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Unruly Vocalists? Give Them a Stand!

Two weeks ago, I was mixing my church Summer Camp and made a decision before we arrived that we’d put all 3 vocalists in each session behind microphone stands. This, I hoped, would combat some issues I’ve been experiencing all year with vocalists who can sing quite well, but either don’t have great microphone technique or lack a bit of confidence.

This decision really paid off compared to the problems I had with getting vocals to sit well in a youth context for a couple of reasons. The first reason, which was that our less confident vocalists (who would occasionally play guitar) seemed to be more comfortable actually singing into the mic! This helped me to get decent gain before feedback across the board.

Tadhg and Megan

Tadhg rocking the stand!

The lead vocalist across the week, Tadhg, made solid use of his mic stand both as a piece of equipment to play with and to experiment with different mic technique. During some of the louder songs (for example In Tenderness) he was able to get right up on top of the mic, which made the 160X compressor work hard, but allowed his vocal to get nice and punchy and a bit more aggressive, which suited some of the songs chosen for the week.

The last, and surprise, benefit came on the 2nd last day when I asked one of the guitarists if he’d like to sing some response parts in a couple of the songs to amp up the front line a little. I was very surprised at how much of a difference this made to the energy songs like Anchored Hope, originally by We Are the Outpost.

So, if you’re struggling to get a good level out of your vocals on stage – give them a stand! We tried this at church on Sunday in the band that I play in, and I got some good feedback from people out the front!

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Calling SSL secured sites via curl in an Apache chroot

Recently, I’ve had to troubleshoot an issue where we were running an Apache chroot environment and trying to use the Facebook PHP SDK in one of the hosted sites. We consistantly ran into the error message

curl: (77) Problem with the SSL CA cert (path? access rights?)

in our error_log, which threw us a curveball as it wasn’t happening in our local development environment.

After serveral hours of troubleshooting, we used strace to diagnose why this was failing. Using

strace curl -I -v https://api.facebook.com

while chroot’ed in the environment allowed us to see which libraries were failing to load.

We ended up needing to copy the following libaries into the appropriate location within the chroot environment (we’re using CentOS 6, x64 – so your paths may differ). They don’t appear to be linked under our default PHP5 installation.

  • /usr/lib64/libnsspem.so
  • /usr/lib64/libsoftokn3.so
  • /usr/lib64/libsqlite3.so.0

In addition to these libraries, we copied the following, also into the chroot:

  • /etc/nsswitch.conf
  • /etc/pki/nssdb/
  • /etc/pki/tls/

Hopefully this helps save someone some time and frustration in the future!

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Introducing Grapher.js

Last year I started working in the evenings on a simple library built on top of the great work of the Raphael project to do some pie charts and graphs for our helpdesk performance display at Daraco.

While still in a very early stage of development, I feel that it’s reliable enough to release today for public use if you’re wanting something to do basic pie charts and line graphs. Since it’s built on Raphael, Grapher.js generates reasonably good looking cross-browser graphs and charts using SVG.

There are some other options to do this out there, but almost all the good ones are closed source and not free, and others are based on the HTML5 canvas element. I don’t have a particular problem with canvas, but at the time I started working on this project, it seemed like Raphael was a good building block to get what I wanted.

Samples

Here’s two screen shots (scaled down from their original size) displaying real data that I’ve grabbed from the implementation of this library at the office.

Grapher - Open Tickets by Status Grapher - Tickets Last 7 Days

Download Grapher.js

Feel free to grab Grapher from http://jameskirsop.com/grapher/grapher.js. (I’d appreciate it if you didn’t blow my bandwidth costs by hot linking to the file!) You’ll also want to make sure you grab Raphael – I’ve built on top of version 2.1.0.

If you want to look at some real samples that I use to test the display of the graphs and to see how it works, check out http://jameskirsop.com/grapher/tests/.

Bug Fixes, Patches?

If you’d like to contribute to the library, I’ll gladly accept patches etc. At the present moment I’ve got it licensed under copyright to my name while I work out what open source license to release under. Shoot me an email to james dot kirsop at gmail dot com if you’d like to get in touch!

Where to next?

There’s some work to be done with the current two graph types, mainly around of the key on the left, right (or at all) for pie charts, and labelling the points on the line graph. I’d then like to do some more work on the following:

  • Interactive Graphs – making them responsive to mouse-overs to display additional data
  • Live updating of line charts – so that they don’t need to be completely redrawn when a new graph comes in. Hopefully with some animation transitions as data arrives.
  • More graph types – I’ve only written pie and line graphs because that’s what we needed. I’m hoping to drop in some bar charts soon!
  • Snazziness – no one likes looking at boring graphs!

I’m hoping that this will be useful to some of you, and that I can keep growing this project!

James

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Rice Rally 2012 and the Culture of Teams

On the 20th of August, I had the great privilege of serving at this year’s Rice Rally, held at the Sydney Entertainment Centre. I was blown away at the work God did that night, when about 1/5th of the 3500+ audience walked out, and either decided to follow Jesus for the first time, or recommitted their lives to Christ.

A good friend of mine, the audio engineer for Sydney Christian band, Garage Hymnal, came along to check out what we were up to from near the end of sound check, through to the end of bump out when we started loading two trucks worth of production equipment. He made an interesting observation while we were waiting for the event to start, that I had been completely oblivious to; “Everyone is so calm!!!”. That proclamation was followed by a discussion of the production team and culture that I’d seen (and been a part of) at the Rice movement, compared to many other Christian events I’ve been involved with or seen run. We both agreed that Rice was one of the best run large-scale Christian events that either of us had seen.

After a bit of thought, I think there were two main factors why this was the case:

1. The production team was experienced and well equipped

I won’t be the first to point out that Rice Rally has a reasonably large budget (roughly $80 000), but I’m sure that this in itself is not the driving factor in why everything went so well.

Anyone with even a small amount of experience in production will tell you that if you get great people on board, you can deliver great results. As my friend and I chatted, we realised that many Christian events are run by people who only have  experience working inside the Sydney Christian ‘bubble’. These people often don’t have the same insight into how a professional production is run (sometime where big money is at stake). At Rice Rally, every team member serving on the production crew in a key leadership role (TV, Lighting, Audio, Stage Management) had experience in their area of expertise outside of a church environment. We had all worked in secular environments where we had gained invaluable experience that went beyond what can often be found in Christian production teams in Sydney.

We also had the budget for good communications equipment (on top of the professional audio/lighting/vision rig), so that the team could effectively get messages between all the different people involved, which undoubtedly is the most important part of any successful event.

2. Amazing Volunteers

As well as a great group of knowledgable, and technical, production team members we had a great team of volunteers.

When I arrived at 7am to begin unloading the truck, right through to when I left at 10:30pm as the truck was being loaded again, there were around 20 people willing to help. They were ready to do everything and anything we asked, and did it without complaining. Rally would not have run without all the volunteers – they helped us with man power, moving road cases, (un)rolling cable, placing equipment, labelling microphone cables and many other things that are simple, but time consuming. This enabled the production team to get on with jobs that required technical knowledge and made these jobs a lot easier. It also saved significantly on costs as we didn’t have to employ 20 people to do everything they did. I was simply blown away at how great and helpful all the volunteers were!

Upon looking back, I’m honestly not sure how my experience at Rally can be applied to other events I work on. I think a lot of what my experience highlighted is a culture from the top down, that wants to glorify God and produce a great event where Christians can bring their friends. It appears that the vision for the Rice Movement is communicated very effectively, and that people want to commit to the vision and serve in any way they can to make it a reality. In my opinion, this was the key to the success of Rice.

I certainly learnt a lot about leading volunteers, which I’ll address in another post, along with other things I’ve learn through working in a mixed (Christian/secular) environment at a later date. However, for now, I’d be interested in hearing other peoples’ experience in leading with volunteers, finding the right people for a team, and thoughts on how to motivate people to get on board and serve. Leave your comments in the area below!

Check out the Rice Movement!

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Where (some of) my Uni fees are going

What else am I to do when I’m in the city with time to use up between events than go to Uni and do some downloading of some of my favourite content distributed on the internet.

Most people would realise that this is content is coming down faster than I think any connection available to consumers anywhere in Australia, maybe even for a business.

It’s great to know my (and my families) money is being spent on worth while things like internet connections and the stupidly large salary of the University Dean.</sarcasm>.

-james

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CeBIT Au 2008 Preview

I’ve just got back from a quick preview of CeBIT AU for Bloggers. I took a couple of snaps before the show opened to the public. There was even a guy from Syron (Subliminal Media) sitting around playing games — which I can only imagine was something just to fill in time before he got back on his feet!

I’ll be going down to the Convention Centre most of tomorrow, so check back for some photos and impressions of some more products. It looks like a great show again this year!

-james

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Music Industry vs. The people of this generation

Many people would have read about the Australian music industries propaganda video that essentially blames the illegal downloading of music for their decline in revenue and sales. If you didn’t it was covered widely in the media — probably in most depth by this Sydney Morning Herald article.

Thankfully, a couple of blokes have come up with a very sensible response to the propaganda in the website tune-out.com. At the moment, they’re still working on a response in video format, but you can go and sign the online petition, which I encourage you all to do!

All this comes not long after some big name bands including Coldplay, Metallica (finally) and Matchbox Twenty are starting to break into the digital world, following bands like Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead.

It really makes me wonder when the record industry will understand their users. Most technology journalists speak of the industry ‘not getting it’, but I think they do, but are completely lost in how to satisfy their market and their tastes in this world of the internet and portable music devices, among other technologies. I only pay for music I actually really enjoy and the stuff I don’t enjoy I simply just don’t purchase from iTunes or buy from a record store. Besides, music sounds horrible compared to what it used to be.

I hope Adam and Jared at tune-out lead a successful campaign. It will be great to see the real message displayed, rather than one that revolves around blaming consumers.

-james

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New idea: (near) Daily Photo

So, it seems these days I have a lot of time to do things when I’m at work, but often by 5pm on a Friday afternoon, with still an hour to go, I’ve ran out of ideas. I thought I’d try and take a photo almost daily that best reflects my activities for the majority of the day using PhotoBooth — just to be quick and easy.
@ Work with OLPC

Today’s photo features me at work with one of the two OLPCs that the UTS Programmers Society took reciept of on Tuesday night. It’s quite a nifty little machine. Sometimes a bit slow and unresponsive, but for a cheap laptop it’s perfect!

- james 

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Yahoo! Live

Starting today, you can watch happenings of my life on Yahoo! Live at http://live.yahoo.com/jameskirsop. I’ll be broadcasting live (bandwidth permitting) from UTS Orientation/Clubs day this Wednesday, 20th Feb, so make sure you tune in to watch this social experiment.

Live (not to be confused with Microsoft’s Live service), seems pretty interesting – but isn’t really new. Other startups have been doing this for a while, but Yahoo seems to be the first major tech player to be doing anything about live video blogging.

The Y! Live blog gave a pretty good explanation of what they’re trying to do for broadcasters, viewers and developers on their blog.

You’ll see me intermittently broadcast from home — my connection isn’t fabulous here, but it might make some interesting viewing from time to time.

-james

 

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My technology week from hell

So, usually I love technology. Usually I rant and rave about how it makes my life easier and how I’m able to do so many great things with technology that my friends just can’t understand.

Not this week.

Last weekend, I went back home for the Australia Day long weekend, which was fantastic — catching up with friends and family for the last time before I’ll head back to Uni. While I was away, I did some package updates on my server in Sydney which I use as a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device, as well as an internal VoIP server. Primarily I updated some NFS (networked file system) packages, thinking that it was the right thing to do — of course which it usually is.

When I returned back to Sydney, my MacBook died on the Monday I returned within hours of me walking in the door. .Mac, which is temperamental at the best of times, failed to sync my iCal calendars properly (while successfully syncing everything else), so I’ve got no recent copy of my calendars — which has left me without any idea of what I’m specifically doing this week.

So, I’ve been using my old PowerBook G4 as a portable machine once again. Unfortunately though, my NFS server has broken (due to what I think is the package updates I did) and so iTunes doesn’t work because my entire library is stored on my NAS which has made it difficult to listen to my favourite podcasts and downloading music from the iTunes store.

Right now, I’m waiting for people who are smarter than I, to write back to my posts in the great linuxquestions.org forums. My MacBook is in the AppleCentre Service Department at Broadway (thank goodness for the 1 year warranty with all Apple products), and I probably won’t get it back for a few weeks judging by the experience of a friend who took his MacPro in to the same centre recently.

At least I’m not totally cut off from the world – my PowerBook is still going strong, even with a short battery life these days. Hopefully, I’ll be able to post in a week and thank a whole bunch of people from LQ’s and the AppleCentre for their support – but right now, I’ll just sit tight and hope for the best.

-james

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