On Thursday I helped Graham John test a new version of Handbell Stadium, again with Lesley Boyle and Gareth Davies, and Simon Humphrey too. The new version has a feature that Graham calls "ping balancing", which compensates for the differing network transmission delays to different ringers. (In the online gaming world, the transmission time for a signal is known as the "ping"). The idea is to calculate a rolling average of the delay to each client, and make all the clients except for the slowest one insert a compensatory delay between detecting the handbell swing and making it strike. For example, usually Graham's delay is 0 (because he is directly plugged into his server) and mine is around 24ms. So the balancing system means that Graham's bells sound 24ms after he swings his controllers. Usually Gareth and Lesley's delays were about 13ms, so their compensatory extra delay is 11ms. Similarly for Simon.
This works really well, and removes almost all of the irregularity in rhythm that we were experiencing before. It feels very nearly like normal ringing, just a little slow. We rang some Kent Royal and then some Cambridge Royal, at a peal speed of about 3h05, which was a big improvement on the 3h35 (for major) that we were getting in our quarter peal attempt last Sunday. And there were no episodes of having to fight against delays and struggle to maintain a rhythm. I must say that my internet speed seemed much more consistent than before, which might also have helped. Tomorrow we're going to try a quarter of Cambridge Royal. It should be much easier than the quarter of major that we've lost twice.
Yesterday I joined Graham's open Handbell Stadium practice. We started at 8.30, and Graham put people into separate groups with an instruction to all get together again at 9.00. I was in a group that rang some Plain Bob Major and some Kent Major. We were still using the old version of Handbell Stadium, without the ping balancing, because Graham thought it would be disruptive to release the new version just before the practice. So the ringing wasn't as smooth, but my internet was still behaving reasonably well (although again with the longest delay in the group) and the ringing was manageable.
At 9.00 the groups were rearranged, and I was in a slightly different group that decided to ring Double Norwich. Now, I don't ring Double Norwich very often, and sometimes I decide that the best approach is to ring it by place notation. So I got the place notation into my mind (as I thought), we started ringing, and it didn't work at all. Clearly I was doing something very wrong, but what? After a little thought (and I confess that by that point in the evening I had drunk a couple of glasses of wine, which never improves my handbell ringing) I realised that I was actually trying to ring Superlative! Another double method constructed from the place notations 14, 58 and 36, but in a completely different order...surely an easy mistake to make. A bit more thought (and a "hang on a moment" while the others were trying to restart) and I got the correct place notation loaded up. We managed to ring a plain course, and then a plain course of Yorkshire, which also went well.
I enjoyed the practice, and I think stopping after an hour was about the right length. There was less setup delay at the beginning than in the previous week's practice, and everyone knows what they are doing with their computers by now. I think there's a future for online handbell ringing even when we are able to resume ringing in person - it will be a real boon for people who want to learn but don't have nearby bands to ring with.
In comparison with Ringing Room, Handbell Stadium only allows ringing with motion controllers - there is no option for pressing keys. This is a deliberate decision by Graham, to keep Handbell Stadium as a realistic ringing experience (and it satisfies the Central Council "norms" for performances, which basically means that quarters and peals on Handbell Stadium should be viewed in the same way as live ringing performances). But it does mean that everyone who is ringing needs to have suitable motion controllers. I will write more about that in another article.