Breaking the rules

A few days ago I was given the opportunity to speak to Godfirst Fourways as part of the series that G1 is doing at the moment called Life Verse.

Last night I sat with the elders and got feedback on my preach and since they didn’t mention any huge heretical errors, I thought I would share the content of it here. I know this is a deviation from my normally all tech oriented posts, but this is my blog so hey I can do what I want!

You can get the mp3 of the preach here: Life Verse: Jaime Lopes

The concept of the Life Verse series is is that various people from GodFirst will speak about about verses that have inspired them or been particularly important to them at times of their life. Check out the promo for the series:
https://vimeo.com/77962272

My life verse is one that I feel has defined my life at several different points:

Romans 6:23
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

To make this verse easier to understand, I’ll break it down into three sections and then talk about how my life followed the formula…

SIN (doing your own thing, breaking Gods law…)= DEATH
but
GOD = LIFE (eternal life, so right from the beginning, to now, and forever…)
in
JESUS our LORD (our master, the centre of our life…)

I grew up going to church, which I hope to show you has very little to do with actually being a Christian.
I went to church every Sunday, read my bible most days and followed all the rules. I di my best to obey the 10 commandments. Things like ‘Do not steal’ ‘Do not kill’ ‘Do not lie’ and ‘Do not commit adultery.’ That last one was pretty easy when I was 8 years old!
On the outside everything looked like I had this thing called life, jacked!
Maybe that’s you? – You feel like you are a pretty good person. you pay your tax, stick to the speed limit, maybe you are so righteous that you have even bought an e-tag! (for the non South Africans read this about e-tolls)
I don’t know about you, but if i’m honest with myself, I actually lived for myself and not for God. I did follow his rules, but I did it because it made me feel good, it made me feel like I was good enough for him, made me think I was better than everyone else…
The truth was that In my mind I was more important than God, he wasn’t first, I was

Then came high-school! I wanted to fit in, be accepted, hang with the cool kids, thats what made me feel good. So I did what everyone else did, watched pron, went to night clubs and house parties, smoked cigarettes, swore like a trooper… no like a working class Englishman!
I just didn’t think or care about right or wrong. I did what… my heart told me to do, I did what made me happy cos lets face it, sin is attractive… pleasurable!
Maybe that’s you, whether you go to church or not it doesn’t matter, but you don’t think about what’s right or wrong, like me you just choose happiness.
For several years I was going along singing Limp Bizkit, “Its MY WAY, MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY”

But I wasn’t actually getting any happier I was actually just ‘dying,’ not physically, although i felt tired and worn out, but emotionally and spiritually. Eventually got to a place where I was crying my self to sleep every night, saying to God “WHERE ARE YOU!!!???” I had tried to please everyone around me to get their love, their respect, their affirmation… but all I got was rejection… I was alone. This quote sheds some light on my circumstance:

CS lewis –
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell.”

When the verse says death Its also talking about hell & although I was still alive, I was tasting a little bit of what it felt like to be separated from God, the hard part to swallow was that infact I had chosen it. I couldn’t blame God for what had happened to me. I think as humans we somehow refuse to believe in cause and effect. To use simple examples, we eat too much and get fat, stay up too late and get tired, and then when we are experiencing the result of our choices, we don’t want to take responsibility for them, we just want to blame someone else and that usually ends up being God.

Going back to the verse at that time in my life was painful, because it says God = LIFE, and what I was feeling then did not feel like life at all! The problem was, I felt like I had already tried God, obeyed all his rules, done the right thing but I just couldn’t keep it up! I was just so tired of trying, and felt like I couldn’t fake it… sing and pray till it goes away.

I think many people looking in on the Christian faith, or just looking at Christians only see the first part of the verse when really the last part of the verse is the crux of what we believe ‘…the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord

We need Jesus!

Maybe you think you know about Jesus, well let me tell you what I know about him. He is so NOT like us!
We try to become God, we elevate ourselves to the master and commander of our own lives, we do what we want, even those of us that know him and claim to love him. We often think that we know better, that we can make better choices for ourselves and others than he can. Jesus, who didn’t just think he was God, he actually WAS, came down from heaven and made him self like us, became a man. Instead of telling us not to sin, He came to earth and HE did it. He lived a perfect life, followed every rule, every time. He gave up all the power and comfort he could have had since he was, and is God. He didn’t sin, so he didn’t deserve death. The formula, Sin=death didn’t apply to him, but we murdered him anyway, we put him on a cross and he bled out and died in our place.

Bethel Music have a song on a recent album that articulates this story much better than I can, check it out:

The lyrics say this:
His body on the cross, His blood poured out for us
The weight of every curse was broken
The ground began to shake… His perfect love could not be overcome
Now death where is your sting? Our resurrected King has rendered you defeated

Death couldn’t hold him, so three days after they buried him in a tomb, he rose again! Victorious over sin and death, Jesus changed everything!!!

In Romans 5 it says that Jesus died ‘while were still sinners’ and therefore ‘we have now been justified’
I felt like I was dead, like I couldn’t pick myself up and pursue life and happiness, and that is exactly what that verse says… we are ‘dead’ we can’t help ourselves, we can’t earn righteousness, as my life verse says, its a ‘free gift’

You know, if you accept that free gift, there is absolutely NOTHING you can do to make God love you more!
No amount of good works, obeying the rules, going to church, reading your bible, praying whatever… nothing can increase his love for you.
AND at the same time, there is absolutely NOTHING you can do to make him love you any less, no amount of bad works, breaking the rules… nothing…

Later in that same chapter in Romans it says ‘we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.’

The Grace of God that I have just tried to describe should not leave us complacent or lazy. It shouldn’t leave us saying that we are free to sin if we want, it should leave us grateful that we are free to LIVE. It should make us eager to serve Christ… and as the verses say, make him lord. It makes me want to surrender my life to him and choose to say:

MY LIFE IS NOT MY OWN

To recap:

You cannot get closer to God by obeying all the rules, you will not find happiness or satisfaction by breaking all the rules, and there is no sin too great for Jesus to rescue you from, so give your life to him today, and everyday!

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Acoustic treatment for the new G1Fourways Auditorium

In the early part of 2017 after many years of searching, GodFirst Church Fourways finally found a new, permanent venue to have church. As part of the staff team I have been involved in the planning process, right from conception to architects plans, demolition of the previous internal structures and the construction of the new auditorium and kids venues.

Get things right the first time… or the 2nd time at least

I wanted to make sure that right from the drawing phase we were thinking about the acoustics of the building and I brought in two acoustic consultants to give us advice. Unfortunately the reality of tight budgets set in and we realised that even though it would cost us down the line, we just didn’t have R100K to spend on consultants, never-mind the cost of implementing their design so we had to take a wait and see approach.

Of-course without any surprise, on completion of the venue, setting up the band and PA and pushing up the master fader, it sounded… terrible!

The auditorium had a lot of large flat reflective surfaces that created distinct echos, as well as virtually no absorptive material meaning that any sound injected into the room, even just by someone talking would bounce around for several seconds before dying out. For the geeks out there, the RT60 time was ~5s.

What should a live music venue sound like

At this point I just want to quickly look at what the ideal room for a band to play to an audience through a PA system should sound like. When a band plays and a PA is in use, the sound of a room needs to be different from that of a theatre or concert performance hall. Those halls are designed to naturally amplify sound on the stage so that a PA is not necessary. In our case, we actually want the sound on the stage to be contained and controlled by the PA.

    1. Quiet
      In a perfect world, the room would be soundproof, i.e. sound from outside wouldn’t get in and sound from inside wouldn’t get out. Absolutely soundproofing a room 100% is not easy, infact near impossible, especially for a larger venue, and besides if the internal acoustics aren’t good, then the PA gets louder and louder and the chance of sound getting out increases, so It makes sense to tackle the sound inside as well as keeping outside noise down.
    2. Intimate
      I can’t think of another way to describe a room that has very little ‘echo’ in it. A room with a lot of echo will make it difficult to even have a conversation in a crowd without the din of everyone else talking overpowering your voice. In technical terms this means that we want any sound created in the room to die out within 1.5s at least. (in other words we needed to reduce our RT60 time by at least 3.5s)
    3. Balanced
      Reducing the amount of ‘echo’ or reverb in a room is quite easy at higher frequencies (over 1KHz) as they do not contain a lot of energy and are easily absorbed. Carpets, curtains etc will easily absorb these frequencies.
      Breaking up surfaces creates diffusion which helps to prevent distinct echos by reflecting sound in various directions, but again it is less effective at lower frequencies which tend to be more omni-directional (they reflect back even of uneven surfaces). Many people who don’t fully understand how sound works will think that using curtains or egg boxes etc can resolve acoustic problems, but these methods will only create a room with very little echo in the critical range of speech (around 3-4KHz) and leave the low frequencies to continue to bounce around.
      A room should ideally have very little echo at any frequency, not just in the upper range.
      Alongside a room needing to have ‘flat frequency response’ the sound coming out of the PA should be as uniform as possible. Although much of this part of a balanced room comes from spec’ing the right PA system, tuning it and positioning it correctly, a room with bad acoustics will have areas where the PA sounds very different, and can even have places where the sound appears to come from a wall rather than from the stage.

To the solution!

So the venue is not sounding right, but how to solve it… and ofcourse, given our very tight budget, how to do that for as little as possible.

I have decided to approach the problem in phases, this way we can spend a bit and make a small improvement, then spend some more until we have got the room good enough.

These are the steps to treating the stage (Phase 1) as I see it right now:

  1. Treat the surfaces around the stage to reduce the reflection of the acoustic instruments, amps and monitors on the stage.
    At the moment, even with the PA system off altogether, the band is too loud.
    Switching to an in-ear monitoring system can help this problem, but it won’t fix the problem in the whole room, so we will kill 2 birds with one stone by introducing some absorption on the stage walls, floor and ceiling.
    This will consist of firstly making 4 acoustic panels to cover the walls indicated below:
    Panel_PositionsHere are the plans for the acoustic panels:
    https://3dwarehouse.sketchup.com/embed.html?mid=cb137ecd-375b-48ad-8ce7-a45867203cd8&etp=im&width=580&height=326
  2. Then we will consider introducing a padded carpet (rug with underlay) to the stage floor.
    The floor is already carpeted, but with thin, hard carpet tiles that don’t provide much absorption. (A loose carpet will also provide a place to hide cables!!!)
  3. Lastly a few suspended panels will be hung above the stage.
    These will be almost the same design for the treatment of the corners (Phase 2) and the back wall (Phase 3)

Acoustic Panels

All the acoustic panels will be made using a semi-rigid fibreglass board encased in a wooden frame and covered in fabric.

For the nerds, the fibreglass boards are 50mm thick and 47.5Kg/m3 similar to what is most commonly talked about on other online articles, Owens Corning 703.
The brand available here in South Africa is Isover and the board is called Energylite. Here are the absorption stats:

(http://www.autospec.co.za/productmedia/owenscorning/glasswool/energylite.htm)

Thickness Density 125Hz 250Hz 500Hz 1000Hz 2000Hz NRC Value
50mm 47.5Kg/m3 0.30 0.59 1.01 1.06 1.06 0.95

Which is very similar to the data on these panels from Genesis Acoustics: http://genesisacoustics.co.za/productdetails.php?id=100005
Actually it seems that Genesis are using the 24Kg/m3 boards.

Just out of interest I contacted Genesis to get a cost on their panels. The S5 panel measuring 1.2m by 1.2m costs R2775

My plans are still evolving as i’m sourcing material, but here is the break down of the parts and total cost to make a similar panel:

Wood
I’m looking at wet off saw planks 100mm by 19mm they cost about R17 for a 2.4m plank
My design requires 7 of these to make a 1.238m by 1.238m panel

Cost R 120

 

Fibreglass
The cheapest place i’ve found is http://egoliinsulation.co.za/ they charge R1388.50 exVAT for a pack of 15 boards… my design requires 2 boards.

Cost R 212

 

Fabric
I’m not sure I’ve found the best fabric yet, but Chamdoor in Deco Park makes some sheeting that i’m gonna try and see what its like. its 1.8m wide and about R30p/m
My design requires a 1.476m by 1.476m

Cost R  45

So my total cost is about R450 including glue, screws staples etc.

We will be building the larger panels and taller panels, and the total cost should be around R5000 although I’m still to confirm if the wet off saw planks will work. They will probably need to be dried first which could take 3 weeks, but hey its about to be Christmas and we’ll only be constructing these in Jan 2018 so we might be fine!
The alternative wood is either SA Pine, kiln dried and planed, or MDF (Supawood) cut into the pieces we need… both of these options would push the price of the wood up to around R900 making the total cost almost 3 times higher so I really hope we can make this wood work!

 

I’ll post some more updates as the build takes place so stay tuned..!

Cool Tools

Over and over again I read questions in forums and Facebook groups, asking “What do you use for…” or “Can anyone recommend free/cheap software to…”

I thought I would compile a little list of tools that I use for various things, most free, some cheap, some not so cheap… Anyway here goes:

 

Downloading YouTube Videos

I’ve tried so many different options, ranging from web based things like keepvid etc to extensions/plugins for browsers, but for the past 2+ years, this has been the one piece of software that I keep coming back to for this task: 4K Video Downloader. To be honest, i’m using it while I type this post!

It’s a free app for OSx, Windows or Linux. I’ve only used the OSx version, but i’m super happy with it. All you do is paste a YouTube URL, choose the quality and hit download. You even have the option (that I often use) to download just the audio…
quality_choice

You can even download playlists (up to 25 videos unless you activate the software). If you are looking to download from Vimeo, SoundCloud, Flickr, Facebook or DailyMotion, It does these too.

The app doesn’t install any additional software aka malware! it just has a few minor restrictions and some non-obtrusive ads, that make it a flippen amazing free option IMHO! Please check it out…

 

Recording/Editing Audio

If i’m completely honest, I don’t like Audacity, BUT… i’m convinced, over and over, that it is the best option for people looking for a free cross-platform 2-track recorder and editor. This is pure speculation, but based on the posts that I often read, this is the ‘industry-standard’ recorder and editor for small churches world wide.

They have recently fixed the biggest issue that I had with Audacity, and that is the lack of visual feedback from plugins i.e. the usual plugin GUI that you see in most other DAW’s is replaced by generic ‘windows’ like text boxes and sliders. Since v 2.1 they have now added what they call “Real-Time Preview for effects” which means, YAY! that you now see the plugin GUI, and can watch the meters etc in action.

If all you need to do is record a mono/stereo source using the built-in audio input on your computer, trim the start and end, boost the levels and export to mp3 then please do check out Audacity. and hey… if you use it a lot, please consider making a donation to them, free software only gets good if the developers can actually spend some real time on it!

 

Task Management

I’ve used stuff like wrike, slack etc, shared google docs/sheets etc, and they all have their merits, but one task management tool that we’ve been using for our small design team, is Trello. I’m sure we don’t even delve into half of what its actually capable of, but I’ve found it extremely helpful in managing requests, sharing draft designs and keeping track of comments/change requests for the design team. Check it out, its free!

trello

OneDrive

So duh, you and I probably already use dropbox, google drive, iCloud and/or Adobe Creative Cloud for cloud storage, in-fact If you are like me, you have 3 google drive accounts! So, why on earth would you want to use another!? Well I actually can’t tell you that, but I can tell you why I use OneDrive:

onedrive

Quite simply, I use OneDrive for Photo backups. I know that they only offer a limited amount of space, and photos are huge lets be honest, BUT. Unlike flickr where yes I can store virtually unlimited photos, I have to upload them, and set the privacy to keep my special family photos off the www MANUALLY! With OneDrive, I have an app on my smartphone that automatically uploads all my photos as soon as I connect to WiFi (So i don’t kill my cellular data plan after one visit to the pool with the kids!) I also have an app, like dropbox/google drive that sync’s these photo’s on my laptop, so voila, without even thinking, I have a cloud backup, and local offline versions of my smartphone pics without even thinking about it! Check it out, or comment below on how you achieve this with picasa or flickr or something like that!!!