chris barr

Photo/Dev/Design

Rumble By The River – Photos & Videos

My fiancé, Kirstin, regularly attends a CrossFit class, and about 2 weeks ago she and many of her classmates traveled to Columbus Georgia to participate in an event called The Rumble By The River.  The event was long (about 9 hours) and it looked like quite a challenge.  It started off with a whitewater rafting & row, then a run for several miles.  Later on in the dat teams would switch out competing of various weightlifting challenges, and then finally an intense full-body timed workout.

Even though I don’t attend that CrossFit group, I tagged along only planning on taking a few photos of Kirstin and cheering her along.  Somehow I got talked into being one of the unofficial event photographers, so I took way more photos than I had planned.  Since it was such a fun and unique event, I decided to put my camera in video mode and make a quick video of what it was like at the event.  A small sampling is below!

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Engaged!

I’ve been neglecting the blog a bit lately, but I’ve also been a bit busy.  About 2 months ago (on July 14th, 2013) I asked my girlfriend of 2 years to marry me! We took a vacation to Savannah Georgia for a week, and one day while we were in Tybee Island we went up to the top of the lighthouse and I asked her to marry me there… and of course she said yes. Side note: if you get a chance to visit Savannah, do it. It’s an absolutely gorgeous city.

Currently I still live in Pensacola, Florida and she lives in Rome, Georgia. We still have lot of “life” stuff to figure out as well as all the normal wedding stuff. But for the time being we are excited for our future together!

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Lyric Converter V2!

If you just want to go use it: LyricConverter.com

But first…

The Backstory…

A few years ago my church used some lyric presentation software called SongShowPlus, and it worked… but we didn’t love it.  It only ran on Windows, it had some UI issues that made it hard to use and add/change songs before services. We wanted to get a Mac and run ProPresenter instead.  Friends in the same industry were telling us how they had switched and how much they loved it.  ProPresenter had a lot going for it, especially in the ease-of-use department and scalability for things we wanted to do in the future.

We were hesitant to make the change because there was no way to move all of our song files over. Neither program had a decent way to import or export song files, and there was certainly no way to convert between formats. A good friend of mine at a different church told me they were in the same position; they wanted to move from SongShowPlus to ProPresenter but they were holding off due to the inability to convert their songs. Honestly  I’m still surprised that to this day neither program provides a standard import/export for other file types.

The day finally came when our Windows machine died. We either had to buy a new one, or just go ahead and get a Mac with ProPresenter. We chose the latter option and manually converted the few songs we needed each week, or just downloaded them from a service called SongSelect. In the end this process wasn’t the best, but we got through it.  However, everything would have been much easier and less intimidating if there was just a simple way to import and export songs.

Version 1

This is the point when I decided to take a crack at it. I put our entire SongShowPlus library on my thumb drive and opened up the files in a text editor to see if it would be possible to get the text out.  The SongShowPlus file format is crazy, it appears to be a binary file with lots and lots of invisible control characters, but there is plain readable lyrics in there as well. Overall it seemed possible. Ok, so what about ProPresenter? Luckily the ProPresenter file format is a nicely formatted XML data, very easy to read and write from.  No problem!

At the time I was pretty comfortable programming in PHP, and I knew it’s file read/write capabilities so I decided to start there. I wrote a few complicated regular expressions to get the raw lyrics into an array, and it pretty much worked for most song files (with some tweaking)! This process took quite a while to get right because understanding the SongSHowPlus file format was fairly difficult. After that it wasn’t too much work to get it to generate the proper XML needed for a ProPresenter file. All that needed to be made now was a web UI for people to upload and download the songs! I put something together and I was pretty happy with it, and a few people used it. Yay! I even found out that the support staff at Renewed Vision (the company that makes ProPresenter) was actually recommending my site to customers making the switch, and that was pretty exciting news!

Oh and the name, LyricConverter… it just seemed obvious. (Also the domain was available.)

Problems

While what I wrote worked, it was a bit of a pain to use. If someone tried to upload too many songs at once the website would choke due to PHP’s upload file-size limit. Sure I could increase that, but someone could always upload more.  To solve this I had to impose restrictions of no more than 30 files at a time. This solved the problem, but if you had several hundred files to convert you were going to be here all day.

Another big problem was downloading the converted files. Each file was converted individually and stored on my server, but that meant after conversion you had to click on each file to download it.  So again, if you had several hundred files you were going to be here all day. That combined with the upload limit of 30 made this quite a pain to use. My eventual goal was to be able to have it produce a single .zip file with all the converted files in it, but that seemed a daunting task for PHP at the time.

One more problem I had, that was compounded by the above problems, was the amount of disk space and bandwidth used up on my server each month! I wrote a cron job that should have run once a day and deleted any files left on the server that were more than 12 hours old, but I found out that this did not run reliably on schedule and I often had to trigger it manually after I would get a “disk space exceeded” email form my hosting company. I also kept having to increase my monthly bandwidth because I was getting “bandwidth limit exceeded” emails. It was not uncommon for the site to blow through 1 or 2 Gigs of bandwidth in a month… and that’s for text files! (Although, it was a few hundred of them all transferred up once and then again back down)

Version 2

In my day job I’m a front-end web developer/designer, so I try to keep up with what the current browser technology supports and I’m quite honestly stunned at how many amazing things can be done all in the browser now.  Once I learned that there was a way to generate files in-browser with JavaScript to save to your desktop, I began to think about how re-writing LyricConverter could be a 100% in-browser process would solve all of the current problems I had.

Reading files dragged onto the browser was no problem, I was already doing that in the previous version.  Now I just had to take some of the regular expressions I had written in PHP and re-use or find a better way to achieve the same outcome in JavaScript. After some trial and error, I finally got this working how I wanted.  It will read SongShowPlus files and ProPresenter files, the output from either of those can be made to display in-browser as slides, convert to plain text files, or convert to ProPresenter files. Yes, you can convert ProPresenter files to ProPresenter files. Why? Well, why not. I doubt this is needed, but this does prove how flexible it is.

Since this is all in-browser there are no more “upload” limits, and there are no bandwidth restrictions. The only bandwidth used is just initially serving the page up to the browser. In fact since it’s all JavaScript now, it’s just being hosted on GitHub for free and none of my server resources are even needed any more.

Since files could be auto-downloaded (thanks to a library called FileSaver.js), that was great and it solved a huge problem of having to click individual links. A user could drag 1000 files into the browser, and then immediately click a button to download 1000 converted files… that is if you want 1000 files on your desktop… hmmm, that’s not appealing.  After some quick searching around I was amazed to find that someone has written a JavaScript library called jsZip that can actually generate .zip files with JavaScript! This was my ultimate goal, and it was to each to achieve with this library. Now when you convert songs you have the option to download all N number of files individually, or just download a .zip file containing them all.

I’m also extremely happy with how the code is structured now. Previously it was a huge mess and half of that was due to my unfamiliarity with PHP. Now it’s all written in JavaScript and it’s very modular. It should be easy to add on new file types that it could read from or output to.  It’s also all on GitHub, so anyone can feel free to improve the existing code or add new functionality like new input/output formats!

Use It & Improve It!

Like I said, all the code is on GitHub and I would just absolutely love it if people would contribute to this project to make it better.  Right now it works, but it certainly could be made better.  Occasionally I do get some strange conversion errors or random incorrect characters that slip through into the converted files.  I’d love to squash these bugs, but they aren’t deal-breakers at the moment.

So, please use it, let me know how it could be made better, and please contribute if you can.

Recipe: Mashed & Baked Sweet Potatoes

I love to make food, and I do it on a somewhat regular basis, so I hope this is the first of many photo-recipe posts. I’d love feedback from this if anyone tries anything I blog about!

A while back I made a recipe from Kraft for a Mashed Potato Layer Bake, which is a dish with alternating layers of mashed baking potatoes and mashed sweet potatoes. It turned out pretty good, however during the process of making this i found out that I greatly preferred the mashed sweet potatoes by themselves instead of that dish as a whole.

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So, I’ve pulled the important parts from the original recipe and made a few modifications of my own. The total cost of ingredients below was about $12 for me. Here’s what you will need:

Ingredients

  • ½ pound of sweet potatoes (about 3)
  • ½ – ¾ of an 8oz container of Chive & Onion cream cheese
  • ¼ – ½ cup sour cream or greek yogurt
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper
  • Shredded cheddar cheese
    • ¼ cup (or more!) to mix in
    • ¼ cup (or more!) to top

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CSS Pixels

Several weeks ago I made this presentation for work after doing a bit of research and becoming interested in how pixels on our screens are actually calculated.  It’s not at all what I expected at first, but find out for yourself and check out the presentation below.

View on SlideShare or Google Docs.

(Apologies for the audio not syncing up with the sides.  I’ve set it to do so, but SlideShare seems to refuse to work with me here)

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