In preparation for our trip to Florida, I thought it might come in handy to be licensed to drive a boat. In Canada that means obtaining a “Pleasure Craft Operator Card” which is considered “proof of competency.” Its a required 3 hour course, then a 50 question online test which you have to get at least 75% on. If you fail the quiz at the end of each chapter in the course, or fail the test, you have to start again. It costs $50 and re-tries are free. You never have to set foot in a boat to do the test.
So I passed, which means I have permission to drive a boat, and in theory know the signals and right-of-way rules, but this does not mean I can drive a boat. Perhaps we’ll find out in Florida…
Church At Home is a somewhat new ministry of our home church here in Ontario. The leadership’s vision was to allow those who might not be comfortable coming into a big church for the first time to check it out and see that its not that weird or scary, and to facilitate community and connection with our global church family. We do this with a live video stream and a facilitated chat window where people can discuss the service. Notes and supporting media are posted as they’re available as well.
This has been a long project for me, that started as a quick and dirty proof of concept that too rapidly became a production system — followed by months of hunting down and squashing bugs. We basically ripped and replaced every major component of the original system, including a nearly complete re-write of the website back-end, a reinvented chat system, a new Internet connection, a new streaming computer, a new CDN service, and finally a new stream publishing system.
For publishing the stream, we started with Expression Encoder Pro, which for reasons related to my employer I was obviously biased towards. It was installed on a Mac Mini running Windows 7, but we quickly determined that the little Mac was underpowered. That was replaced by a Lenovo desktop with an Core i3 processor. We recently added a second Lenovo machine with a Core i5 that will run the HD stream.
At first we pushed the stream to a blade server running at a local ISP who was willing to donate bandwidth, but we had problems and were concerned about scaling, so we connected with FaithNetwork, who set us up on the Edgecast CDN.
Rogers Cable Internet was unable to provide a guaranteed upload bandwidth, so after more problems, we went with an MLPPP connection. Its theoretically better, but the customer service is even worse, so I’m not going to advertise that provider.
Expression has a known issue with ending the stream when connectivity drops — even for a fraction of a second, so although Silverlight SmoothStreaming gave us some amazing capabilities (allowing us to publish multiple stream qualities AND deliver iOS support, all from the same computer!) we were forced to switch to Flash Media Encoder, which is frankly better known and supported by EdgeCast. This is unfortunate because Flash needs to die, but for the sake of our volunteers, and because we’re using essentially a residential Internet connection, we had to make the switch.
A number of skilled individuals participated in the project, wiring up the necessary equipment, coding the website (including handling issues with multiple timezones and shifting streaming technologies), and navigating the personalities involved in setting this up. Eric provided leadership and oversight, and his company LucidMedia created many of the pieces, Pat made the website work, and Verne connected the systems.
As of today, we think I finally have a system that is reliable, easy to consume, and easy for volunteers to operate. You can start it up (from powered down!) in 6 clicks, and shut it down in the same amount. If you don’t go to church, or haven’t been in awhile, you should check it out. I’m proud that my church has some enjoyable, meaningful music, and straight, honest and challenging teaching.
I’m declaring this project done — a multi-site launch is the next ministry project we’re helping out with, along with some old friends and new ones, and I’m sure it will be even more fun than the last time we did one of these!
We’ve had a really nice couple weeks of “Indian Summer” around here (it just occured to me that that term is probably racist…) but it can’t last long. We’ve cleaned out the garage and put most of the outdoor toys away. We bought an “electric snow shovel” cause we can’t afford a snow blower, and the old bum leg is going to make shoveling awful challenging.
These are good plans for winter, but an even better plan is just to leave. Since the accident meant not much of a summer for us this year, we decided to reject winter and stay somewhere warmer. Making for two big trips for the whole family:
In December all 5 of us are getting on a plane and spending a week in the Seattle area. This will be the first flight for each of our kids — hopefully the first of many. Nic has a museum pass that will let them explore lots of Seattle’s neat venues, while I’ll be participating in our global sync week at corporate HQ. A friend from work is trying to find us a babysitter so Nic and I can attend the team Christmas dinner party.
We’ll be home for Christmas and all the festivities — we’re hoping to keep the gift acquisition lightweight this year and just enjoy the family that is around. But New Year’s Day we’re all piling into the minivan and driving down to Florida. We’re planning on a couple of visits with friends and co-workers either on the way there or back, but we’ve got a house rented on the gulf coast for the whole month of January. If all the snow storms could plan on hitting while we’re gone, that would be great!
We have a fairly large house, with lots of visiting room — we know of at least two groups coming down to visit us, but there’s room for more if you’d like to meet up in Florida!
Snow looks very nice, and there are some nice outdoor sports to be done, but shoveling sucks, being snowed in sucks, driving in snow sucks. We’re looking forward to some exciting adventures as a family — in warmer climates.