I dislike things like puzzles and brain teasers. I hear stories of people who do escape rooms and I cannot comprehend the appeal. When confronted with such things I sieze up in a matter of moments and bail. Perhaps “dislike” isn’t the best word to describe my relationship with puzzles, brain teasers, and the like.

I resent them.

When I’m forced to deal with an artificial puzzle, which has no relationship to anything which holds my interest, I can feel my brain shutting down. Stubbornness kicks in and the puzzle in front of me becomes intolerable white noise. I need to get away and soar back off into the cognitive realms which call to me 1. I want to dream, and finding a puzzle’s corner piece doesn’t help me do that. Other people find puzzles a wonderful or exciting diversion which lets the mind wander, and I respect that these folks experience something that is beyond me, but it’s just not for me.

This does not mean I shy away from problems 2. In fact, I am happiest when I encounter some new technology and am allowed to find a way to make it useful in my workflow. This is what makes me valuable to groups I am part of. If I see something which captures my interest I can feel my brain begin to explore the possibilities it offers. The wheels keep turning and turning and turning and turning and turning until I either abandon the concept as untenable or integrate it as a useful tool in my toolbox.

Let me give you an example.

For years I knew we were going to have to start streaming Central’s worship. We had more and more connected people who were unable to be with us in person, and it was a way to help include them. I pondered this idea for years—pondering the platform we should use 3, which camera would work best, and how to integrate sound. But it wasn’t until ABCNJ got an HDMI capture device that I was able to really test the setup I might want to use. And even then I waited a couple of years until I got a camera which was able to output clean HDMI so I could implement it at Central. In all that time I continue to ponder the best software to use, what hardware would make it easier, and how inexpensive could implement something for the church. And my pondering paid off. I purchased eCamm Live 4 for around $50 5, an HDMI capture device for $145, and a couple of cables for maybe $20. Since I already had the computer and the camera the church was able to get streaming for just over $200. We didn’t do anything fancy, but it worked.

And I learned.

As we delved into streaming I began chewing on another problem. I knew folks from church were watching the stream 6, but when I was away I took half the equipment with me, which meant the stream could not go on. So I started pondering. I wanted a simple solution just about anyone could pick up and use, without breaking the church’s budget. I landed rather quickly on a Mevo Camera but, again, spent months exploring if it would actually meet our needs. I explored how the camera was controlled, what was the best way to get sound into it, and how it connected to different platforms. It was only after I’d done that work that I even brought the idea to Central’s church council. And then I spent another couple of weeks pondering which model to get before placing the order 7. The Mevo worked as advertised, and I was even able to teach someone to control the camera and run the stream. This allowed me to take a few weeks off 8.

But the pandemic has continued, and when the cold weather arrived I knew the number of folks comfortable coming out for worship would wind up shrinking again. This posed a new problem for me. The stream from the Mevo was great, but with the in person congregation shrinking there needed to be a way to interact more with people who were joining the gathering from their homes. Was there a way to make the stream more robust without throwing everything out and starting over? Given the limitations on the Mevo, it couldn’t be connected to other software, this didn’t seem likely. But then, as Fall hit, Mevo unveiled that they’d come up with a way to use one of their cameras as a wireless webcam. Suddenly, all sorts of new doors were opened. My brain went back to work on the problem.

Were I just streaming, I could continue using ecamm live and configure things the way I wanted. Given that we are planning on having some people in the sanctuary, however, I also needed to make sure any folks who were present could see the stream content on our screen. To do this in ecamm would require me to get a “pro” subscription, which I have no intention of ever doing 9. This meant I had to look for another streaming app, which led me to OBS. I’d been tinkering with Open Broadcaster Software for months, testing streams from time to time and getting used to the interface’s quirks because it’s got some powerful features ecamm live lacks. OBS can be tricky, but because I’ve spent so much time playing with the software I find that I at least know the right questions to ask so I can make it work for my needs.

I tested an OBS setup this past week and, after doing some configuration tweaks this morning, we used it for worship today. It was still a simple design. I had my Mevo set up as scene 1, controlled by my phone. My facetime camera configured as scenew, in case I needed to talk while I was sitting at my computer 10. Scene 3 was logitech webcam angled to capture the congregation, but I neglected to use that this week 11. Added to these was scene 4, a video of our virtual choir 12. In the future, we’ll add another scene which will show lyrics or slides. This streamed to YouTube without a hitch, which made me very glad. And my stream preview was connected to my monitor via an old VGA cable 13.

This is the type of puzzle I love, and the best part is it is never complete. It’s the best type of brain teaser there is.

  1. This is also probably why I have difficulty with meetings, they feel the same to me. 
  2. Mostly, anyway. We all have things we tend to avoid. 
  3. Anyone remember ustream? 
  4. Before it went subscription, sigh. 
  5. I think, it wasn’t a lot. 
  6. It was especially cool when they were in a car on their way to or from vacation and left comments. 
  7. And then the pandemic hit and I found myself wishing I’d gotten the Start instead because we couldn’t use it for a couple of months anyway. Oh well. 
  8. Though I was still around, and wound up running technical support on Sunday mornings. 
  9. It costs $384 a year
  10. In a strange twist, the audio delay for the FaceTime camera needs to be more than the one I set up for the wireless Mevo. 
  11. Though I should have during prayer time, I’ll learn. 
  12. This was the first time we’ve added video to the service since we went live, which was what required our OBS switch. 
  13. Eventually I’ll convert this to HDMI, probably with a SDI run and associated converters, but this is here and works so I’m using it.