March 30, 2007

Creating a wireless network for the rehearsal room

I call this: computers,mac,theatre — Posted by KP @ 11:37 pm

I’m about to start rehearsals for a new show, which has got me thinking about getting all my goodies set up to take with me to rehearsal. One of my favorite ways of making things more efficient in the rehearsal room is to set up my own wireless network for the use of the stage management team, creative team, or even the actors who want to use a laptop or other wireless device on their breaks.

Unfortunately, below a certain level, most theatres and rehearsal spaces don’t offer much in the way of internet access. If there’s wi-fi, it’s probably by accident, that the hotel across the street might has an open network or something. And it seems to be one of Murphy’s Laws that the signal never reaches to the area of the room where you have to set up your table. It’s even hard to find a phone line (or one you have access to) to use dial-up. Most of the time I use my cell phone as a modem, and connect by Bluetooth from my laptop. This gives speeds about the same as dial-up, but also wears down my phone’s battery, and can sometimes interfere with incoming calls.

Should I be lucky enough to find an ethernet connection somewhere in the building, that’s where I will set up my network. The key piece of equipment here is Apple’s Airport Express router. It’s not the most fully-featured router, but it’s tiny! At just a little bigger than the power brick of a Mac laptop, I can shove it in my bag — or as I usually prefer, in my printer carrying case — and forget it’s there until I need it. I also carry a retractable ethernet cable which likewise stays out of the way until it’s needed.

In a perfect world, the place I like to set up the router and printer is:

  • not in the rehearsal room, where the printer will make annoying printer noises
  • close enough to get a strong wireless signal through the wall (~50 ft.)
  • in a location occupied only by people who won’t steal stuff

Once I’ve found my location, I plug in the router and printer. Finding two outlets, one of which is big enough to fit the brick of the router, is sometimes the hardest part — stealing a power strip from somewhere is often the result. If the ethernet connection is a jack, I use my own cable to connect to the router. Then with the USB cable I carry, connect the printer to the router. The printer I use is the Canon i70, which is no longer made, but the i90 is the current equivalent. The only thing I really dislike about it is that it doesn’t have one of those little slots for a computer lock to be inserted. I leave the printer lying around unsupervised much more often than my computer, and yet there’s no way to secure it.

So now that everything is plugged in, it’s time to set up the software. Using the Airport Admin Utility, I create a network, which I usually call something very simple and easy for other people to remember. I always create a closed network, meaning that it won’t show up to random people as an available network. Each person has to know the name of the network and type it in manually. I generally don’t bother with encryption, as I have had more headaches trying to get it to work for everyone, especially when some people are on PCs or other devices. If I really want security I will set it to allow only the hardware that I specify, which means every time I add a new person having to get the MAC address of their computer or mobile device. If all has gone well, the router will be displaying its happy green light, meaning it has an internet connection, and everyone should be able to access it for internet and printing.

Being able to give reliable internet access to everyone in the theatre or rehearsal room makes everything much easier. The last two shows that I was PSM for were workshops of musicals in development. Every day, every hour, sometimes every half hour, there were new pages of text, new songs, new arrangements e-mailed from the copyist, and all of it had to be distributed to be worked on NOW. The musical director would decide to change the key of a song, the composer would transpose it on his Powerbook in Finale, e-mail me a new PDF, and I’d send it to the printer. The whole process could take less than five minutes, and nobody had to get up from their chair, except to go out to the lobby, grab the pages from in front of the printer, and hand them out. Theoretically the composer could have even sent the file to the printer himself, although I never bothered with the few seconds it would have taken to add the printer for anyone besides my assistant, and I would have needed the PDF for my records anyway.

Even in situations where internet access is not available, just having the printer on the network can be a big help. Being able to send print jobs out of the room and have them waiting whenever I feel like picking them up is great for spaces where the noise of the printer is too distracting, not to mention the ability to let others also use it. And the best part for someone like me who often works in many different locations and is not always given storage space, is that everything is very easy to carry. I bought an unfinished carrying case from the Container Store, and shaped the foam padding to hold my printer securely, with a little extra room for its cables and the Airport Express. Then I throw some blank paper on top of it all.

March 25, 2007

Something cool I once did with my desktop

I call this: computers,gaming,mac — Posted by KP @ 8:00 pm

While my desktop these last few days is the highly-original default Aqua wallpaper that came with OS X Tiger (shown here), I did once do something pretty cool with it.

I’m a big fan of the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), and I’m kind of fond of having little bits of NES nostalgia in my life (like this USB NES game controller), so of course I occasionally like to decorate my Powerbook’s desktop the same way. So this one time, I decided that I would go all out. The result was this:

What you can’t see from the image is that all of the “?” blocks are clickable buttons (using DragThing) that are actually hovering over the image on the wallpaper. They launched various apps, the pipes opened commonly-used folders, and the picture of Mario in mid-air launched a NES emulator, so I could play all those classic games on my Mac, with my original NES controller, of course.

The Details
The wallpaper itself I adapted from this one, resized and rearranged to fit my needs. The dock being squished over to the left side can be done with any number of utilities that can access those sorts of hidden OS X features. If I were doing it now I would use Cocktail, but I’m sure there are free apps that do it as well. I changed a number of icons to look more Mario-like. Unfortunately, I have acquired them over years and some may no longer be available, I don’t know. But I like InterfaceLIFT for a lot of my desktop customization needs now. For changing some of the system icons like the Finder, you need a separate app, Candybar. In brief, the green mushroom is the Finder, the red shell is SpamSieve, the flower is Photoshop, although I really wanted it to be a Fire Flower, I couldn’t find a decent Aqua-like icon of one, so I made do. The music note block, as you might have guessed, is iTunes. I made that one myself in Photoshop. If you’ve always wanted one, here it is. The piranah plant is the trash of course, and when empty it’s just the pipe. I made the pipe and added the plant from a very nice icon I found somewhere. The clock is a regular ol’ dashboard widget. And if you’re curious, the instant messaging app showing is Adium, which I highly recommend. I also designed the icon you see, of the Adium mascot as a stage manager, which you can download here.

The whole thing was a lot of fun, but eventually I just got tired of it, and it wasn’t as useful as you might think. I felt really bad changing it because of all the work I had put into it, but it was time to move on. I kept it a lot longer than I keep most of my desktop looks, and I still have some pieces of it, like the mushroom Finder icon. I’m still intrigued by the idea of having a desktop picture with clickable elements that do things. This was my first attempt at that. Maybe if I think of a good way I’ll try it again someday.

March 23, 2007

Adobe CS3 Live Webcast

I call this: computers,mac,pc — Posted by KP @ 3:06 pm

OK, I can’t even believe I’ve put this in my calendar (with an alarm, no less), but Adobe is doing a live webcast of the launch of Creative Suite 3 on Tuesday, March 27, at 3:30PM EST. It will be hosted at this link.

I for one will be purchasing some version of CS3, as I’m still using Photoshop 7. I’m curious to see what the upgrade pricing will be for that.

Mac OS 10.4.9 and USB webcams

I call this: computers,mac — Posted by KP @ 12:32 pm

One of the more interesting things to happen in the Mac world in the last week or two is the release of OS X v10.4.9, which among other things, enabled the use of USB webcams natively with iChat and Quicktime and whatever else you might use them for, without the need to buy shareware drivers as was necessary before.

If, like me, you never bought the now-discontinued iSight because it was too expensive, and you think, as I did, that this means you can now go out and buy the cheapest webcam you can find — you’re wrong. Not all webcams are compatible, only those which are UVC compliant, which seem to be only the ones that are almost, or as expensive as the iSight was. Bummer.

Nevertheless, I needed a webcam, and this finally got me to go out and buy one. After perusing a number of Mac-oriented forums, and finding very little concrete evidence of which webcams actually work, I found this thread at MacNN, which seems to contain the most information. So with a list of theoretically compatible models, I went to CompUSA. The cheapest I found was the $79 Quickcam Pro 5000, but it’s kind of huge, and I wanted something that would work well for my Powerbook, but also sit nicely on a regular monitor, as I intend to give it to my parents once I buy a Macbook Pro. I found the best value for my needs was the Logitech Quickcam Fusion, for $99.

I was very happy to discover that all I had to do was plug it in, open iChat, and there it was. It also works nicely for recording video with Quicktime Pro. It’s still an awful lot of money just to get a camera working, though. It would be cool if someone could come up with a hack to make the button at the top do something in OS X.

March 22, 2007

My Life in Theatre

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 5:23 pm

I’m a stage manager. I work almost every day, but I don’t exactly have a “job,” per se. I sub on a few shows, on Broadway and Off-, and I’m often doing other events or short shows like workshops and such. I much prefer going to the same place every day and having some kind of consistent experience, but as long as I make a living I guess it’s OK. It just leads to a really long answer when people say, “So what are you working on?”

I generally don’t know what I’m doing two days from now. I don’t even attempt to remember, because it’s never a predictable schedule. My Treo 650 runs my entire life. I honestly wouldn’t know where to go tomorrow. That’s why multiple backups are important. A lot of times I don’t know where I’m going to be in two days because I actually don’t have anything booked. Sometimes my schedule fills up really fast and I have to turn stuff down, and other times I’ll find myself sitting at home for days on end, or getting a call at 10AM to come in at 12:30 for a matin√©e. I get frustrated when I go more than a few weeks without a day off, but then when I have them I tend to think of them as “days I am lacking employment” rather than something earned. This is another reason I like having a steady show that pays me a living wage — I get one day off a week, and I don’t have to feel guilty if I don’t book other work on that day.

Last fall I worked in an office for the first time in my life, as the production coordinator for the musical Bingo in Ft. Lauderdale. It was fun at first having a desk and my own phone extension and stuff, but the whole office existence is not really for me — especially the getting up at 8AM every day! I worked in the general management office, where my job was really more like long-distance stage management, except without the fun parts of actually doing the show, or getting to go to Florida. I fell in love with the show while doing the Off-Broadway production, and it was great to see it expanding across the country, and to work with many of the same people again. I recently did a little bit of part-time work on the Chicago production, which is currently in previews at the Apollo Theatre.

I have a number of things in the works for the next few months, so many in fact that I’m not really sure which will end up working out, but it should result in a few “real” jobs, which will be nice.

My Life with Computers

I call this: computers,mac,pc — Posted by KP @ 4:31 pm

So I mentioned I was a dork. The story begins when I was in first grade (circa 1987), and my teacher, Mrs. Sylvan, told my mother about a camp for gifted kids at C.W. Post College on Long Island. This camp operated in the summer and on Saturdays during the school year. I attended it from the age of 8 until just before I started high school. I learned many, many dorky things from some wonderful teachers.

One of my favorite subjects was computer programming. We learned to program in BASIC, most of which I have now forgotten. But my parents were really cool and for my 9th birthday, they bought a computer from my computer programming teacher, which he loaded up with all the software we used in class, as well as some fun games and other interesting programs. So then I was able to work and tinker on my own.

In 1993, I started high school and was given a new computer which was my first experience with Windows. It also had a CD-ROM drive, which was basically useful only for playing Myst. When I got a job at 16, I had some disposable income and freedom to roam around NYC checking out CompUSA and other computer stores, and I started buying and installing upgraded parts for my Packard Bell piece of crap. When I went to college I bought a Dell, which served me well.

However, when I graduated, I knew I would need a laptop. This is where the trouble starts. At this time (around 2000), the laptop that I purchased came with WindowsME. Let’s just say that after using it for less than six months, I had decided that at the next possible opportunity I was getting a new computer, and it was going to be a Mac. I had never actually owned a Mac, and barely used one in the last decade, but I knew whatever it was it was not going to run Windows. Eventually WindowsXP came out, and solved most of my problems, but by that point it was too late. The release and continued existence of WindowsME despite all its huge flaws, as well as some fishy stuff included with a Media Player update, proved to me that I no longer wanted Microsoft in control of my computing experience.

So when I unexpectedly came into some money, I bought a Mac. It was a big adjustment at first, but once I got used to the differences in terminology and where to find various settings, I started to like it. I will admit I had always been one of those PC power users who thought Macs were for stupid people who wanted the computer to do everything for them. I found it was quite the opposite. Yes, my parents can operate Macs — that is an amazing feat that the whole Apple team should be proud of — but I also can get it to do pretty much whatever I want as a power user, either natively or with 3rd-party software. I came to realize that there’s no shame in having a computer that makes things easy, as long as you can still do everything you want. I don’t think I can ever go back to using a PC for day-to-day work and play.

So I identify myself as a Mac user, but I’m also a gamer, and those two things are not always compatible. I tried to be a Mac gamer when I first switched, but I find that the developers that do the conversions for Mac consistently turn out buggy games that do not play as well as their PC counterparts. Not to mention that you only get to choose from the few most mainstream games, and six months to a year later than everybody else.

So it became obvious that I needed a gaming PC, and my 5-year-old laptop was not cutting it. I started looking into Alienware and other gaming PC manufacturers, but I was on a budget and wanted the ability to buy exactly what I wanted for each part of the machine, to spend my money on what was most important to me, and not buy a single thing I didn’t need. That’s when I realized I would have to build it myself. I thought that was pretty cool, since I had always enjoyed upgrading parts myself, but I had never attempted to build a PC from scratch. So I did a lot of research (being a Mac user, I hadn’t even been following things like what the latest processors were). I will leave the specs and all that stuff for another post, but what resulted was a high-mid-range gaming PC, that two years later still does what I need it to do, with only a slightly newer video card when the original one up-and-died.

I also have been a Palm user for about six years, and I currently have a Treo 650. I think Palm is completely dead and has been for at least two years, but I have so much invested in software right now, and I need something that can function with the flexibility of a small computer, and I would prefer not to use Windows. This is why I’m very curious about the iPhone, but also very worried about reports that it will not support 3rd-party software. That doesn’t make it a very “smart” phone. I hope that will change.

So that’s my very long story of my background and interests in the world of technology.

My introductory post

I call this: random — Posted by KP @ 4:17 pm

So this is my blog. I still haven’t quite figured out what it’s about, except to call attention to things I’m interested in. It may be somewhat eclectic, as my interests are pretty varied. I think if I had to sum them up in one word, it would probably be DORK. I like computers, gaming, trains, musical theatre, and reading non-fiction mainly in the realm of history and science. The dorkiest book I’ve ever read was The Story of Nations Bank. That one was really boring, but I learned a whole lot about banks. I tend to value learning something over being entertained.

I have written two posts detailing my background and interests in theatre and computers.

A word about my profile pic. I really hate pictures of myself, so that’s all you’re getting. The reason I’m all the way at the top is that I was sent up the stairs first to make sure nobody else fell off the back, preserving for posterity on that historic occasion my position as Most Disposable Member of the Phantom Company.