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The Central Midwest District UUA merged in 2013 with the Districts of Heartland and Prairie Star to form the MidAmerica Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
This site is for archival information only. For the latest events and news, please go to MidAmericaUUA.org.

CMwD Blogs

Welcome! The office for the Central Midwest District of the Unitarian Universalist Association is in the process of going virtual. In this blog we’ll let you know about some of our trials, tribulations and successes. We hope you’ll comment, ask questions, and share your ideas and experiences with us. -- The CMwD Office Staff: Peggy, Gretchen, Karen, Karin, Ian, Dori, Kimberlee and Michelle. March 5, 2008

Podcasts and audio and video, oh my!

Tech Talk!

We’ve been working on our podcasts page. Many congregations around our District are already podcasting and there are several ways to go about it. CMwD chose to use Libsyn.com, a podcasting subscription service. One advantage is the storage of the media files on a server apart from the main web site. Cost of a subscription for space on Libsyn is reasonable.

CMwD podcasts can be found at http://cmwduua.libsyn.com. We’re also using a free audio editing tool called Audacity.

Some things we’ve learned:

  1. IMAGES. When uploading a file to Libsyn, there is no way to resize images, so you have to do that before you upload them. I’d uploaded a large logo which made the whole paragraph hang off the side of the column. Not a great look, so I had to go back and fix that.
  2. AUDIO FILE SIZE. At one point we had a 66 MB mp3 file that wasn’t uploading. It had been recorded in 192 kbps Stereo. I tried using Audacity to reduce the file size and couldn’t quite get that to work. I later stumbled upon the “Convert Media Format” feature in RealPlayer Plus. That was able to take our audio recording down to 32 Kbps Mono and under 17 MB file size. It uploaded fine and away we went. I understand that a newer version of Audacity will have the ability to save compressed files. In the meantime, David has figured out how to make the original recording in Mono. He’s going to post separately on that process.
  3. PLAYING FILES ON YOUR SITE. We happen to be using a Joomla Content Management System on our website. I was able to install a flash player plug-in for viewing of video within a page on our site, and it allows remote files. So rather than having the player try and find a file on our server, it refers to the URL of the audio or video file where it’s stored on the Libsyn site. That way rather than having to download the file prior to viewing, it streams directly from the web page. Here’s an example: http://tinyurl.com/GA2008.

So far, so good. There’s always something new to learn!

Gretchen, CMwD communications coordinator

From Virtual Office to Virtual Programming

Where do we go from here? Some musings from Ian Evison:

Our district is now—officially—virtual. The mega-load of paper files has now been scanned. Outing is now online. We have paid the last rent check. And the team that made it happen has had a great celebratory lunch.

What’s next? The answer—in short—is to figure out how to give a digital “face” to our programming. In some instances this will mean adding new programming (like our Fall series of online workshops ADD LINK). More often, it will mean asking ourselves how we can use the occasion of a face-to-face gathering to capture material that we might share more broadly.

Increasingly, the congregations of our district have been challenging us to move away from the focus we have placed on large face-to-face events like District Assembly (or—implicitly—General Assembly). Lest our conference junkies get anxious here, nobody is suggesting that we do away from such events (heaven forbid). Rather, the congregations of the district are increasingly raising to us the question of the focus we have placed on such events which only serve directly a few hundred of the many thousands of UUs in the district and where much of the time and money of participants is spent on travel and lodging.

Moving towards putting much more content online is going to be a special challenge in this year that will be tight financially for the district as it is for many of our congregations. We plan to make a virtue of this by challenging ourselves to do this within the resource restraints of congregations. We plan to spend no more on this than what the average congregation in our district might be able to afford—between a few hundred and a couple thousand dollars. And since we will have no many to spare in the upcoming budget we have taken a little piece of money left in last year’s budget to buy a couple of electronic toys (digital voice recorder for $200-300 and a digital video recorder for about $400).

We are now busy playing with these toys and if you come to events this Fall you may get a chance to see them in action. We know that many of our congregations are now playing with similar toys and we look forward to this being a year for learning together what works and what does not. So, if you want to listen in on our work, I encourage you to come back to this blog.

Ian

Virtuality is Here! And Thoughts Gleaned at GA 2008

We’ve done it! The Central Midwest District office is fully virtual since June 20. The last furniture was donated to congregations around the district who could use it, and “stuff” that had accumulated for six years was trashed.

Items that need to be stored have been moved to a secure, climate-controlled storage space, where I’ve installed a small desk and portable lamp for searching if necessary. When we have time for deeper organizing we may find we can go to an even smaller space, perhaps just a single cabinet and a place to put our materials used once a year for District Assembly.

We have our telephone system, a cell phone set with “conditional call forwarding” (which will forward to another line when busy); our secure online file server which allows designated users to access files; our online accounting with limited access (QuickBooks Online); and our vendors for major printing and mailing needs. The only office function yet to be established is our fax line, which should happen on Tuesday, July 1.

Are there issues still to be addressed — absolutely! But these are larger things that need to be addressed no matter what form the office systems take.

The most important one on my mind right now is accounting controls. As a very small staff that has always been distributed around the district, it has always been difficult to establish GAAP controls. Now it is even harder. At the UUA General Assembly in Ft. Lauderdale I’ve had the opportunity to discuss this problem, among many others. As was suggested by the incoming Treasurer of the Ballou-Channing District, we have to look at our procedures and at the people available to do them, and we have to distribute the tasks among them in such a way that the people who control the receipt and depositing of income, the entry of accounting, the processing of checks and the oversight of accounts are different. I believe it can be done here, but may require some procedural changes and the willingness of people to pitch in and take on some tasks they may not have done before. Stay tuned!

Peggy Boccard CMwD District Office Manager

Real Cost Savings of Using a Mailing Service vs. In-house Mailing

We’ve just sent out our Spring Chalice Lighter Call to some 1300 folks. To see how it would work, I’ve just used an outside service in Evanston, IL that provides work for disabled folks, to stuff, seal, post and mail the letters. And it worked very well indeed. They couldn’t be friendlier, more helpful or more professional, and they got it done in just two days, whereas it would have taken two of us working about four half-days apiece to do it in-house.

But what of costs? Well, I’ve just gotten their bill. It was about $500 for the postage, and about $225 for the work. However, let’s put that in perspective: If we did it in-house, it would cost an average of $15 for 32 person-hours of work, totaling $480 for personnel time, plus $546 in postage stamps. The total cost to do a full Chalice Lighter mailing in-house would be $1,026.

 

In-House

Service

Savings

Postage

$    546

$  500

$     46

Labor

480

225

$   255

Total

$ 1,026

$  725

$   301

That’s a savings of $301, or a full 30% less than the in-house cost! Not to mention the intangible cost of using higher-paid staff to do clerical work when they could be doing other, more effective tasks.

Peggy Boccard
District Office Manager

Fax Services

I had originally hoped to be able to use my own fax machine for the office faxes, but because my home phone uses Voice Mail, and it goes to Voice Mail after 4 rings, while faxes won’t go to the fax machine until 5 rings, I would never be able to get faxes. Or if I made the Voice Mail 6 rings, voice callers would never be able to get through but would go to the fax machine directly.

The only answer is to have a separate fax phone line, and in discussions with AT&T we’ve come up with an answer that will work very well. When the Hillside phones are cancelled, the DSL line will not be cancelled, but will instead be transferred to my personal office, and my original DSL line will be cancelled. The DSL for the CMwD is cheaper and faster, and, best of all, the line itself can be shared with the fax system. Faxes will then be handled on my computer by the Windows Fax and Scan system. Assuming the number works when tested in installation, the CMwD Fax number will be xxxxx. (Update 6/15/11: )

Peg