a world leader in the design and manufacture of large diaphragm dynamic, professional grade microphones for live sound, broadcast and recording.

CTW InfoComm 2014 Coverage: Audinate Dante Via

Most of us are familiar with Dante, the flexible audio network and transport protocol. They have now introduced Via. Via removes the dedicated hardware limitation of Dante and lets any input, output or even software on your computer become a transmitter or receiver for Dante. Plenty of great applications for this; the only downside is it won’t be out until year’s end.

“Gear

Today’s post is brought to you by DPA Microphones. DPA’s range of microphones have earned their reputation  for exceptional clarity,  high resolution, above all, pure, uncolored accurate sound. Whether recording or sound reinforcement, theatrical or broadcast, DPA’s miking solutions have become the choice of professionals with uncompromising demands for sonic excellence.

Procedure Documents


photo © 2008  E01  |  more info        (via:  Wylio )

photo © 2008 E01 | more info    (via: Wylio)

The other day, I was looking back over some old posts. I found my Hit By A Bus list article, and it got me thinking. As I prepared to leave Coast Hills a few months ago, I started documenting as many procedures as I could. As my former ATD had recently left, I knew my new ATD was going to be drinking from a fire hose the first few weeks. To make life easier for him and our volunteers, I started writing down how to do common tasks. 

A Clarify-ing Moment

Some time ago, I came across a program called Clarify. It’s a single-purpose tool designed to make step-by-step documentation. It uses a combination of screen grabs and text to create the document. While I could have created the documents in Pages, Word or almost anything else, Clarify has the advantage of being a step-based program. It forced me to think about the steps I went through for a given task. 

For example, here’s an example from our procedure for setting up the M-48s. You can download the PDF at the end of the article.


I tweaked the format a bit to match our logo. I like it because it really does walk you through the process step by step. 

Many Procedures, Many Documents

I built procedure documents for all kinds of things: The process for creating lower thirds for our video switcher, for example. We have procedures for setting up Reaper, editing and uploading the podcast, even editing the video in FCPX. All are broken out in simple, small steps that anyone with a moderate amount of technical skill can do. 

I complied all these documents in a 3-ring binder that lives in the tech booth. I told Matt when I left, “If you have a question about how to do anything, look in the procedure book first. If you can’t find it, call me.” So far, he hasn’t called. So I guess it worked. 

You Shouldn’t Take It With You

I think a lot of guys want to keep this kind of knowledge a secret, believing it gives them some job security. While that may be, it’s the wrong mindset. We’re here to build the Kingdom of God, not our own. We shouldn’t hide this knowledge under a bucket. We need to share it with our team, if for no other reason that you should take a weekend off once in a while.

Now, I know you’re going to ask, “Mike, can you post all your procedure documents?” The answer is, “Probably not.” That may seem in contrast to what I just said, but here’s why. Procedures are very specific. I’ve developed these process based on our systems, goals, and equipment. Some of it may be transferrable, but much is not. If you want to know how I’m doing these, look at the Patching M-48 document. All the rest of them follow the same format. Simply break a procedure down into steps and load it up with images. You can then sit back and watch the magic of other people doing your job.

Download Patching M-48s in PDF format.

“Gear

Today’s post is brought to you by DPA Microphones. DPA’s range of microphones have earned their reputation  for exceptional clarity,  high resolution, above all, pure, uncolored accurate sound. Whether recording or sound reinforcement, theatrical or broadcast, DPA’s miking solutions have become the choice of professionals with uncompromising demands for sonic excellence.

Church Tech Weekly Episode 192: 8K Is For Suckers


We’re live from NAB! Our panel of experts brings us up to speed on some cool 4K video walls, the Blackmagic Studio Camera, Avid Everywhere, new switchers from Ross & Sony and much more. 

More…

“Gear

Today’s post is brought to you by Pivitec.Pivitec redefines the Personal Monitor Mixing System by offering components that are Flexible, Precise and Expandable. Ideal for any application from Touring and Live Production to fixed installation in theaters and Houses of Worship.

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