Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Category: IT (Page 2 of 6)

CTA Review: MacBook Pro 13″ with Retina Display


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I’ve never been one to race articles to print. I don’t tend to rush out and get my hands on the latest technology just to be the first one to review it. Instead, I tend to find great pieces of gear and write about them. And that’s where this review is coming from. 

The 13” MacBook Pro with Retina Display has been around for a while. According the MacTracker the first Retina Display MacBooks appeared in June 2012. That was about 3 months after I bought my 11” MacBook Air. While the Air was a faithful traveling computer for two years, I found myself squinting at the screen a little more than I liked. And while the i7 processor was solid—faster than my 2009 15” MPB in fact—the smallish 128 GB SSD and 4 Gigs of RAM was starting to feel limiting. 

So I upgraded to what I now consider the ultimate traveling computer. I was able to pick up a top level 13” MBP w/ Retina with the help of a friend who works for Apple. It has a 512 GB PCI SSD, which is considerably faster than the SATA SSD in my Air. With 8 Gigs of RAM, I feel like I’ll be good for a while. The 2.6 GHz Haswell Core i5 processor is quite snappy. And then there is the screen.

The Retina Display is Amazing

I was pretty stunned when I first opened the lid on this computer. The screen is so sharp, so bright and so clear it was almost unreal. Next to the 13, the Air’s 11” non-Retina display looks coarse. In fact, even my 24” 1920×1080 studio display looks pretty ugly. 

While I’ve clearly reached “old guy” status (I wear progressive lens glasses, after all), I think even younger eyes would appreciate the clarity this screen brings. I do a lot of typing, and the screen renders type beautifully. When set to the “Best for Retina” setting, there is enough screen real estate for me to do what I need to do, and plenty of resolution. If I switch to “More Space,” things get a little small, but are still crystal clear. 

The Big Reason for the Change: Battery Life

While I loved the tiny form factor and light weight of the Air, the short battery life kept my long-form writing sessions to a minimum. I had to be strategic on an airplane to manage battery life, and sometimes I just ran out. While the MBP is a little thicker and heavier, the tradeoff is vastly longer battery life. In the three weeks I’ve owned it, I find I’m charging it every two or three days. I’m not using it all day, every day, but the claim of 8-9 hours of runtime seems accurate. 

The Best Mobile Form Factor?

Design is all about compromise. You can save weight, but you’ll likely cut battery life. A less powerful processor will save battery life, but reduce performance. A small screen is easy to carry around, but it’s harder to see. I’ve owned a PowerBook G3 with a 14.1” screen, a MacBook 13”, two MacBook Pros with 15” screens, the 11” Air and now the MBP 13”. While the 15” screens are nice, the computer is big and pretty heavy to drag through an airport. The 11” was small and light, but hard to see. 

The 13” is just right. There is enough power, screen size, portability and battery life to accomplish just about any task. At 3.46 pounds, it’s about half the weight of my first Pismo G3 PowerBook, but only a pound heavier than the 11” Air. While some are railing on Apple for soldering the SSD and memory to the motherboard, it does make for a very compact case. 

I even think they nailed it on ports. Two Thunderbolt 2, two USB 3.0 and an HDMI port. And for doing photo or video work, the built-in SD card slot is a great addition. FireWire is going away, but for $30 you can get a Thunderbolt to FW adapter; same for Ethernet. Though I have yet to need either for this laptop. 

Apple Build Quality

Some complain about Apple’s high prices for their computers. I find that when you look at comparable models, they’re not that much more. And Apple builds them well. This one feels like it was milled out of a solid block of aluminum—wait, it actually was. My Pismo was still running strong 7 years after I bought it (and sold it for 30% of what I paid for it). My work laptop is 4.5 years old and aside from a new SSD is also a workhorse. I’ve found Apple laptops are worth the extra cost, and a true pleasure to use. This one is no exception. 

I’m not MacWorld, so I don’t give out mice as ratings, but this is a solid choice in laptops. The SSD is crazy-fast, I love the form-factor, the screen is gorgeous, and the all-day battery life is great. If you’re up for a new computer this year, give it a look.

Gear Techs

Today’s post is brought to you by Ansmann, USA, distributor of Ansmann rechargeable batteries and battery chargers. Used worldwide by Cirque du Soleil and over 25,000 schools, churches, theaters, and broadcast companies. We offer a free rechargeable evaluation for any church desiring to switch to money-saving,  planet-saving rechargeables. Tested and recommended by leading wireless mic manufacturers and tech directors. 

CTA Review: OWC Accelsior PCI Express SSD


accelsior.jpg

As video resolutions go up, the files get larger. Larger files demand not only larger storage devices, but also faster ones. Having switched to 1080i video resolution last year, we’ve been struggling with the speed that FCPX handles it. Originally, I bought a 4-bay RAID 5 external drive that connects via eSATA. That certainly helped, but it still seemed that the thumbnails, waveforms and scrubbing was slower than it could be. I could switch to RAID 0, but the lack of safety scares me a bit. 

I was experimenting at home with some video we shot at a trade show. I moved it between a USB 2.0 drive, a USB 3.0 drive and an SSD connected via USB 3.0. With every step up, the FCPX responded much better. Thumbnails generated quicker, and it was a lot easier to scrub and zoom in and out. So it occurred to me that this was all related to how fast FCP could read the data off the drive. 

While I sat there watching the render progress bar slowly creep up one Sunday, I flipped through my email and saw one from OWC advertising their Accelsior PCI SSD. I had already read how much faster SSDs were when connected via PCI instead of a SATA bus (and it’s proven true with my new 13” MacBook Pro Retina), and figured the same would happen with the Accelsior.

According to the OWC website, the Accelsior—which is available in capacities of 120, 240, 480 and 960 GBs—can read at speeds up to 820 MB/s in PCs and 688 MB/s in Mac Pros. I launched Blackmagic Disk Speed test to see what my current set up was doing. The RAID 5 we have running was reading at around 238 MB/s. Some quick math showed that 688 is almost 3x 238, so I decided to take the plunge and order one. 

The Accelsior is a simple PCIe card with two SandForce driven memory blades on it. The blades are replaceable, so if you want more capacity or if faster blades come out in the future, it’s a simple swap. The new version of the Accelsior also includes 2 eSATA ports on it, which is great as that let me ditch the eSATA card I had in the Mac. Genius. 

Once it was installed and the Mac was closed back up (this took about 2 minutes), I fired up Disk Speed Test. I was initially disappointed to see write speeds come in at 222 MB/s, but then I recalled that write speed is not the primary goal or strength of this upgrade. Then the read speed came up. The needle swung all the way over to the red, pegged out. I saw read speeds of 611 MB/s! I couldn’t wait to try editing. 

I copied a weekend capture file (we capture in ProRes 422LT, 1080i) over to the Accelsior and imported the clip into FCPX. I am used to it taking a while to generate thumbnails for the 85 minute file, but this was nearly instant. I dropped it on the timeline and again, huge speed gains for thumbnails and waveforms. Editing became very snappy, and I no longer felt I was waiting long times for the file to be updated.

We edit two versions of the service and this upgrade has easily shaved 10 minutes off my edit time. That might not seem like much but it’s really about 30%. Moreover, renders are much faster as well. Using Compressor, we render out both versions of the service to the Accelsior, and both are done hours earlier than they used to be. I used to dread editing the service because it felt like I was working in a vat of molasses. Now, it’s actually fun. I make decisions based on what is best for the project, not what will take less time. The only downside is that editing on my old 2009 MacBook Pro is now painful. 

While not inexpensive, at $400 for the 240 GB version, it’s not outrageous. I had considered spending $500 for a Matrox Compress HD, but that would only speed up rendering. The Accelsior speeds up editing and render, so it’s a better deal. 

For reference, I decided to test read and write speeds of the internal 6G SSD (from OWC) we have in the Mac Pro, as well as the RAID 5, and the WD 1 TB spinning disk. Write speeds for the SSD, RAID and Accelsior are all in the low- to mid-200’s, but the read speed is where the Accelsior clearly wins. At 611 MB/s, it’s considerably faster than the SSD (264) or the RAID (238). The poor single disk reads and writes at 107 and 98 respectively. 

It’s hard to find a reason not to love this upgrade. The only downside is the size. At 240 GB, it’s enough for us to capture both Sunday services (roughly 75 GB each), and render back both versions of the service (message only and full service). So each week, I use a program called Hazel to automatically move the render files off to a spinning disk (that gets backed up afterwards) and the capture files to the RAID 5. That way, we can keep 6-8 months of captured weekends online, and always be working on the fastest device.

If you’re looking for a way to speed up your FCPX workflow, and you have a MacPro (or a Thunderbolt-equipped Mac with a PCIe expansion chassis), give the Accelsior a shot.

Roland

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Getting An iPad On The Big Screen


Yup, that's the Apple TV main menu live in ProPresenter.

Yup, that’s the Apple TV main menu live in ProPresenter.

Perhaps this has happened to you: You get a request from the pastor to show his iPad screen on the big screen during a service. Perhaps he wants to draw something, show some pictures or maybe even run his own slides. No matter, your challenge is to get the iPad on the screen. And probably the video for the web as well. But how? We have a few options. 

Wire It

Perhaps the easiest option is an Apple AV adapter. They are made in both 30-pin and Lightning versions. If I were doing this, I would probably go with a Lightning to HDMI, then covert HDMI to SDI and run it back to the booth. Once it’s in SDI, we can get it into ProPresenter or the video switcher without too much trouble. Of course, you’ll need an HDMI to SDI converter, and the iPad will be cabled. That may not be convenient or cool enough. So we may have to go wireless. 

Apple TV To The Rescue

Well, maybe. AirPlay Display is a very cool idea. You can mirror the iPad screen or use the Apple TV as a second display for Keynote. That’s all well and good, but how do you get the Apple TV into your system? It might seem easy as it’s an HDMI connector. However, thanks to the good people at the MPAA, we have to deal with HDCP. This wonderful anti-piracy copy protection scheme not only prevents you from stealing a copy of Fast and Furious 17, but from plugging the Apple TV into a switcher. Maybe. It kind of depends on all the equipment. That’s what’s so infuriating about HDCP. You never really know if it will work until you try it. And it may stop you from getting a signal even if you’re not doing anything remotely illegal. But, we can fix it.

Convert to DVI First

I’m not sure why, but if HDMI is converted to DVI (or VGA) HDCP doesn’t seem to throw a fit. This is what we ended up doing this past weekend. We have a Motu HDX-SDI interface on our Mac Pro which runs ProPresenter. We actually don’t use the HDX-SDI for video normally, it was just the cheapest 8-channel AES output device I could find. It also has the benefit of being able to ingest video.

After a little web research, I saw someone had success converting the HDMI output of the Apple TV to DVI, then running it through a Blackmagic DVI Extender, which turns it into SDI. I have a DVI Extender on my ProPresenter machine, so I pulled it off, and tried it. Sure enough, it worked great! 

The only problem is I use the DVI Extender for my main screen, so it’s not available for anything else. It was too late in the week to order another one, so I started rummaging around in our bin of old gear. I found a DVI to component video scan converter from Extron. As the HDX-SDI has analog component video in, I hooked it up. Bingo! There was a little bit of scan conversion noise, but it got filtered out by the time it hit the screen. So I left that hooked up for the weekend. If this becomes a regular thing, then I’ll probably buy a new DVI to SDI interface for ProPresenter (most likely a Matrox Convert DVI Plus) and use the DVI Extender for the Apple TV. 

In Practice

So once the video is coming in to the Mac, what do we do with it? You may not have noticed that ProPresenter has a live video option. Create a blank slide and go into the Editor. At the top, click on the Live Video icon and it drops a box on the slide. Size it to full screen and select your input. When that side goes to air, so does the video. It’s quite elegant. And since we have ProPresenter going to the video mixer, anything on the iPad will show up on the web video as well. It’s quite elegant. 

Another Lower Budget Option

What if you don’t have a video interface on your ProPresenter computer, plus the DVI to video converter? Well, you could do what I was first going to do: connect the Apple TV directly to the projector and switch inputs. This has  the advantage of being fairly simple and cheap. However, it doesn’t give you the ability to preview the shot before taking it live (something that scared me into coming up with the above solution), and it doesn’t get recorded. But it would work. In a pinch.

Safeguards

We put our Apple TV on our non-public Sound network and gave it an AirPlay Display password. You don’t want some kid in the congregation jacking your Apple TV during the service. This also helps ensure the bandwidth will be there for the interface. You may also have to play around with display resolution settings for a bit to get it all working. 

So there you go. A relatively simply way of getting the pastor’s iPad on the big screen. Now hopefully, no one tells Apple about this—I’d hate for them to figure out a way to lock this down. What we’re doing is not illegal, so there’s no reason to. But that might not stop the MPAA…

Gear Techs

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.

Automating with Calendar in Mountain Lion and Mavericks

Most of you know that I’m big into automating things. I’ve written before about triggering recording from calendar events—it’s something I’ve been doing for a few years. However, I recently hit a snag with that process. I picked up a new-ish MacPro for video capture. After installing Mountain Lion on it, I used Migration Assistant to move the user profile over from the old machine. So far so good. At least until Sunday.

Changes to what you can launch from Calendar events started in 10.8.

It turns out that due to security concerns, you can no longer launch AppleScripts directly from a calendar event. Starting with Mountain Lion, and continuing in Mavericks, you have to handle this a little differently. Thankfully, it’s not that hard. Instead of calling an AppleScript directly, we use Automator to fire it for us.


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Step 1: Create a Calendar Alarm in Automator

Even if you want to run an AppleScript, you have to use Automator. Thankfully, it’s easy to compile an AppleScript to work in an Automator Action. Launch Automator, select, “New” and click on the Calendar Alarm icon to start that workflow type.

Step 2: Run AppleScript

From the list of actions, choose “Run AppleScript.” Drag it into your workflow. Your script will vary, but here is the one I use to trigger capture with Blackmagic’s Media Express.

tell application "Blackmagic Media Express"
activate
end tell

tell application "System Events"
keystroke "r" using {command down}
end tell

Step 3: Save the Action, Edit the Calendar Event

Once the Automator action is saved, it will create an event in Calendar. It creates a new calendar called Automator, and places an event for the time you created your action. I edited mine to trigger recording at 8:59 AM and 10:59 AM every Sunday (two events, just Option-Drag to duplicate it). 


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That’s it! It’s really quite easy. I recommend testing this a few times prior to Sunday. I had to play around with it a little bit to get it working, but once I did, it goes fine. There also seems to be a little lag between the time the clock strikes 8:59 and when the script fires, so give it a minute before concluding it’s not working. You’ll never miss the start of the service again!

Gear Techs

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.

Should I Buy a New Mac Pro or an Old One?


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Let’s face it; the new Mac Pro is super-cool looking. Barely larger than a stack of 100 DVDs, it packs incredible power in a small form factor. It’s clearly the wave of the future, especially when you consider the dual Thunderbolt 2 busses with 6 ports. It’s smaller, faster and really not more expensive than the outgoing models. And instead of waiting to buy one in a few weeks (Apple said December…), I went with an older model when upgrading our video capture/edit station. Why?

Black Friday.

One big reason was that I got a screaming deal from OWC on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. They had a pre-Black Friday sale with a deal too good to pass up. I ended up with a refub 2009 model Mac Pro with a Quad Core 2.93 GHz processor, a 240 GB SSD, a 1 TB spinning disk and an NVIDIA GeForce GT 120 graphics card. That’s replacing a 2006 (original Mac Pro) 2.66 Quad Core. While it may not look like a big upgrade, the difference between the old Woodcrest and the newer Bloomfield chips is significant. In fact, the newer one benchmarks about 3 times faster than the old one; and it feels that way. With free shipping, the new Mac Pro was just a few dollars over $1,500; half the cost of a new Mac Pro. But it doesn’t end there.

Everything has to be new.

While I like buying new stuff, when I totaled up all that we need to buy to convert to the new Mac Pro, it started getting expensive. We currently have two Blackmagic capture cards in our system; one for video capture and one to drive ScopeBox (program and preview respectively). We are also running an external  e-SATA RAID 5 capture disk. That gives me more than enough speed to safely capture 1080i in ProRes. So how does any of that work with a new Mac Pro?

Expensively. We would either have to buy an external PCI-e chassis that connects via Thunderbolt (roughly $1,000) or buy two new Thunderbolt capture boxes (roughly $1,000-2,000). In both cases, our options are limited, though there are enough out there to get the job done. We would also need to pick up a Thunderbolt to e-SATA adapter ($175).

So by the time it’s all said and done, we’re looking at at least $1,200 and probably closer to $1,500-2000 on top of the cost of the new Mac Pro—which when configured the way I want it will be at least $3,500. So when it came down to a choice between $5,000+ and $1,500, it was a pretty easy decision. Especially when I can use the $3,000 I saved to buy new viewfinders for our cameras. 

Cheaper is not always better, but this time it is.

Those who know me know I don’t always advocate for the cheaper solution. In fact, I almost never do. But in this case it made more sense. I can score a big performance update—the faster processor, newer architecture and SSD make FCPX feel very snappy indeed—at a minimal cost. We will be able to get at least 2 if not 3-4 years out of this Mac Pro before we need to upgrade again, and by then the Thunderbolt ecosystem will have developed significantly. 

The point of this story is to simply say that it is important to weigh the options before plunging into an upgrade. Sometimes the latest and greatest makes sense, and when it does, go for it. Other times, buying something a few years old is a better value, especially if it will do what we need it to do. In this case, I’m even keeping the old Mac Pro around as a render node, so it will speed up rendering even more. 

This Mac will cost us about $500/yr. assuming a 3 year service life. That’s not bad at all. In 3 years, we’ll have a better idea of what we’re doing with video (it’s a bit up in the air anyway right now), and the industry should have settled some of the interface stuff out. 

So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. And on it’s first weekend out, without even finishing the configuration and optimization, the new Mac Pro cut a full hour off my render/upload time, and probably 20 minutes from my edit time. That works for me!

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How Long do Hard Drives Last?

As more and more of our A/V/L equipment becomes computerized—and thus is running from a hard drive—figuring out how long a drive will last is quickly becoming a big deal for technical leaders. A quick count in my tech booth tallied 20 hard drives (both SSD and spinning). Some of those are backups, and that doesn’t count the 3 others that we keep in another room as backups. So to say our operation relies on hard drives is an understatement. 

But how long will they last?

That is the question. I’ve had a lot of experience with hard drives over the years. I’m sure I’ve owned, managed, bought, replaced hundreds of drives. And for the life of me, I’ve not been able to come up with a consistent answer. Thankfully, there are companies who don’t use hundreds of hard drives but thousands. Tens of thousands actually. 

Backblaze is a company that provides online backup. They started five years ago and now deploy 75 petabytes of storage. They are quickly approaching 30,000 drives in service. They elected to install consumer-grade drives, not the server-grade, industrial strength ones. People told them they were crazy, but it’s worked out OK. They have a ton of data on hard drive failure rates. 

Recently they wrote a blog post that details their current knowledge of failure rates. I recommend you go read the whole article because it’s quite interesting. But here’s the Cliff Notes version.

Drives last 6 years.

Well, that’s sort of true. They are extrapolating 5 year data, to 6 years, and arriving at the point where 50% of the drives fail. That becomes the median failure rate. In other words, if their projection holds up (and we’ll have to wait a year or more to see), 50% of drives will fail before 6 years. Which also meads 50% will continue to run. But wait…there’s more!

The Bathtub Curve.

Reliability engineers point to a curve called the Bathtub Curve. It shows three things; the early failure rate, a constant failure rate, and the parts wearing out failure rate. When overlaid on top of each other, it looks a bit like a bathtub. 

This curve mirrors what Backblaze finds as well. Indeed, I would say this is what I’ve tended to see in my much more limited experience. Backblaze finds that drives have three distinct failure rates. From their post:

  • For the first 1.5 years, drives fail at 5.1% per year.
  • For the next 1.5 years, drives fail LESS, at about 1.4% per year.
  • After 3 years though, failures rates skyrocket to 11.8% per year.

The early rate is the “infant mortality” rate; those that likely have some sort of manufacturing defect. However, if the drive survives the first year and a half, they seem to do quite well. After three years however, parts start to wear out. As mechanical devices, bearings will wear, heads will wear, and even the magnetic properties will change. At that point, almost 12% begin to fail. 

While that looks like a huge jump, keep in mind that after three years, more than 80% of the drives are still working. So that’s not too bad. 

What does this mean for us?

I think it means what it always meant: we have to back up regularly. For every mission critical drive, we need to have a hot backup that can be swapped in quickly in case of failure. If it’s not a RAID copy, having a clone of the drive with the most current data possible will make it much easier to get up and running when the drive fails. 

Also, I think having a policy of replacing mission critical drives on a regular basis is a good idea. I’ve personally settled on a 3-year replacement policy for most of my drives, and that’s just based on my experience. Interestingly, it seems to be mirrored by this data. I could probably stretch it out to 4 years because I have good backups, but drives are so inexpensive now, it seems to make sense to replace them.

I would love to see a study like this with SSDs. My gut tells me we’ll be on a 3-year plan with those as well, but we’ll have to wait and see. 

Like everything, planning is everything. Knowing our drives will fail makes it easy to justify backups as well as money in the budget for replacements. Remember, when it comes to drives, it’s not a question of “if,” but “when.”

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Application Launch Scripts


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I love automating things. One thing I’ve noticed in my 40+ years on earth is that people tend to forget things. Whether it’s taking out the trash, remembering birthdays or starting the video recording at the right time, we forget. I’ve also noticed that computers are pretty good at remembering things. If you tell your computer that it should remind you of something two weeks from now, it will do it. 

Moreover, if you want something done the exact same way every time, well, computers are really good at doing that, too. I started playing around with this a year or so ago when I had an issue with Media Express wouldn’t hold the preference settings properly. It kept dropping back to a different codec and would fail to save the default save directory.

I decided to write an Automator/AppleScript action to launch Media Express, then set the preferences. That took an Automator function called Watch Me Do, which moves the mouse for you. Somehow, that problem magically fixed itself, but it occurred to me that I could automate some other functions of our start up process. 

I re-wrote the startup AppleScript to do the following:

  • Launch the app
  • Switch to Recording mode
  • Enter some parameters in the clip name fields

That seemed pretty easy, and it was. Unfortunately, Media Express is not GUI Scriptable, so I can’t get it to click the little plus signs that actually add the name elements to the clip name (I guess we have to give the video director something to do, right?). 

After that was working really well, it occurred to me that one other issue we have is our capture drive running out of free space. While it’s a 5 TB RAID, we do need to clear it out every so often. While it’s true that I could check it each week, I figured AppleScript could probably do that for me, and it won’t forget.

So I added a few lines to my launch script. After Media Express is launched and the name fields entered, the scrip polls the drive and figures out how much free space is there. If there is more than 300 GB of space open, it pops up a dialog that says everything is fine. If there is less than 300 GB, it alerts the operator that we need to clear off some space. Here is the script: 

tell application "Blackmagic Media Express.app"
activate
end tell
tell application "System Events"
keystroke "1" using command down
--enters record mode
end tell

tell application "System Events"
keystroke tab
keystroke tab
keystroke tab
keystroke tab
keystroke tab
keystroke tab
keystroke tab
--tabs to the correct field
set CurrentDate to month of (current date) & " " & day of (current date) & ", " & year of (current date) as string
--gets current date and puts it in a text format
tell application "System Events" to keystroke CurrentDate
--enters the date string in the field
keystroke tab
--tabs to the next field
tell application "System Events"
tell application "System Events" to keystroke "9 AM"
--enters 9AM in the field (we manually change it to 11AM)
end tell
end tell
tell application "Finder" to set free_bytes to free space of disk "Mac Daddy RAID" -- the number of free bytes left on the disk
set free_Gbytes to (free_bytes / (1024 * 1024 * 0.1024) div 100) / 100
--calculates current free space
if free_Gbytes < 300 then
tell application "SystemUIServer"
activate
display dialog "The Capture Disk is getting full (" & free_Gbytes & " GB of space left). We need to clear off some space. Better get Mike or Jon."
--if free space is less than 300 GB, displays the above alert
end tell
else
tell application "SystemUIServer"
activate
display dialog "Everything's shiny, Cap'n. Have a great weekend!"
--if free space is good, displays this dialog
end tell
end if

As you can see, it’s not a complicated script. I pulled much of the disk calculation code from a forum on AppleScript. The Google is a wonderful tool for figuring this stuff out. 

Now that I have this running on my video capture computer, I’m going to set it up on our audio recorder as well. There’s nothing worse than discovering your drive is full mid-service. Here is a link to the AppleScript if you want it in actual script format. Feel free to use, adapt and modify as you need to.

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.

And by CCI Solutions. With a reputation for excellence, technical expertise and competitive pricing, CCI Solutions has served churches across the US in their media, equipment, design and installation needs for over 35 years.

Back It Up: Presentation

Over the last few days, we’ve been talking backup. Wednesday we looked at our audio backup process, and earlier this year, I detailed our lighting backup system. Today, we’ll tackle another critical discipline, though it’s perhaps the easiest to backup: Presentation. 

Unless you’re still using overhead projectors for song words and sermon graphics, presentation is very easy to back up. That is because pretty much all the files are software-based, and software is easy to back up. Since I’m a belt and suspenders type of guy, I employ a two stage backup process.

Local, Automatic Backup

As we use ProPresenter running on a MacPro, the easiest way to make sure it’s backed up is to use Time Machine. We have a 250 GB SSD as our main boot drive in the machine, and another 1 TB spinning drive as a backup. Since I really don’t want Time Machine kicking in during the service, I use a cool little program called Time Machine Editor to have it backup Saturday night and Sunday afternoon after the service should be over. This ensures that we have a live backup after Saturday night in case something goes wrong on Sunday morning. 

The beauty of Time Machine is that it’s pretty automatic and doesn’t require any intervention. It also backs up everything, which is good. The downside is that it backs up everything so if we have to restore in a hurry, we could be in trouble. That’s where the cloud comes in.

Dropbox To The Rescue

By now you know I’m a fan of Dropbox. As we discussed in our opening post, part of backing up is trying to figure out what we have to back up and how to recover. If the MacPro goes out on Sunday morning, I’m not going to worry about trying to get it back up and running right then. Instead, I’m going to grab my laptop and run from that. 

But how to get ProPresenter up and running quickly on my MacBook Pro? That’s where my post-service backup system comes into play. I marry Dropbox to a Carbon Copy Cloner script that runs at 6:30 PM Saturday and 12:30 PM Sunday (after services wrap up). Basically the script copies the playlists, presentations and templates folders to a Dropbox folder on the Mac Pro. The files are extremely small, so they are pushed up to the cloud almost immediately. 

Because my laptop normally sits in my office running 24/7, the corresponding folder in my Dropbox is also updated. A quick drag and drop is all it takes to get the files needed for the service into ProPresenter on my MBP and we’re good to go. 

This is exactly what we did this past weekend. We had to meet off-site due to the sprinkler disaster, so I copied the current files from Dropbox into my ProPresenter folders on my MacBook Pro and carried it to the gym. 

Of course, we didn’t have a stage display, but we easily got through the service. If we really needed the stage display, I would borrow the USP display adapter I have at video.  

You can do the same thing with other presentation software, you just need to know where the files are stored, and which ones you need to backup for easy access. If you’re using Windows, you’ll need to poke around a little and come up with some software solutions.

What About The Projector?

That’s the one thing we really don’t have backed up. This is partially because we have a 16K Christie projector, and those are expensive. And bright. If we loose that one weekend, we’re actually in trouble. We do have two 6500 lumen projectors that we use for IMAG, and we could use one of those in a pinch. We also keep a spare bulb around at all times, just in case. 

As I said, presentation is actually pretty easy as it’s all software. One thing I’m probably going to add to this process in the near future is a full, bootable backup of the startup disk. I need to pick up another external drive and I’ll use CCC to copy the boot disk so in case the SSD goes bad, we can boot from the external and get up and running faster. 

So that’s it for presentation. Hopefully this series has inspired you to get your systems backed up. Because it’s not a matter of if equipment will fail, but when.

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 162: Geeks R Us


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This week, we geek out with Mike Johns. It’s all about AppleScript, Automator, MIDI and how you can find ways to automate and simplify almost anything in your tech booth. Save time you didn’t know you had!

More…

Today’s post is brought to you by Ultimate Ears. Housed within a custom shell designed to fit your ears, high quality multiple armature speaker systems provide an unparalleled sound environment, as well as 26 dB of passive noise cancellation.

MIDI Over Network Part 3

 Last time, we began talking about some of the things we can do with MIDI and how the note structure works. If you missed that post, go back and read it now. It’s OK, we’ll wait. Got it? Good. Moving on…

Channel Designation for Organization

Given that we have 16 channels available, I decided to assign a channel to each computer in the booth. ProPresenter is channel 1, the Hog is channels 2-3 (in case I want to do more than 128 things with it—I think big…), and audio control is channels 4-5 (again, thinking big). Mixxx is on channel 5, channel 4 is currently not used. 

So let’s take the Hog for a moment. To press the virtual “Go” button, I send a Channel 2 Note-On 50 with a value of 1. I’m not sure why, but a 0 value won’t work. I suspect anything above 1 would also work, but 1 does the trick. For simple button presses, the right Note-On with a value of 1 will typical work. Most lighting controllers will respond to MIDI commands; check your documentation (or Google it) to figure out how to your system works. Here’s the link for the Hog documentation.

In ProPresenter, I’ve designated Note-On 32 as the start message clock. So from the SD8, I send a Channel 1, Note-On, Note 32, value 1. 

But wait, there’s more! 

Some things can accept more than one value. Take a ProPresenter presentation with 37 slides in it (a totally random number I just grabbed out of thin air). I’ve set up the Trigger Slide command up as Note-On 21, but I can access any of those 37 slides by specifying a value between 1-37. So maybe the message video package is the 5th slide in that presentation. By firing a Note-On 21 with a value of 5, I would trigger that slide directly. So the video rolls right as the audio snapshot is fired. 

Or in Mixxx, the thing we ran into one weekend was with the crossfader. Because it’s a DJ app, it’s designed to let you fade back and forth because the two virtual “Decks.” Our problem happened when the last song of the walk in set landed on Deck B. When I fired the walk out snapshot, Deck A started up, but no sound came out because the crossfader was all the way over on Deck B. But we can fix that. 

The crossfader can be controlled by MIDI. I assigned Note-On 3 to the crossfader. A value of 0 is full Deck A. A value of 127 is full Deck B. So can you guess what I send to Mixxx now in my walk out snapshot? 

  • Channel 5, Note-On 3, 0 (pull the crossfader to full Deck A)
  • Channel 5, Note-On 1, 1 (play Deck A)

And also…

  • Channel 1, Control Change 3 (stop recording and save all tracks in Reaper)

Now, I know I said channel 1 was designated to ProPresenter, but Pro doesn’t respond to CC’s, and Reaper is already set up on channel 1 for CC’s and I didn’t feel like changing it. Maybe someday I’ll correct this gross inconsistency. 

Keep it Organized

To keep track of all the stuff I can now control, I’ve come up with this simple spreadsheet to remind me of the various commands I’m sending to where. It seems like a lot, but for the most part, the commands I’m using regularly are already part of my baseline show file, or saved as Macros and assigned to function keys on the SD8.

 


 This is my current master MIDI list. It’s a work in progress, but these are the commands we use regularly.

The cool stuff doesn’t end there. I’ve written before how I use AppleScripts to control things, and one of the fun features of MIDIPipe is it’s ability to fire an AppleScript in response to a MIDI command. So my next project is an AppleScript to start the video recording in Media Express, which will of course be fired by a MIDI command, which is fired from a snapshot on the audio console. 

I should also note that I’ve held off writing about this for a few months because I wanted to see how stable it would all be. I’m actually pretty surprised that it’s worked flawlessly for the last two months. The only issues we’ve had have been when we forgot to make sure the network nodes were all connected before service started. I’ve run lights from audio for two full weekends without a single glitch. And the walk out music starts right on cue every time now. So it’s pretty solid, overall. 

What Does It Look Like?

Here’s a screen shot of my MIDI list from last weekend. We were without a lighting guy, so I ran lights from the SD8 (a practice I don’t recommend—it’s a very high workload—but you do what you have to do).


This is a glimpse into the madness that goes on in my head every weekend… 

Let’s look at the last two snapshots. 39.50 is a live walk out that brings the band back up to play out of the service. That Channel 2, Note-On 50, Value 1 advances the lighting console to the next cue (the walk out look). In snapshot 40, we do three things; crossfade to Deck A, start Deck A playing, and tell to Reaper stop recording and saves all tracks. Of course, snapshot 40 also fades down the band DCAs (in 3 seconds) and fades up Mixxx in 6 seconds. 

You’ll also notice a bunch of snapshots that start with —L… Those are my lighting snapshots that don’t do anything to the mix, they simply fire the MIDI command that advances a lighting cue. To keep track of where I am in the cue list on the Hog, I set my iPad on a music stand next to me with an open VNC connection to the Hog. 

Wrapping Up

So that’s my week of MIDI primer posts. I once considered MIDI somewhat mysterious, but it’s really easier than I thought. You may wonder why go to all the trouble to set it up when we have volunteers to run all the other gear in the booth. The answer is two-fold. First, I did it because I can (sort of why mountain climbers climb Everest—because it’s there). Second, we’re in a season of being short on volunteers. And the show must go on. Only now, it can be done with fewer people. Plus, it’s just really cool…

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.

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