Unit-to-unit communication: What's our goals?

Conversations around originating a webcast for conference, including cameras and mixers.
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Unit-to-unit communication: What's our goals?

Postby jeffphil-p40 » Sat Mar 03, 2007 2:52 pm

Building to Building Communications – now this is a certainly interesting topic with much potential. I see a lot of discussion here about streaming stake conferences to more distant units to make it more convenient for members to attend. Our neighboring stake wishes to do this, as the FM manager asked me about it, because I setup a 2-way video phone system (D-Link DVC-1100’s) in our stake for hosting institute classes because members don’t have enough time after they get off work to drive to the stake center. This actually works quite well—my biggest problem is trying to get good audio to feed into the things as you have the instructor speaking and then calling on class members for comments and questions, and the class members are too lazy to hold a microphone so we pick up a lot of background noise. (Any good audio guys here? I could use some advice on this.)

But, that aside I think there is a lot we could look into with Unit to Unit communications. I prefer the term “unit”, rather than “building”, because this is inclusive of the family being the most basic and (hopefully) functional form of a church unit. The purpose and intent behind the infrastructure we deploy in our church buildings sets an example that individuals bring into their own families. We can come up with all sorts of bells and whistles to make our meetings more accessible, more convenient, more this, more that. But, I think with each idea we come up with we need to carefully weigh out not only its immediate tangible benefits and shortcomings, but also the less tangible long-term influence it will have among our membership in the examples we set with the technology we deploy. Are we withdrawing the opportunity of sacrifice? Remember that it is in our challenges, weaknesses and sacrifices that we are able to be made humble, and it is in humility that we are able to have charity, the pure love of Christ, that we may become strong in the gospel, and strong as a church.

Right now the constant complaint I’m hearing from our members is that the stake center is too far of a drive, that the church places too great of burden on its members in expecting them to travel so far, and many other similar comments. Our stake center hasn’t moved an inch from the day I was baptized. If anything, it has actually gotten closer to the majority of our members in the fact that our boundaries have split with the formation of new stakes and districts over the years. What has happened is that we now lack the example of witnessing the other members put forth a willing smile of sacrifice in driving much further than we are.

I remember when my family was investigating the church 17 years ago when I was merely 9 years old, and we were invited to our first “stake conference”. “Stake house? What? ”. The first thing pictured in our minds was something on the order of Ponderosa. We had no idea what to expect. When we showed up that Sunday morning in the very same stake center parking lot we attend today, we found a number of RVs and camper trailers parked outside. Various families bringing their friends were waking up, rubbing their eyes, and walking into the church building in their pajamas carrying with them their soap, shampoo, tooth brushes, and towels. My mom stopped to question one of their mothers that stepped out of an RV to ask what the big occasion was. She said stake conference of course, and we were all baffled by what we were about to walk into. She then explained that their families’ live someplace way far up north, probably a good 4 or 5 hour drive away. As such they come on Saturday to attend the leadership training meetings and the priesthood meetings, and stay the night camped in the parking lot. Our stake center in those days had shower stalls installed in the restrooms for those who camp in the parking lot outside to get cleaned up before the church meetings. I remember my mom, before we were baptized, remarked “wow, it must be a real burden to have to come so far.” I’ll never forget the smile on the family’s face as their mom said to mine to the contrary, that “Actually, we’ve been excited and have been looking forward to making the trip down here for the past couple months, as we haven’t been down here to see our friends and fellow saints since our last stake conference 6 months ago.”

Today you don’t see RVs in parking lots. The shower stalls were removed. Members are only an hour to an hour and a half away from the stake center, but rather than showing an expression of joy in the opportunity they have in attending, they are bitter and disrespectful. Our stake is closer physically, but more distant spiritually.

It is pretty clear for those of us who have been here over the past 17 years that something has changed. It’s hard to explain why or how, but there just seems to have been a moral decay of spiritual enthusiasm among many of our members. People complain that the stake center is too far away, and leaders get these ideas that we can use technology to bring the stake meetings closer to home. That is certainly true, we *can* use technology to make things more convenient. We do so here with our institute classes. But, are we asking ourselves the right questions?

I submit that the question we really should be asking is not how to increase attendance and participation in stake meetings through technology, but rather to get to a better understanding of why attendance suffers to begin with. What is the root of the problem? Is it really the cost of gas? I don’t think so. The principles of the gospel bring with them blessings. Our members pursue education, inspire to goals, put forth effort, and setup decent lives for themselves. Many if not most of them can afford the gas. There are certainly some who are in less fortunate financial circumstances. Should we use technology to facilitate their attendance? Perhaps. Perhaps not. This voids our more well-off members the opportunity of being charitable, of offering to give a ride to others in our ward, of building fellowship and friendship with those of less means. If we aid to facilitate this decay of kindness among the saints through technology, then while we might see some immediate minor benefits, the church in the long run will be weakened and suffer.

Brigham Young said, “Brigham Young (1801-77) said: "The worst fear that I have about [members of this Church] is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and his people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to ****. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution, and be true. But my greater fear for them is that they cannot stand wealth; and yet they have to be tried with riches" (quoted in Preston Nibley, Brigham Young: The Man and His Work [1936], 128).

I think that when we get these ideas to start using technology to make the church more conveniently accessible by its members, we really need to spend some serious time and thought discussing all the possible implications. Are certain members going to use the opportunity of not having to drive home from the stake center as a means to get to their living room in time for the football game on TV? Certainly we hope not, but it’s bound to happen at some point. What kind of example does that set for the rest of his family and children? That keeping the Sabbath isn’t important? That stake meetings aren’t worthwhile of their time and travel? I’m reminded of a group of primary children I heard running down the hall when someone mentioned the next weekend would be general conference and they all said “Yippee, our day off from church!” How sad.

Another issue at play is how to use the technology. It needs to be easy enough to use that anybody can operate it. I know for a fact that right now the way we have our institute video phones setup, there will not be a time in which they will be used without me physically being the one to get them out and set them up. My project for next month or two here is to try to make the setup more permanent, easier to use, and to prepare some simplified instructions that anyone can follow. Otherwise, I fear that if I were to leave this branch the technology would sit around and collect dust. I would like to see this equipment to be used for other purposes besides just our institute class.

We’ve also seen this with the many attempts at emergency preparedness communication equipment. Sometimes in certain stakes here and there you’ll get a small group of amateur radio enthusiasts who will put a great deal of time and effort into building an actually viable means of communication throughout the stake. I applaud them for their effort. But, who knows how to use this stuff? Does the stake president? The bishop? The elder’s quorum president? The home teachers? The ward families? I have my doubts. Eventually when the amateur radio guys move away, get a job that takes up a lot of their time, get too old to fuss with stuff, or simply feel discouraged from the lack of support received from other members of their ward or stake, they throw in the towel. Then this stuff we have goes unused. How would we do in a true emergency if we aren’t using this stuff regularly to remember how to operate it?

We encourage families to have a 1-2 year supply of food storage. But, what about heat in their homes? Lights & electricity? Transportation? Gasoline? Phone & internet connections? Do we really expect that all of this stuff will remain functional during a prolonged period of distress in which our communities can’t obtain groceries? What about our church buildings? What if the electricity and natural gas lines were cut off? How would we have heat and light in our meeting places?

Several years ago our stake had someone put together a really extensive Emergency Preparedness Plan. It looked at number of highly plausible what-if scenarios for our area, and went through what we would need at various points and in certain circumstances. A resounding point hammered home was that we would have no way to communicate if certain critical communications points were down. When this report came out, a number of our leaders started really pressuring us to get amateur radio equipment. We tried to suggest getting such equipment to have at the branch building for starts, but the leaders rejected the idea and insisted it just be done on individual family basis to purchase for ourselves. Without the church setting the example for its members, nobody, not a single member followed the plan we had all unanimously praised for its thoughtfulness. Yes, we had an excellent plan someone came up with. But, leadership wasn’t going to set the example, and it became clear we lacked unity in the church. So, the plan was left just that—a plan that we won’t be ready to use in a time of need.

In the years that followed since then, I can recall three specific occasions in which a backhoe or construction crew managed to dig up the fiber optic circuit that runs connects our phone exchange to the rest of the outside world. Guess what? Our county 911 dispatch PSAP is in our telephone exchange, so the rest of the county is cut off from 911 services whenever this happens. You would think that after the first major outage the phone company would have came up with an alternate route or another circuit just in case, but that was deemed too expensive apparently.
Probably about 2/3rds of our members live outside of the phone exchange. The last time this happened the thought crossed my mind that because we have broadband internet connectivity for our FHC and a phone line inside the branch, theoretically VoIP equipment could be used for members to dial an external VoIP gateway somewhere out there that could be routed back to the building on the internet and patched back through to the phone line there to place calls to members that live in the exchange, or to the 911 dispatchers during such outages. Of course this *could* be setup, but nobody would know how to use it when the need arises.

There is much potential in VoIP both in a cost savings approach (eliminating phone & long distance bills), and creating a whole wealth of new features we haven’t even thought of as you start to delve into video streaming, creative call forwarding, missionary work, and who knows what all. But, it also has a ton of capability in terms of emergency response needs that haven’t been fully tapped. The hurricane Katrina relief efforts prove to us the vast aid VoIP can be in restoring critical telephone communication services much more rapidly than via traditional means. Amateur radio always steps up to the plate in a time of our greatest needs as well. To be effective in an emergency you need to have multiple means of communication so that when one doesn’t work another one will. But, aside from that you need to be organized—the organizational intelligence of the system can’t fall apart when it is unable to communicate in the same format that everyone is more comfortable with. In order for that to work in a time of need, the people who will use it, the members themselves, need to know how and need to be comfortable in using it for everyday things.

So in my opinion, we should start by brainstorming all of the potential benefits and implications of many various forms of inter-building or unit-to-unit, even family-to-unit communication systems, with our discussion abstracted a bit from the technology itself to focus instead on our goals and what we hope to accomplish with all of this. I think our primary vision should be to design a robust and effective system that is beneficial and facilities emergency communication in a time of need. We need to keep a Christ-centered approach in all of our infrastructure deployments. We need to show the members that this technology can be easily put into place to help our neighbors in need, to aid the community, for disaster response—whatever the case may be. If that is the approach, then certainly we may pick up many tangible everyday benefits as a side effect, such as streaming video between buildings. Who knows what. I think though that if the vision of our ideal goals is presented, then the technology itself and its benefits will be less of a distraction in the hearts of our people.




-Jeff Phillips

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Postby russellhltn » Sun Mar 04, 2007 12:03 am

Whew! A lot of ground to cover there..

jeffphil wrote:Any good audio guys here? I could use some advice on this.


First step is use a good quality microphone so the sound is clear. What is the noise? Can it be minimized? Perhaps using a different mic with a different pattern can help. Are students having to go to a fixed area so that the camera can pick them up or all of them calling out from their seats? If they have to go to a "speakers spot" then it's probably just a matter of a good directional mic on a stand. Failing that, I think you're looking at multiple mics and a automatic mic mixer to select the one closest to the speaker. That's just the thoughts off the top of my head. Details would help.

jeffphil wrote:I submit that the question we really should be asking is not how to increase attendance and participation in stake meetings through technology, but rather to get to a better understanding of why attendance suffers to begin with. What is the root of the problem?


I submit that it's something your stake leaders need to ask. The spiritual well-being of their members is their responsibility, not the tech group. We just work out the technology. It's up to local leaders to decide on the details of using it. If you have not already done so, you should bring this up to them.

jeffphil wrote:Another issue at play is how to use the technology. It needs to be easy enough to use that anybody can operate it.


Job security. :D Otherwise they might call you to a job that takes real work. :rolleyes: Seriously, good point.


jeffphil wrote:We encourage families to have a 1-2 year supply of food storage. But, what about heat in their homes? Lights & electricity? Transportation? Gasoline? Phone & Internet connections? Do we really expect that all of this stuff will remain functional during a prolonged period of distress in which our communities can’t obtain groceries?


I think you're making a lot of assumptions. First, if you have food, you'll survive. While those items are necessary for normal life, those other items aren't necessary for survival.

Second, With food, you'll be in great shape to barter for what can be had using a currency everyone will want.

Third, a year's supply is a quantity. 1 year's supply for one family will feed 2 families for 6 months, or 4 families for 3 months, or .... well, you get the idea.

jeffphil wrote:There is much potential in VoIP ... it also has a ton of capability in terms of emergency response needs that haven’t been fully tapped. The hurricane Katrina relief efforts prove to us the vast aid VoIP can be in restoring critical telephone communication services much more rapidly than via traditional means.


If you got any examples of how VoIP was used, I'm all ears. The biggest problem with VoIP is generally you have to have power. If nothing else to power the equipment at your end. A few months ago we had a wide-area power outage that lasted the better part of the day. The phones supplied by the local cable company failed. POTS worked. While VoIP might be a good idea for a second line to take advantage of it's features, I'd never advocate removing the POTS line.

As far as your situation with the backhoe, did any of them kill Internet connection too? It's possible. Especially if one's ISP is via DSL. But even the other ISPs usually end up going to a phone-like line for their Internet connection.

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Postby jeffphil-p40 » Sun Mar 04, 2007 1:47 am

Whew! A lot of ground to cover there..

First step is use a good quality microphone so the sound is clear. What is the noise? Can it be minimized? Perhaps using a different mic with a different pattern can help. Are students having to go to a fixed area so that the camera can pick them up or all of them calling out from their seats? If they have to go to a "speakers spot" then it's probably just a matter of a good directional mic on a stand. Failing that, I think you're looking at multiple mics and a automatic mic mixer to select the one closest to the speaker. That's just the thoughts off the top of my head. Details would help.
Yes, we definately need an automatic mixer. The problem is that the students aren't willing to go after a microphone when they are called upon to interject a brief comment in the middle of a discussion. Having to fuss with getting a microphone in their hand distracts the flow of the conversation. As such we have to put a microphone that sort of picks up all the students, but in so doing we pick up them bumping the tables, sneezing, coughing, wrestling papers, opening their scriptures, talking amongst themselves, etc. etc. This masks over our ability to hear the instructor even if he has his own microphone. I think what we need is a mixer that will somehow give priority to the microphone the instructor has, so whenever he speaks we hear him and him alone, and the moment he stops speaking then we ought to hear the rest of the class. I think I got something that is suppose to do that, but so far I haven't gotten it working right yet. However, this is pretty far off the topic of the rest of this thread so I'll end here.

I submit that it's something your stake leaders need to ask. The spiritual well-being of their members is their responsibility, not the tech group. We just work out the technology. It's up to local leaders to decide on the details of using it. If you have not already done so, you should bring this up to them.
Well that's true. However, I think we're all working toward the same goal of unity. If we *can* find ways that the technology implemntation serves to benefit the spiritual well-being of the members, then shouldn't we make the effort to *try*?

I think you're making a lot of assumptions. First, if you have food, you'll survive. While those items are necessary for normal life, those other items aren't necessary for survival.
No, not necessary for survial. But, we as a people have become highly reliant on such things. When the situation really gets bleak, that's when we'll need communication to figure out what our game plan is and get everybody in the ward and in the stake on the same page as far as how to respond and meet everyone's needs.

Second, With food, you'll be in great shape to barter for what can be had using a currency everyone will want.

Third, a year's supply is a quantity. 1 year's supply for one family will feed 2 families for 6 months, or 4 families for 3 months, or .... well, you get the idea.
Doesn't matter. We're all told to have a year's supply, however much that is. Perhaps more.

If you got any examples of how VoIP was used, I'm all ears.
I know there were some locations after hurricane katrina where cable internet remained working the entire time, or was restored very rapidly, where as long distance phone calls were out for ages. One hospital depended upon VoIP for its ability to let them call doctors and other medical professionals in reference to their patient care for many days while the phones were out. Also, temporary wireless broadband networks can be deployed quite rapidly to setup temporary disaster relief coordination centers where multiple agencies and volunteers go to communicate with each other. VoIP allows fully functional phone service to be instantly deployed as soon as you are able to get a signal between two points with some WiFi gear and some high gain directional antennas.

The biggest problem with VoIP is generally you have to have power. If nothing else to power the equipment at your end. A few months ago we had a wide-area power outage that lasted the better part of the day.
Oh yes, you need power. But, you can make power out of generators, batteries, vehicals, inverters, whatever. Fortunately VoIP equipment doesn't require that much power. You could probably run it on a couple of those big 6 volt flashlight lantern batteries for a good long while.

The phones supplied by the local cable company failed. POTS worked. While VoIP might be a good idea for a second line to take advantage of it's features, I'd never advocate removing the POTS line.
Oh, I wouldn't suggest removing THE pots line, I just suggested removing the *extra* POTS lines. Our stake center for example has I believe has 8 phone lines installed for various purposes. Much of that is redundant but used to seperate the calls in a not so efficient manner.

Interestingly we had a very long power outage here as well. And guess what? The POTS line went dead as a result. The phone comany has their equipment rig down at the corner of my street, and there was no power going to it. They have a battery backup that lasts about 8 or 10 hours, and that's it. After that we had no land based phone service. However, cell phones worked. Our wireless ISP connection worked. Our VoIP service worked. Our equipment for connecting to that required power, but we have a generator. So, it was all good... better than Verizon's land line.

As far as your situation with the backhoe, did any of them kill Internet connection too? It's possible. Especially if one's ISP is via DSL. But even the other ISPs usually end up going to a phone-like line for their Internet connection.
That all depends on the ISP and how their network is pieced together. During the outage I'm pretty sure the phone company's DSL was out, but this perticular phone company is more expensive when it comes to T1s and the like than all the others in the area. So, most of the ISPs build wireless networks to get them outside this phone exchange and then if they must they'll use the telco services in a neighboring community.

I recommend that the church look into the ISP services available in each of the buildings that have broadband access, and try to connect via a means that does not run through the phone company's tandem circuits between the local exchange and the LATA switching facility. If those are out, all your long distance and local toll calls will be out. If the phones are out, you'll want your internet connectivity as an alternate means of communication. If your phones are working and your broadband internet is out, guess what--if you really really need to get online, dial-up should still work. Now, if they are both out, well... bummer.

-Jeff

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Postby WelchTC » Sun Mar 04, 2007 7:10 am

So in my opinion, we should start by brainstorming all of the potential benefits and implications of many various forms of inter-building or unit-to-unit, even family-to-unit communication systems, with our discussion abstracted a bit from the technology itself to focus instead on our goals and what we hope to accomplish with all of this.

Actually these types of discussions should not be part of this forum as our charter for the forums is to discuss technology issues that involve the Church and not policy. I really admire your passion and drive and desire to do the right thing for the right purpose. The leadership of the Church shares many of the same views as you do. However we are directed to keep these forums on the subject of discussing various technical problems, challenges and solutions. It is a very fine line that can be hard to determine where it is at times. Some may say that discussing the spiritual problems within the Church will lead us to better technical solutions. However we tread dangerously close to having these discussions deteriorate into religous or policy debates or discussions.

Thanks for the input.

Tom

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Postby jeffphil-p40 » Sun Mar 04, 2007 7:44 am

tomw wrote:Actually these types of discussions should not be part of this forum as our charter for the forums is to discuss technology issues that involve the Church and not policy. I really admire your passion and drive and desire to do the right thing for the right purpose. The leadership of the Church shares many of the same views as you do. However we are directed to keep these forums on the subject of discussing various technical problems, challenges and solutions. It is a very fine line that can be hard to determine where it is at times. Some may say that discussing the spiritual problems within the Church will lead us to better technical solutions. However we tread dangerously close to having these discussions deteriorate into religous or policy debates or discussions.

Thanks for the input.

Tom


Hmm... Well, I'll try to align my posts here more in keeping with these guidelines in the future. The concern this brings to mind though is that we have a clear difference between the way the leadership communicates and the way the technology guys are now communicating through these forums.

Lets say one stake's leadership fully discusses the spiritual implications and weighs out the problems and benefits of some new technology impelmentation, coming to the decision to proceed with the idea based on specific local needs of its members despite certain issues at hand. Then it is turned over to the technology guys, and us here in these forums discuss how to do it, and come up with a plan that is actually implementable.

How many other stakes are going to read the plan we came up with and go back to their leaders to say "Hey, the such-and-such stake is doing something really awesome! We should do that too!" I would be concerned that some of the leaders out there after hearing the excitement of what has moved forward would jump into the conclusion that it is a good idea and a worthwhile thing to do for the simple reason that others are already doing it. I worry that the free flow of ideas in these community forums, restricted to only the technology issues itself, not the spiritual implications, might cause some leaders in various stakes to proceed in implementing technology without fully discussing its possible spiritual implications in the same depth that the initial stake(s) that came up with the idea may have discussed and decided to proceed given local needs.

Perhaps there should be more communication on the leadership side of things as well, seperated from the technology issues. At least, something to ensure that leaders discuss concerns before jumping on the bandwagon.

-Jeff

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Postby WelchTC » Sun Mar 04, 2007 8:02 am

I share some of the same concerns as you do. The Church (I as well as others within various departments of the Church) are monitoring these forums and will bring up issues with Church leadership to try and minimize this from happening.

Tom

jeffphil wrote:Hmm... Well, I'll try to align my posts here more in keeping with these guidelines in the future. The concern this brings to mind though is that we have a clear difference between the way the leadership communicates and the way the technology guys are now communicating through these forums.

Lets say one stake's leadership fully discusses the spiritual implications and weighs out the problems and benefits of some new technology impelmentation, coming to the decision to proceed with the idea based on specific local needs of its members despite certain issues at hand. Then it is turned over to the technology guys, and us here in these forums discuss how to do it, and come up with a plan that is actually implementable.

How many other stakes are going to read the plan we came up with and go back to their leaders to say "Hey, the such-and-such stake is doing something really awesome! We should do that too!" I would be concerned that some of the leaders out there after hearing the excitement of what has moved forward would jump into the conclusion that it is a good idea and a worthwhile thing to do for the simple reason that others are already doing it. I worry that the free flow of ideas in these community forums, restricted to only the technology issues itself, not the spiritual implications, might cause some leaders in various stakes to proceed in implementing technology without fully discussing its possible spiritual implications in the same depth that the initial stake(s) that came up with the idea may have discussed and decided to proceed given local needs.

Perhaps there should be more communication on the leadership side of things as well, seperated from the technology issues. At least, something to ensure that leaders discuss concerns before jumping on the bandwagon.

-Jeff

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Postby BlackRG » Mon Mar 05, 2007 1:01 pm

Considering some of the past conversations on this and other related topics, I tend to think the entire "record-meeting-and-send-elsewhere" scenario whether live/prerecorded sent via internet/satellite/ISDN/etc. is a very difficult thing to discuss here. While there are a number of technical approaches, the probability seems to be high that a number of these key decisions in choosing a solution will be driven not by correct application of technology, but by the correct application of the guiding restraints of church policy.

While this is a good thing, it does limit our ability to constructively discuss solutions without having well defined policy in place with a clear applicability to the problem involved.

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Postby russellhltn » Mon Mar 05, 2007 2:37 pm

gblack wrote:While this is a good thing, it does limit our ability to constructively discuss solutions without having well defined policy in place with a clear applicability to the problem involved.


True. One of the big issue I see here is that we have a policy but no understanding of the concerns behind that policy. So we're at a loss as to how suggest solutions that address the concerns.

If I may engage in personal speculation, I think one concern is that by recording a talk, there's a risk that the talk would take on a type of permanence and/or scope that is beyond the speaker's authority. Without effective DRM, I see no way of addressing that.


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