Stage Lighting on the Cheap

Stage Lighting

For the past year and a half we’ve been lucky to have been lent a Leprecon LP-X24 lighting control console. This has been a really nice board, but now we’re needing to give it back to it’s owners who have another use for it. As we move forward with expanding into some intelligent lights in the coming year, I don’t really want to spend a ton of money on a new controller which could easily cost $3,500-$10,000. So, I’m exploring some options of replacing the controller on the extreme cheap.

So, we currently have 24 microplex channels and 5 DMX channels, all of which are non-intelligent lights (not moving or color changing). Adam Callender at Granger Community Church posted a while back about how they started into a High End Hog controller system by simply purchasing something like a HOG 3PC DMX Widget and controlling their lights using a spare computer running the HOG 3PC Software. This option appears to cost about $1200 $1,700 plus the cost of a computer. And presuming we went with a real HOG lighting console in the future, the DMX Widget would continue to be part of that.

But, then that got me to thinking, “Haven’t I seen some other cheap or free software for lighting controllers?”

Well, after a bit more searching online, it appears that we could purchase a lower end (no pun intended) USB DMX Interface for $151. This would let us drive a DMX universe using software like the following:

Below are two web sites that I found with some more details on cheap/free DMX control:

So… I’m looking for any input or experience with any of these cheap/free DMX options. At this entry price point, I’m just tempted to give several of them a try and see if they meet our needs. But, I’d love to get feedback from others who may have already gone down this path.

Rethinking Parent Alert System

I broke the Visual-Pager keypad at church yesterday. This device allows workers in our nursery to notify our tech booth operators that they need to display a number on our video projection system. Each parent and child are assigned a number and parents know they are being paged back to the nursery if their number appears on screen.

Being the frugal geek that I am, I’m trying to rethink if there is a free way to replace this system instead of spending another $250 on a new keypad. I’m thinking there should be some way to setup some service so that our nursery workers could call a special phone number and type in the number. Then this number is communicated to the tech booth operators via SMS, IM, or Twitter.

The closest I’ve come up with so far is to setup a special Jott account and link that in with a Twitter account. The nursery worker calls Jott, says they want to contact Twitter, and then speaks the number and name of the parent. This would require the tech booth to be running a Twitter client to see the alerts. Here’s a sample of what I’ve got it doing so far:

I’m thinking there should still be an even easier way to do this, hopefully involving fewer internet services. This solution wouldn’t work if our phone service, internet service, Jott, or Twitter experienced any outages. And, it’s not totally straight forward for our volunteers to use.

Anyone have a simpler idea?

SMS Kids Check-In System

This article on using cell phones as plane tickets got me thinking. Would it be useful to allow parents to somehow use their cell phones to check-in their children to kids programs at church?

Could a parent send an SMS message to the church as they’re arriving to somehow speed up or simplify the process? When they show up at the check-in area, the volunteers or whatever could have preprinted name tags and labels for the kid.

Then that same cell phone could be used as a contact method for the parent in an emergency. If a parent needs to be contacted, why not send a text message to the parent’s cell phone that they registered the child with?

It’d take some work to make it easy, but why not consider it? Doesn’t most everyone carry a cell phone anyway?

What do you think?

ChMS, SMS, and Maillists for Urgent Communications

I’m not sure if I stole this idea, but as winter weather is only months away, this seems like a good idea to pursue. Basically, how can we make use of SMS text messaging?

Mass SMS text messaging seems useful for last minute announcements. One thing that pops up every couple of years is the need to cancel a church event due to winter weather. It’d be cool to have an easy way to SMS everyone we have a cell phone number for with this sort of announcement.

SMS alerts shouldn’t be that hard. Here’s what I think we need to do:
1) We should be able to export all cell phone numbers from our ChMS system.
2) Then we can remove all characters from the cell phone data that isn’t numeric.
3) Append ‘’ to each cell phone number to get an email address for each number. (Any other email to SMS gateway service could work instead of
4) Then load the list of SMS email addresses into a mailing list.

I already have some other mailing lists that I auto populate from our ChMS, so this should be relatively straight forward. This could be scripted to update the mailing list every week.

So, if an urgent church wide announcement needed to be communicated, someone could simply email the sms mailing list and most everyone should be notified in near real-time.

Does your church make any similar use of SMS for any communciation?

What kind of plans do you have in place for urgent communications like this?