I know there are a lot of computer simulators quietly sitting in a dusty corner never being used. The technology is not simple for a mere mortal with just adequate computer and even less engineering skills. But I thought it was the only way forward. I am, after all the only member of my merry band with the skills to ring methods and I was determined to drag the rest of the band into the delights of change ringing with the help of 21st century technology! It is also extremely useful when teaching learners, I have found.
The desktop computer we had in our tower died over the winter; it didn’t like the cold and damp. So we raised the money for a laptop (from weddings and a local educational charity amongst others) so we can take the laptop home and keep it warm and dry.
We loaded the software, we had (Beltower) and bought a programme I had seen demonstrated at the ART Conference (Virtual Belfry) and thought it was going to be easy to get everything going again!
Having only set up the system once and that was at least 18 months ago, of course you forget all the little steps you have to take. That time around, my two brother-in-laws came to help; one putting in the hardware the other figuring out how to set up the software. I just made the tea! But they live a long way away and this time round only one could make it, so although Chris came up for a few days, we failed to get the system running. A name check to Chris Bassett from Staplehurst for his and sister Sue’s help.
To cut this long story short, over the last week or two I have been emailing David Bagley and Tony Croft to make sure the systems were working correctly. David helped me work though systematically to see if the sensors on his Bagley Box system were working correctly and sending signals, making sure nothing had happened to the hardware during and since the computer decided to die. I would like to say thank you to David for being so helpful and taking me through the process step by step. Screenshots and comments were sent, with suggestions coming back as to the next step.
The other person who has been extremely helpful and supportive is Tony Croft with help from his friend Steve Framer. Tony has knowledge of Virtual Belfry and has helped me through the problems I have encountered there. Steve has recently developed a YouTube video which explains setting up Simbell with Virtual Belfry and I found another video on how to set up Simbell with Beltower. [Editor's note – setting up Simbell with Abel is also a subject of one of Steve's YouTube videos]. I recommend both to you if you have got this far in reading my story, the basic idea is the same regardless of the hardware and software you use. Tony and Steve are currently working on a video explaining how the hardware is connected and talks to the computer programme. This proved to be the vital bit that always seems to be missing from any list of instructions. I had no idea what a COM port was, apparently it’s another name for the USB socket where you plug the thing in! You have to make sure (in Device Manager) that the computer is using the same number as you decide to use with the computer programme!
Enough technical details. Stick with it, ask questions and be persistent, there is some fantastic software and hardware out there to make teaching bell ringing easier. More is being developed by the boffins all the time, make sure you get the latest upgrades and keep practising! Let’s just hope in the future it doesn’t take quite so long getting it set up! But it is all worth it in the end.
Scaldwell band have the aim of ringing Plain Hunt by Christmas. We are not sure which Christmas, but Christmas is our aim. If you are in the area do please come and give us a hand!
Last August I was looking around on the internet and up popped a new site I hadn’t spotted before, The Liverpool Ringing Simulator Project. I was immediately impressed. The project was based on open-source principles meaning that all the technical details (program for microcontroller and even PCB layouts and circuit diagrams) were freely available for anyone to use. The thing that made this stand out from similar things I’ve seen in the past though, was the attention to detail and the exemplary documentation of the project. This gave me the confidence to contemplate making a version for Crick.