Church Tech/Audio/Video

Technology

Review: TP-Link WA801ND Wireless Access Point

by on Oct.30, 2012, under Technology

I have had a version 1.1 of one of these devices running for about a year and I have literally never had a problem with it. I have not had to reboot once for any type of connection problems.

?? CMYKBecause of this, I have since purchased three more units for our church to replace old, less reliable access points. This time, they we the version 2 models. The only differences I have seen is version 2 looks a lot different and the software on version 1 requires a reboot after most changes.

The software on these access points is great, right out of the box. It offers most everything most people will need. The WA801ND will operate in many modes such as Access Point, Access Point with Multi-SSID and wireless client (allowing you to make a wired network connection wireless).

I really like the Multi-SSID feature. (SSID is the name a wireless network displays) This allows you to have up to four SSID’s and each can be assigned to a VLAN. If you have a VLAN infrastructure, you can then do things like have a guest wireless network that only has access to the internet, while also having an internal wireless network that allows more access.

It also comes with a PoE adapter. That is a power over Ethernet adapter. What this does is actually allows you to insert the electrical power needed by the access point into the ethernet cable. This would come in handy if there is not electrical outlet near where you need the access point to be. You can plug in the adapter and then only run the ethernet cable to the access point.

I must point out that these access points are not necessarily made for large scale use. I am not sure how they would perform if we were getting hundreds of devices trying to connect to one at the same time. The most I have ever observed is around 20 devices and it was having no problems. I should also point out that this cannot be used as a wireless router. It has no WAN port nor a firewall.

I purchased my three from Newegg for $39. It shows a picture of the Version 1.1 but I received the Version 2.

As I said before, this model has been rock solid for us. I highly recommend them.

REVIEW UPDATE
It appears two of my new access points keep broadcast storming our network and shutting it down. I have contacted TP-Link support to see what they say. I have read one other report of this happening with this model so not sure it is a widespread problem. But it is a problem. Hopefully they will have a solution. I will report back here when I find out.

REVIEW UPDATE 2
After corresponding with support for a couple of weeks, they sent me a BETA version of the firmware. This seems to have solved all the storm issues so I can once again, assuming this firmware is released, recommend these access points.

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Video Editing Computer

by on Sep.01, 2011, under Technology

I have been editing video on the same computer for many years now. It is a 6 year old Dell, using an 8 year old Matrox video capture card. Because of the old card, I was stuck using Windows XP and Adobe Premiere Pro 1.0 (currently, Premiere is up to CS5.5). It has been pretty unstable. Lots of crashes and lockups.

With the help of my fellow staff members donating budget to help pay for it, I have begun the process of building a new editing machine.

I know about all the parts of a computer and how they go together and what they do. The thing that makes me nervous with this is making sure I am getting the right parts for the job. Video editing is one of the toughest things a computer can do, so you cannot skimp on the power of those parts. I did some research and landing on www.videoguys.com. Specifically, on the DIY8 project.

These are components they recommend and have tested. So basically, they gave me a shopping list for a editing machine that will be rock solid.

At the bottom of the DIY8 page, there is a chart for a budget system and a hotrod system. I stuck mostly to the hotrod, except for the video card and hard drive. Here is my shopping list…

Motherboard ASUS P6X58D-E
Processor Intel i7-980 Hex Core
Memory CORSAIR XMS3 24GB (6 x 4GB) SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800)
Video Card EVGA GTX 570
Case Antec Nine Hundred Two v3 Black ATX
Power Supply CORSAIR CMPSU-850TX 850W
Video Hardware Matrox MXO2 Mini
Video Software Adobe Production Premium 5.5

Everything is ordered and most should be arriving tomorrow. I plan to make this a mini series of posts to let you know how it all goes. Hopefully, someone else can be helped by this.

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PowerPoint 2010

by on Jan.19, 2011, under Technology

I just had to right a quick post about the latest version of PowerPoint. First let me say that I went straight from version 2003 to 2010. We skipped 2007 so some of the features may have been included in that version.image

I absolutely love PowerPoint 2010. Here are some of the best new features.

  • Shadows – Number one on my list is shadows. It used to be you could only put solid shadows behind items. Now, you can blur them and add some transparency. Blurring the shadow, especially on text, really makes the image look so much nicer. It helps blend the text into the background. This now allows me to do things in PowerPoint that I use to have to do in Photoshop.
  • Transitions – They have added a bunch of new transitions that are really sharp. A lot of them are 3d effects.
  • Formatting Templates – There are many formatting templates for items that are built in. For example, if you add a picture, you can simple hover over the templates to preview what it will look like. These templates can really make pictures from different sources look more alike. Of course, you do not have to stick with the templates. Everything that a template does can be done manually or tweaked to your preference.
  • Other Picture Formatting – Again, a feature I use to have to do in Photoshop I can now do in PowerPoint. There are color options to colorize a picture or to make it black and white. You can also do artistic effects like making a photo look like a pencil sketch. Again, all setting can be tweaked to get the look you want.

I am sure there are other things that I have yet to need or discover. But the list above makes it worth the upgrade.

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Product Review – Hard Drive Dock

by on May.05, 2010, under Technology

I have been using external hard drive enclosures for years for our server backup. A couple of weeks ago, Newegg had a special ($18.99 each with free shipping) on the Rosewill RX-DU101 Hard Drive Dock which caught my attention.

The external enclosures have worked great, but it is sort of a pain to trade out the drives every week. It involves unscrewing several screws. So these docks looked like a great way to make it simpler to trade out drives.

I have two backups, one is the built in SBS backup (Small Business Server 2008) and the other stores daily backups of all user files from the server.

I installed only one to begin with to give it a try. There is not much to it. It has a power cord and a USB cord. I hooked it up and the server loaded it up without the need for any drivers. I set in a SATA hard drive and it was immediately recognized. All backups ran as normal.

After it ran awhile, I did notice the hard drive got rather warm. My enclosures did a good job of cooling them so I was a bit concerned at first. However, the drive are out in the open with plenty of ventilation and they really do not get too hot.

The next week, I pressed the eject button and popped out the drive (the drives are hot swappable with this unit). It was a weird sensation because the disk was still spinning on the inside and I could feel it in my hand swirling.

I popped in the next drive and it was immediately recognized. Everything ran perfect. After that, I installed the second unit and now both backups are using the docks. It has made changing backup drive a breeze. Also, being hot swappable, it is now easy to put in another drive at any time if I need to recover something off an old drive. Though, it is SATA only, not IDE.

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These docks work perfectly for what I need them for.

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Messaging During Worship

by on Feb.02, 2010, under Technology

There are many times when we need to have communication between our worship leader and the projection operator. We do not have any backstage area so any communication has to be done while the worship leader is sitting on the front row. We tried simply texting each other on cell phones but that can be slow and cumbersome. I looked around for something else. Something instant, wireless and easy.

Doing some Google searches led me to start looking at wireless instant messaging devices. Unfortunately, there are not many. I found a device by Motorola called IMFree. It is no longer in production but there are plenty available on Amazon.

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It uses AOL Instant Messaging (AIM). I set up two AIM accounts, one for the handheld device and one for the projection computer. I setup the wireless USB receiver on the second computer we have in the auditorium (records our audio) and ran the software that came with it. I run Pidgin (instant messaging software) on the projection computer.

The handheld unit is totally wireless and has a rechargeable battery. I simply unplug it, power it on, log it in and then hand it to our worship leader. After that, we now have easy communication.

The only real downside is the handheld unit does not have a backlit display so if the lights are low, it gets harder to see. Otherwise, it works great. There is also no way to make the person who has the handheld unit know there is a new message unless they look at the screen. It would be nice if it had something that flashed when a new message was received.

Now it is much easier to make changes on the fly when he can simply message me with the change.

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Gigabit Networking

by on Jan.27, 2010, under Technology

I have been using a 10/100 network for many, many years with no problems.

Just for the non-tech people, when speaking of network speeds, the above 10/100 means it will run at either 10 Mbps or 100 Mbps depending on hardware. Mbps=Megabits per second.

Our network here has all been running at 100Mbps and doing just fine.

Last year a friend of mine gave us a nice HP ProCurve switch. All of the modules were 10/100 switches. He mentioned that you could put another card in that works at 1000Mbps (Gigabit) if we needed it. Well, until recently, we did not have any need. Then I bought the new server. The new server came with a Gigabit network card (1000Mbps) so my friend gave me the Gigabit card for the switch. I installed it and hooked the server up to it. I did not do any tests before and after, but since nothing else was running Gigabit, I doubt it helped any.

Our most recent purchase was a new computer to run the projection software (www.easyworship.com) in our auditorium. It also came with a Gigabit network card. I got to thinking, maybe hooking both these up to run at Gigabit speeds could be helpful. We do transfer very large video files to this computer so a speed increase would be helpful. It is also quite a long cable run from our main switch to the auditorium so that slows things down as well. Unfortunately, the Gigabit card for the ProCurve switch only has one port. Also, we have two computers and a wireless router in the auditorium and those are hooked up to a regular 10/100 switch.

I checked out www.newegg.com and purchased two 5 port 10/100/1000 switches. They are TRENDnet TEG-S50g (http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16833156250). The cost was $24.99 each.

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This time, I ran some tests before making any changes. I found a simple, free program that would write/read a 100MB file and time it for you. I ran it on the projection computer and had it test the speed between it and the server. So before any changes, it took around 9 seconds to write 100MB which equals about 87 Mbps.

When the two new switches arrived, I installed one with the ProCurve switch. I fed the Ethernet cable from the server and the auditorium into it. I also ran a short cable from it the the Gigabit port on the ProCurve switch. I then replaced the 10/100 switch in the auditorium with the second new switch.

My test results were quite impressive (at least to me). Running the same test as I mentioned above, it took only 1.5 seconds to write the 100MB file which equates to about 540 Mbps. No, it is not doing 1000 Mbps, but as I said before, it is a long Ethernet cable run so I am happy.

Thoughts of upgrading the whole network to Gigabit have crossed my mind, but I am not sure there is a real need. I see there is a TrendNet 16 port switch for $46.99. Hmmm.

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Windows 7 – I Like It

by on Nov.20, 2009, under Technology

I have been using Windows XP for many, many years. A year ago I needed to upgrade my workstation so I went ahead and ordered it with Vista. I figured it would be best if I was the guinea pig to see how it ran on our network and what problems would be encountered. I mean, we cannot run XP forever so I better start taking a look at it.

Vista was okay. It has some nice improvements and once you got use to where they moved things to, it was a good OS. I only had a couple of issues of old software not working.

After a year of using it, something went wrong and my computer was running quite poorly. I decided it was time to do a clean install. However, Windows 7 had just come out so I ordered me a copy to install.

Windows 7 was the simplest and most straightforward OS installation I have ever done. Everything that worked on Vista worked on Win7 so I had no software or hardware compatibility issues. The look and performance of Win7 has been outstanding. The new taskbar is really good.

I am not sure which versions of Win7 come with it (I am using Windows 7 Business), but the OS came with what they call Windows XP Mode. Now Vista would try to allow you to run programs in “compatibility mode” with XP and so does Windows 7. But this is something different. Windows XP Mode is basically a virtualized copy of Windows XP Pro running on your Windows 7 computer. Once you install it and run it, you will have a window where a full version of Windows XP is running on your computer.

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Now, if you have some program that just will not run on Windows 7, you have got a full copy of XP that you can run on your Win7 machine (in a window) to run that program on. That could really be handy to some people.

imageThe start menu has a new feature that I like. Each program link has a little arrow next to it. When you hover over it, it opens a list of recently opened documents for that particular program. Windows has always had the recently opened documents, but all program’s documents were listed together. Win7 makes it much more usable.

One other thing that people made a big deal about in Vista is the User Access Control (UAC). That is the thing that pops up asking if you really want to do something (like install a program).  It’s purpose is to protect your computer from programs running things that you have not asked to run. While I never found it to be an annoyance in Vista, they have reduced the number of times UAC pops up. Not real sure how they have done it, but it seems to me where in Vista you may press a button that requires UAC, then it would pop-up asking if you really want to do that. In Win7, it seems that the act of pressing the button is you saying you really want to do that.

I have been running Win7 now for a couple of weeks and really, really like it. I can see this being our next OS for all of our users. Not sure if we will spend the money to upgrade people, but I will order any new computers with Windows 7.

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A New Server For Our Church

by on Nov.19, 2009, under Technology

When I started here several years ago, the church was running an old NT server. I updated that to Small Business Server 2003 (SBS2003). We did not have the money at the time for any real server hardware so I bought a Dell Dimension 8400 desktop to run as the server. It worked out well and I had zero hardware problems with it in four years. However, I got a little nervous after having that desktop machine run 24 hours a day for four years, so we recently upgraded.

image We bought a Dell PowerEdge T300. I figured since I was upgrading the hardware, might as well migrate to SBS2008 at the same time.

Here are the specs on the T300 we bought…

Quad Core Xeon 2.5GHz
8GB RAM
Dual Gigabit Network Adapter
56k Internal Modem
16x DVD Drive
SAS6iR Raid Controller
2 250GB Hard Drives setup as RAID 1 (mirrored)

What I did was to setup the OS on the RAID that came with the server and I purchased two additional 500GB hard drives to create a second RAID 1 (the SAS6iR can handle 4 separate Raid 1 though the T300 only has room for four hard drives). I would then put all user files on the second RAID.

The migration from SBS2003 to SBS2008 was quite smooth. I followed Microsoft’s manual. It was for the most part straightforward. Any problems I ran across were fixed by doing internet searches. The whole process took me two weeks, though I could have done it in one.

As for my backup plan, as I said both the OS and all user files are on their own separate RAID 1. That is the first line of defense. I use the built in SBS backup to do a daily backup of the OS drive. I use an external IDE drive enclosure that allows me to change out the drive weekly. I have three drives that I rotate through. Every Thursday I change them out and simply format the fresh drive and it is ready to go.

For the user files drive, I use a software I ran across many years ago called Genie Backup Manager Server 8.0. I like it a lot. Nice and simple. I backup onto an SATA external enclosure. Again, I trade the drive out on Thursdays and format the fresh drive. It then runs a full backup of the user file drive and a few other things around the network. After the first days run, it then only backs up files that have changed since the first run (incremental backup).

All backup drives are stored in an fireproof/waterproof safe box on site. I know people will say you need to take backups off site. I figure if that safe box is destroyed, we got bigger problems than losing our backups!

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