June 30, 2007

A Run of Act I

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 9:54 pm

Not counting our read-through, we have just completed our fourth day of rehearsal of The King and I. The crew was given the weekend off, as many of the large pieces of the set were put up by Friday. This also benefits us greatly, as we have free access to the stage for the weekend rehearsals.

First thing in the morning, we ran Act I, just because we could. It was a nice feeling. Immediately following that, we ran the ballet on the stage for the first time. I had the opportunity to see the entire ballet for the first time on Friday afternoon in the dance studio, without the singers present. I considered that also a great advantage, to see the whole thing so early in the process, especially since I often have trouble getting sufficient time to attend the dance rehearsals. The dancers are already doing a fantastic job, and I’m sure in the next week Gemze will get even more out of them.

For the last few evenings we’ve had access to the stage after the crew finished for the day, and we had been working with the principals and singing ensemble on stage, as the dancers did their thing in the dance studio. We’ve now reached the point in the process where it’s beneficial to swap that: the dancers have learned their choreography, and a lot of what remains is for them to adjust to the exact dimensions and surface of the stage. The principals now begin blocking for Act II, which works just as well in the dance studio at this point in the process.

In the three hours after lunch today, we blocked a good portion of Act II. We also accomplished costume fittings for the children and many of the ensemble. All in all we are going to be in great shape when we start tech in six days. In fact, I think my little trick of pre-tech will mean a very smooth run (or two!) of the show with scenery, before we ever start tech. A lot of this is because the very straightforward technical operation of the show will make it easy to do with a reduced crew. I’m enjoying the show itself and I look forward to putting the technical elements on it very soon.

June 27, 2007

The Life of a Retired Powerbook

I call this: mac — Posted by KP @ 8:39 pm

My new Macbook Pro has received lots of interest and attention from blog readers and real-life friends alike. But what of the faithful old Powerbook that was so unceremoniously upstaged on the morning of the MBP’s release?

When I was planning my summer, I was aware that in all likelihood I would be returning home with two laptops, which is kind of inconvenient for someone who likes to travel as lightly as I do. My solution was that I would have to ship some stuff home on the day I left, mostly soft, durable, low-priority items like clothes and scripts, so that I could carry all the delicate computer stuff by hand on the train. You may recall that I had to make a quick trip back to New York on my day off during the run of Singin’ in the Rain. This would have been the perfect opportunity to solve my problem by bringing the Powerbook and its accessories home.

But I just couldn’t do it. One reason was professional: the Macbook Pro, little more than a week old, was running projections for Singin’, which I considered a risk in itself, only tempered by the fact that my trusted Powerbook was kept loaded with the current show file, and was standing by. Well it seemed like a risk, until I had 4GB of RAM overnighted to the theatre and we saw the MBP run a massive video file with no stutters or digital artifacts. The next day I was given a DVD full of new versions of every video in the show, using a higher-quality codec, eliminating all artistic concerns about the movies looking too digital in a show set in 1927. The Powerbook could never have run the final show file, but still I was not about to take it back to New York when there was a slim chance of it being needed to rescue us if the MBP completely flaked. I could have thrown together a lower-quality version that would have run well enough to at least allow the show to go on. Thankfully the MBP did fine, although it sometimes required an especially firm press on the space bar to advance to the next cue, which would have been a huge problem in a show with more precise video cues, and I’d like to investigate that further.

The other reasons I had for keeping the Powerbook around were more personal. First of all, I wanted a pretty clean start with the MBP and was selective about the files I transferred over from the PB. But having had the MBP only a week or two, I had the nagging feeling there were still files on the PB I would need, but I might not realize it right away.

The one thing I was looking forward to about getting “stuck” with both computers all summer was that I could leave the PB at the apartment to record TV programs using my EyeTV. The EyeTV is useful for watching TV when I’m home, since I don’t bring a physical TV with me to Reagle, but the recording features don’t help me much, since if I’m at rehearsal, my computer is with me and unable to stay home and play VCR for the night. With the Powerbook in retirement, it has nothing better to do while I’m out of the house. The other thing I’ve discovered is that my EyeTV seems a little buggy with the MBP. I still use version 1.x of the software, because they wanted some ridiculous amount to upgrade, like $50, when I was perfectly happy with the present features. As it turns out, it looks like the version I have predates the Intel Macs, which might explain why it’s flaky. I’ve been thinking of getting some newer EyeTV hardware, like the little tiny USB thingy, so I don’t intend to pay for a software upgrade when I could get a better value by having it included in the cost of improved hardware. So the PB has continued to be my TV, which is nice because it frees me up to do other things with the MBP without using up screen real estate or system resources, and I can restart or boot into Windows without losing my TV.

Other things the Powerbook continues to do:

  • It’s writing this post right now. I was backing up my MBP when I got the idea for this post, so I started writing it on the PB. The files are not yet too out-of-date from the MBP, so most tasks feel exactly the same on either machine.
  • I have a perhaps unhealthy ability (or need) to multi-task, and I like to have two computers on at once if one is doing something where I can’t keep a browser window open. This allows me to use the idle computer to browse the web while waiting for the primary computer to complete a task, or to search for solutions to issues I’m having with the other machine.

I said on the day I got the MBP that once I loaded it up with my files I hardly felt like I was using a different computer. For the most part it continues to be that way. These are the occasions that I notice it:

  • When I try to do something really simple on the PB and it beachballs, or gives no reaction at all for several seconds, then beachballs, then finally completes its task while the hard drive cranks in protest.
  • The trackpad scrolling. This one confuses the hell out of me. I’ve always had trouble getting the hang of the two-finger scroll when I’ve played with other people’s Macs, but now that I’ve been using it full time I find that I’m quite good at it, although I do sometimes scroll slightly horizontally when I don’t mean to. I’m also no longer bothered by the wider trackpad and button, or at least not enough to notice it. But now that I’m used to two-fingered scrolling without thinking about it, I inevitably hop onto the PB and can’t figure out why it won’t scroll. I’ve gotten so comfortable with the new scroll that I don’t even consciously know I’m doing it. Then when I look at my position on the desk and remember that the machine on the left is the PB (the hardware differences are subtle enough that I really don’t notice them when I’m using both machines), I see my problem and attempt to do the SideTrack-driven edge scroll, and I realize how annoying it is to need to feel for the edges, instead of just throwing two fingers down anywhere I please. Then of course if I spend too much time on the PB, I go back to the MBP and can’t figure out why I can’t get it to scroll by dragging one finger down the edge. I can’t win. I wish someone would come out with a driver to make either one behave like the other so I can have some consistency!
  • I swear something is different about the keyboard. I don’t know what it is, I can’t see it from a casual look, but when I first got the MBP I kept making typing mistakes, as if a couple keys were not exactly where my fingers expected them to be. I don’t do the real touch-typing method of keeping my fingers on the home row at all times, I just know where all the keys on a given keyboard are and somehow decide which fingers are most convenient for hitting them at that particular time. I’m a fast typer (thankfully I’ve never had the kind of job where it was necessary to give my typing skill a numerical value), but I tend to be slower on an unfamiliar keyboard because I don’t actually touch any of the keys except the ones I’m pressing, so if I misjudge my location in mid-air over the keys I don’t have any way to tell until I hit the wrong button. When I got the MBP I started making more mistakes than I would on the PB, and now using the PB again I find I’m making more mistakes than I do now that I’ve been using the MBP for a while. It’s subtle, but I swear something is different. Mostly what’s happening is that my aim is slightly off and I don’t hit the key hard enough or in the right place to make it register. Maybe it’s not the location or size of the keys. Maybe it’s the travel, or the tension, or the size of the wrist rest area in front, or the fact that the PB is thicker, and therefore elevating my wrist a little higher off the table. I don’t know, nor does it bother me very much, but I do notice it when switching back and forth.
  • The higher screen resolution of the MBP was at first more subtle than I expected it to be. It’s when going back to the PB that I notice things take up more of the screen — sometimes in a good way, like when text is bigger and easier to read, but sometimes in a bad way, like the menu bar and tool bars in apps taking up more screen real estate. I don’t mind the smaller objects on the MBP. The brighter screen makes up for any need to squint, in fact I find myself squinting and putting my face close to the PB, which you would think would be the opposite.
  • Working with the lid. I’ve got one of those original Aluminum Powerbooks with the white spots and the bad latch. I won’t count the white spots, as I consider that cheating, but since the latch is not just a defect, but a change in design from one latch to two, I will mention it. My PB has never wanted to stay closed. If left to its own devices, it would be waking itself from sleep every few seconds when in a bag or carried by hand, or in any sort of motion, which can’t be good for it, not to mention what it does to the battery. I let it do this for a couple weeks when it was young, before giving it the terminal command sudo pmset -a lidwake 0, which tells it that it can’t be trusted to know when its lid is open or closed, and it is hereby instructed to wait for me to press a key before waking from sleep. This solved the problem quite well, but when faced with the MBP and its very authoritative double latch which leaves no doubt that this notebook is now closed, I decided to leave it at its default setting with lidwake on, and see if it annoyed me for any reason (like maybe there would be times I’d want it to stay asleep after I open it). So far I like being able to open the lid and have it wake up right away. I have my machine set to ask for a password upon waking, so it requires some key-pressing either way. It really doesn’t make much of a difference to me, but it’s very nice — and to me still unexpected — to close the lid and feel it lock securely instead of bouncing back open. Part of this is the defect with my particular revision of Powerbook, and part of it is the improved design of the MBP which used two latches on the 15″ models for a much more secure feel.

I’m not sure if I’ll keep it when I finally return home from the summer. I’d like to, it would still be useful around the house, but my parents could also use a new computer. If you think this PB is obsolete, you should see their iMac. With a new battery the PB would work well for their needs. I’ve been getting more and more annoyed with it (and frightened of it suddenly having a massive hardware failure) in the last year or so, but in the end it’s really amazing that it’s held up so well and in many ways can hold its own on the same desk as the very latest model sporting more RAM than any laptop really has any business having.

Enjoy retirement, Powerbook. You’ve earned it.

June 26, 2007

Schedules and Calendars

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 7:49 pm

Another thing I did today during music rehearsal was preparing the calendar to be distributed to the cast tonight. Bob Eagle is directing this show himself, and he’s had his breakdown of the rehearsal schedule pretty much done since last week. We made some adjustments and clarifications to the tech schedule at the production meeting in the morning, and with that I went about creating a calendar to outline the entire production in brief for our cast.

In preparing the calendar, it was the first real opportunity I had to examine Bob’s schedule in depth. I don’t really advise doing this five hours before distributing the schedule, but better late than never. What I’m looking for is two things:

1. Most importantly, is anything scheduled that’s a violation of Equity rules? The first thing I look at is span of day. Our contract allows for either an 8.5 hr day with a 1.5 hr meal break, or an 8 hr day with a 1 hr meal break. I make sure it’s not over that amount, and that the proper meal break is applied depending on the span of day. The next question is whether the meal break is spaced properly in the day. There is a decent amount of flexibility in this, but there can’t be more than 5 working hours on either end of the meal break. The final question is the 12-hour rest period between rehearsals. If rehearsal ends at 10:30PM, the next day’s rehearsal can’t start until 10:30AM. This is something to keep an eye on at Reagle because rehearsals are late in the day during the week and early on the weekends, to accommodate our cast members with “real jobs.” It’s an easy mistake to accidentally infringe on the 12 hours between Friday night and Saturday morning.

2. Once I know the schedule is legal, the next question is, does it make sense? One of the greater challenges of stage management is that you’re supposed to think of absolutely everything and fix everyone’s problems before they occur. Thinking through the schedule and looking for trouble spots or areas that could obviously be improved is part of that. In my perusal of the schedule today, I discovered that we had a 1.5 hr lunch break for an 8 hr rehearsal on the weekend of the first week. As much as I hated to give up that nice long lunch, the fact is we don’t need that long of a break if we’re taking the shorter day, and were losing a half hour of productive time each day as a result. So we fixed that. I also suggested a time change on the two days before tech to shift an extra hour to the evening so we would have more time for our scheduled runs of the show.

I hate math, and I hate math with time, but it’s very helpful to be able to work quickly in your head with common time-usage situations that one might encounter in rehearsal. Part of this is knowing your contract’s specific rehearsal rules inside out (or having a copy of the rulebook handy for those really obscure questions, like how many hours can you rehearse on a 1-show day after the week of the first public performance — I always have to look those up). Equity’s web site has all the rule books in PDF format in the Document Library. The beauty of this is that a) they take up no physical space or weight in digital format, and b) you can easily search them for whatever term you’re looking for. I was lucky in my early career to have spent most of my non-Equity years working on Equity Showcases (unless you don’t count working for like $0.25 /hr lucky), where I had to enforce all the Equity rules even though I wasn’t covered by them myself. By the time I got my card I was completely comfortable with all the basic rules. The numbers change (in general as the minimum salary goes up, so does the number of hours you work), but for the most part the concepts are the same. If you can afford to work for very little, I recommend it to aspiring Equity stage managers, as it will allow you to already know what you’re doing if you suddenly get your first Equity contract as a PSM and everyone expects you to know what you’re doing.

It took me a long time in my career (oh, about five-and-a-half years) to find a format for a calendar that I liked. Any calendar creation software was too restrictive, and in fact I think they’ve stopped making any kind of apps to do that, they assume everyone uses Outlook or iCal or something. Well I like to have complete control over the layout, and I don’t need to sync it to anything, so I couldn’t deal with that. When I was production coordinator of Bingo in Florida, the company manager had a rather nice calendar she made in Excel, I decided that was the way to go from now on. I came up with a layout I liked, and have used it as a template ever since. It’s very blank, which I like because you can really set it up however you want. You could make Wednesday the first day of the week if you really felt like it. You can also see in my example above how I have made a calendar for “June/July.” Since our whole process only takes four weeks there’s no reason to waste space and confuse people with a whole calendar for each month. I can start and end it wherever is most useful for the period of time I’m dealing with. Want to play with it? Have fun.

While I’m sharing files, here’s something else I had to print out today. The two-foot marks in the dance studio are starting to fall off, and we’re going to need to replace them before starting dance rehearsals tomorrow. As a result of the occasional need to rehearse down the street at the Studio of Creative Movement, where we need to bring our own numbers and remove them when we’re done, two years ago I created this PDF, which consists of three pages of fairly large numbers, from zero (center) to 18, which is as high as the numbers go on the Reagle stage. Since I pretty much always have my trusty Canon i70 printer in rehearsal, if somehow I wind up somewhere in life needing to put down numbers for dancers, I can print them out in a couple minutes. Having a tape measure can sometimes be the bigger problem, but in a pinch I have used the 11-inch side of a regular piece of paper, adding the extra inch by sight for every foot. Not the ideal way to do it, but it works. When I’m really prepared, I have in my kit a set of these already cut out and held together with a big binder clip, so they’re ready to be taped down right away, instead of taking all that time to set up the printer and cut out the numbers. It’s a real lifesaver at those horrifying moments when you realize 5 minutes before rehearsal that the room doesn’t have numbers, or somebody ripped yours up overnight. Of course if I was really slick, I’d have some pre-made, sturdy numbers like those you’d use to put the street number on the outside of your house. But that would assume I was prepared and planned to put down the numbers. The whole point of this PDF is that it’s there when you’re caught unprepared.


King and I Day 1

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 7:03 pm

First rehearsal for show #2. The day began for me in the morning with our first production meeting. It was a fairly leisurely meeting, with a scene-by-scene discussion of each set and any issues brought up. The recurring debate: fly in hard flats for quickness of scene change, or take the time to set them by hand on the deck, to avoid ugly aircraft cables catching the light (especially given that the pieces will be silhouetted at times)? I love the elegance of flying stuff, but aircraft cables are indeed ugly, and not particularly at home in the royal gardens of 19th-century Siam. This matter is still undecided. Attempts will first be made to conceal the aircraft cables behind other objects, and if that doesn’t work, I think we’ll wind up with the stuff being set by crew, which will mean we’ll be pushing to make the scene changes in time.

The theatre is building its own set for this show, which has been pretty rare in the years I’ve been here. The set is being recreated by our very talented head painter, Matt, based on the design used for an earlier production. While I’ve seen pieces of it under construction in our warehouse, this is the first opportunity I’ve really had to see all the plans and have it fully explained. I’m excited about it. After the meeting Matt took me back to the warehouse to look at it again, now that it’s closer to completion, and I have a better context for it.

Here’s a view of some of it. You can’t see the best stuff in this photo, but the colors for the palace are very rich, and at the meeting Matt displayed a sample of the fabric for Anna’s bedroom drapes that I’m absolutely in love with.

Simultaneously, the most significant project of the year was going on onstage: the replacement of the entire deck surface. The deck has been due for replacement since at least last year, and Singin’ in the Rain sealed its fate with the inevitable water damage. As I mentioned last week, several sections had to be replaced during the run, including one emergency replacement at intermission. The crew did a lot of work today, almost all of the new surface has been laid. It still needs to be screwed down more permanently and then painted, but it looks great already.

I also got to see something I’ll probably never see again — the actual stage floor of the Robinson Theatre, just before the last of the large pieces was laid over it.

It’s your typical hardwood floor you’d find on a school auditorium stage, that someone obviously made an attempt to paint black at some point. Over that is laid a layer of Homasote to give the surface a little cushioning, before the top layer of tempered Masonite is placed. I have been informed that tempered Masonite is preferable to regular ol’ Masonite because it will be more durable. The darker black squares in the back and left are already finished, and the lighter black band in the upper right against the wall is the last of the old surface that has yet to be taken out. Eventually the surface, which is already black, will all be given a coat of black paint, but it’s being left au natural for now as it needs some time to dry out to avoid warping. It looks very clean and pretty, and best of all it will be a nice safe, even surface for our performers to work on.

Bye-bye old deck!

Our rehearsal schedule in the afternoon was very easy — just music rehearsals with a few principals. I sat around and worked on some leftover notes from the meeting, and getting the contact sheet ready. In the evening we had the whole company present. Seventy-seven. Yes, 77. Seven seven. Forty-nine adults, twenty-eight children. This is only slightly more than my previous Reagle-high of 72 for Carousel. I’ve heard people saying 61 all day, but by my count I get 77. To be perfectly honest, I think once you get beyond 50 it’s all the same.

Anyway, with this mass of people, we did a read/sing-through of the show, including watching the DVD of the movie for the ballet scene. Our choreographer, Gemze de Lappe, was the original dancer portraying Simon of Legree in the “Small House of Uncle Thomas” ballet, and she also dances the role in the movie, which I didn’t know until recently. She’s wearing a giant mask so it’s impossible to tell it’s her, but it was fun to see her performance from over 50 years ago. I have no doubt she could do it today at 80-something! She doesn’t join us until tomorrow, but I’ve worked with her before on Carousel, and she’s quite an amazing lady.

Tomorrow is our first full day of rehearsal, and I’m looking forward to it.

June 23, 2007

Closing Night for Singin’ in the Rain

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 9:29 pm

We closed Singin’ in the Rain tonight. A closing performance in a situation like this always creates mixed emotions, and different emotions among different people.

The crew is eager to get this monster of a set back on the trucks and off to its renters in Oklahoma.

The actors who are not going to be in the next show are sad to be parting ways with new friends. Some are also happy to be returning home to their children or significant others.

People who are doing the next show have less reason to be sad because another exciting experience is starting in just a few days.

I have mixed feelings about it. I’m not going anywhere, so it’s not a huge transition. It’s a marker for me that I’ve completed a third of my job, and as far as I can tell, everything after this should be much easier. However, what I like about what I do is the part of actually putting on a show in front of an audience. The rehearsal process is just a means to an end. The hours are longer, and most of what I do is take notes and make phone calls, which is not particularly inspiring. Other people are making art (hopefully), and watching that can be exciting, but I just sit around pushing a pencil. So part of me would rather continue to do performances than go back into production and actually have to work instead of just have fun and put on a show.

I’m also looking forward to moving on to a new show. For all of Singin’s technical requirements, it actually was a pretty bland show to call. Not slow by any means, but not interesting. The show is written in such a way as to draw attention to the fact that we’re waiting for the set to be changed, and keeping the show driving forward was kind of a losing battle. I realized tonight how ready I am for something else.

I’ve never done King and I, in fact I’ve never seen it on stage, so I’m excited for it. Also, my friend Sarah Pfisterer is playing Anna, so it will be fun to work with her again.

As I write this (didn’t go to the closing night party because I’m still sick… grr…), the crew is busy striking the set, which they’ll probably be doing until about 4AM. They did a great job making this show go smoothly. It wasn’t easy, but it was always easier than I thought it was going to be.

This was the view out the loading dock door to the first waiting truck.

Joe and Christina making raincoats go away

One down, two to go. Stay tuned for the next exciting chapter in the Reagle summer season!

A Tony for Sound Design

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 1:37 pm

According to this Playbill article, the Tony Committee has decided that the 2008 Tonys will include awards for Best Sound Design of a Play and Best Sound Design of a Musical. I’m happy for my friends and colleagues who are sound designers and engineers who have had their contributions ignored for so long. It’s just too bad that it took so damn long and that so many worthy shows in past seasons did not have the opportunity to be recognized.

The big question is whether the voters will have any idea how to judge good sound, or if they will even care enough to think about it, or simply use it as an opportunity to throw another vote in for their favorite show. But there’s so much wrong with the Tonys that this is hardly a problem unique to sound, although I think it will be magnified in this category because most people tend not to notice sound unless it’s bad.

At any rate, it’s a tiny bit of progress, and it’s good to see the Tony Committee joining the late 20th Century.

June 21, 2007

Second Week of the Run

I call this: summer stock — Posted by KP @ 10:56 am

So I’ve been sick for the last two days. Probably got it at the Majestic on Monday. There’s always some bug going around, and I don’t doubt that four hours in that building could send me home with something. At least that’s what I’m blaming it on. I’m not nearly as sick as a person could be, just an incredibly sore throat and a slight fever that I can’t really keep track of because I don’t have a thermometer up here. So I take some Tylenol whenever it seems to make sense, along with some echinacea, which it’s probably too late for, and my favorite cold remedy, Cold-Eeze. Calling a show sick never results in a particularly good show, it always feels a little bit like watching the show underwater — the music sounds muffled, and the timing of everything feels different. Not to mention if your illness is respiratory (which mine usually are) you can never be quite sure when you attempt to speak a short little word like “go” if your throat will choose that moment to get blocked up and not let it out.

But last night’s show was actually pretty good. I bought some ice cream in the lobby at intermission, and that was very soothing, so the second act was better. The key here is to not lose my voice. As I said, all the cues are verbal, so that would be incredibly bad. I can probably count on one hand the number of times in my life I’ve actually lost my voice to the point of no sound coming out, so I’m not too worried. I was careful not to push when calling last night, and although my voice sounds worse today, I think I’m probably on the way to getting better. The nice thing is that in the second week of the run there’s not much to do other than come in and do the show. We don’t even have any matinees this week, so I’ve been able to stay in bed as long as I need to and take it easy around the house.

When I came in before the show yesterday I noticed we had a new section of deck put down just downstage of the rain deck, in a spot that had taken a lot of water damage. At intermission I was informed that there was a section of deck all the way upstage that needed immediate replacement before the rain deck could be rolled back over it. About eight guys and gals with screwguns going simultaneously managed to put down a thankfully pre-cut piece of replacement deck with almost no impact on the length of intermission. I was impressed.

Since tech it’s been relatively common for there to be some kind of problem that threatens to extend the already-long intermission, and since I began my theatrical career in high school as a “techie,” in situations with non-union crews I sometimes enjoy pitching in and actually doing stuff instead of standing around and watching the clock. By now I’ve learned enough of the intermission changeover for this show that I actually know what comes next and can participate without needing to be told what to do or what spike mark I should be going to. Because of the very low grid height at Reagle, a lot of drops have to be clipped up to their pipes in order for tall pieces of scenery (like the rain deck) to move under them. Once the rain deck is pushed back upstage (which I often help with, although I doubt I’m actually taking much of the weight), a lot of intermission is spent unclipping drops used in the second act, which requires one person flying and about five people along the length of the stage to undo each clip, let the drop out, and reclose the clip, while holding the bottom pipe of the drop up off the still-somewhat-wet rain deck. Then the drop is flown until it’s stretched out, and we give it a tug to (hopefully) take out the wrinkles, and it’s flown all the way out. This process went faster last night than I’ve ever seen it, and I was glad I could actually be of some use.

June 20, 2007

The Macbook Pro and Windows

I call this: computers,gaming,mac,pc — Posted by KP @ 9:19 pm

One of the reasons I was originally excited about Apple’s switch to Intel processors was the prospect of running Windows at a reasonable speed on my Mac. I have always owned Virtual PC as long as I’ve been a Mac user, just because every now and then I’d find something that absolutely couldn’t be done without a PC (not your everyday tasks, but things like flashing a hacked ROM onto my cell phone). The one thing I use Windows for on a regular basis is gaming. I have a gaming PC (which I swear one of these days I’ll actually make a post about), but since my primary computer has to be a laptop because of my job, and a Mac because of my sanity, the prospect of taking my games with me was previously an impossibility.

When I first switched to Mac I tried to like the games, but the selection is limited to only the few most popular PC games, and they usually aren’t released until long after PC users have tired of them and moved on to something better. I knew this going in, but what distressed me even more as I came to own more Mac games, is that the few ported PC games there are are usually terrible ports. They’re buggy, they’re slow, and in general don’t play as well as the PC version. And from what I can tell, the developers don’t care, because there’s no competition (it was basically Aspyr and Macsoft), and so few people playing the games that it really doesn’t matter. If the same problems existed in PC games there would be a patch out immediately. So I quickly got tired of throwing my money away on such crap and decided I would be better off building a PC and having access to all the games I wanted, I just couldn’t play when away from home.

Having a Mac laptop running Windows fast enough to play games is something I’ve been looking forward to as long as we’ve known about Apple’s switch to Intel. So now that I finally have one, I’ve been catching up on all the options available and playing around with it. I knew that Boot Camp was the best method for running games, because it addresses the actual computer and all its resources, but I knew I’d also want virtualization software so that I could quickly access Windows while getting actual work done. Parallels was the first to come out with a solution, and I didn’t really become aware of VMWare’s Fusion until I began seriously researching this after buying the MBP.

I was stupid when packing for the summer and didn’t bring my Windows XP install disk from home, even though it was obvious I’d be getting a MBP at some point over the summer and would need this to install Windows with Boot Camp. I did have Virtual PC running on my Powerbook, and was happy to find out that VPC disk images can be easily converted to run on Parallels. So that’s how I first tried Windows on the MBP, running my old VPC image. It was certainly fast enough to feel like a real computer, not like the slow-motion experience of running VPC.

About a week later, I had my XP disk and some games from home sent up to me, and installed XP under Boot Camp. The install software will guide you through the process of partitioning your hard drive to make a partition for Windows. Thankfully, you can do this without erasing the whole drive. Here you have a couple choices to make. First, the size of your partitions. I picked 20GB for Windows, as I don’t really want to take too much space away from OS X, but I think 20GB will be enough to install a decent amount of games, which is all the XP partition will really need to hold.

The other decision is one I wasn’t expecting: you have to decide if you want the partition formatted in FAT32 or NTFS. I know from my Windows experience that NTFS is better for XP because it allows more advanced security features like encryption, and in general is better for stability. However, the installer warns that NTFS is not good if you want your Mac OS to be able to read the files in the Windows partition. This concerned me, since I wasn’t really sure what they meant by that. Much Googling was done before I proceeded. I still don’t fully get it, but what I found pointed to NTFS as the better choice. Apparently it works much better in Parallels as well, which is the main way I intend to share files between the two partitions. I assumed that the incompatibility was that I could not directly open files on the Windows partition by clicking on the volume in the Finder and navigating like I would any other disk. Well it turns out that you can access files on the disk, but it’s read-only. So to move files from OS X to Windows I need to drag them into Parallels.

By the way, you will wind up with the Windows partition visible as a volume in the Finder. At first I found this kind of annoying because I don’t really want that partition anywhere in my life if I’m not actively using it, but it’s growing on me. The biggest realization I had about the Boot Camp method is that when I back up my hard drive, backing up my OS X volume does not back up Windows. If I were using a Parallels virtual disk, one backup would cover everything because the Windows content would just be a file within my OS X files. Now I have to do two separate backups, so I partitioned my backup drive the same way, with a 20GB partition to back up the Windows volume. Part of me doesn’t give a damn what happens to the Windows partition and some game files, but I guess it can’t hurt to back it up once in a while.

I used my product key for a copy of Windows that I no longer use, and it activated and all was well. Using the driver CD that Boot Camp has you burn, I installed the drivers for the MBP with no problems, and all my hardware seemed to be working, and I was on my Airport network quickly. As Steve Jobs said in his WWDC keynote, when Leopard comes out it will have Boot Camp included and the drivers will be on the install CD so you won’t have to burn one yourself. As long as you’ve got a blank CD hanging around, it’s no big deal to use the current method.

So with everything in Boot Camp looking good, I rebooted in OS X.
You can set one OS or the other to be booted into automatically by setting the Startup Disk in OS X System Prefs, or hold Option when you start the computer to choose which one to use.

Now I went back to Parallels and got rid of my VPC version of Windows. Unfortunately Parallels will not detect the Boot Camp partition and give you the option to import it unless you have no other virtual PCs. So I just deleted the one I had been playing with, and it saw the Boot Camp partition and loaded it up.

There are two major obstacles to using a Boot Camp partition with Parallels, as far as I’ve discovered:
1. When you close Parallels you must shut down the virtual computer. You can’t save the state and return right back where you were the next time you start Parallels. This is to prevent you from screwing everything up by trying to access the files from Boot Camp while they are suspended in Parallels. I wish there was a better way around this so that if you primarily use Parallels you don’t have to always wait for the computer to start up and shut down, but I guess the only option would be to never close Parallels. Anyway, Windows doesn’t take all that long to start, so it hasn’t been that bad. VPC used to take twice as long just to restore from a saved state.

2. Activation. As you probably know, Windows has all sorts of annoying ways to make sure that it’s as difficult as possible for you to use the operating system you paid for. One of the things it does to treat all users like criminals is to look at your system specs and deactivate itself if the specs change too much. On a “real” computer this could mean upgrading RAM, changing your hard drive, video card, processor, motherboard. I’m not sure exactly what it looks at, but if you like to upgrade your hardware you’ll run into this problem. On the Mac this is pretty much unavoidable. When I installed Windows in Boot Camp, it sees itself installed on a machine with 4GB of RAM and a Nvidia something-or-other video card. When Parallels loads the same installation, it uses a virtual machine which tells Windows that it’s running on hardware of lesser specs than my real hardware (because some of my resources still need to be used to run OS X). So it sees a machine with 1GB of RAM, a Parallels Video Driver, and a virtual hard drive, and it thinks (not unexpectedly) that it’s installed on a different computer. So it freaks out and demands to be activated within 3 days or it will stop working. When you go to the website it directs you to, it gives you lots of reasons this might have happened, like maybe you bought the computer used and the guy you bought it from was using a pirated copy of Windows. Not one example assumes you actually are trying to use a legitimate copy of Windows in a manner allowed under the EULA, and that the activation feature is simply wasting your time.

So I called the 800 number they give, which of course directed me to India. I explained that I was using XP on a Mac and that because I was using Boot Camp and Parallels the activation software saw it as two different computers and was asking for another activation code. I was given no argument from the nice lady, she simply asked if I bought the OS at retail or if it came with a computer, and I said it was a retail copy. Then she gave me a code to put into the activation window, and it happily accepted it. When I got back into Boot Camp, it once again popped up the activation warning, and I was about to lose it. But when I picked the option to activate over the internet, it did its business and obviously got an answer it was happy with, because it activated. Since then I’ve not heard a peep from the activation app. I was pleased to find that the Microsoft rep did not give me any grief for being a Mac user or act like what I wanted to do with my copy of Windows was wrong or strange. I’ve heard others say the same as well, so I applaud MS for at least making that part of this ridiculous process easy.

I tried Parallels first because I was more familiar with it as the first virtualization program available for Intel Macs. In trying to find out the advantages and disadvantages between Parallels and VMWare, I realized that both programs are so new and developing so rapidly that anything I read was pretty much obsolete because the two apps have been constantly one-upping each other with each release. In fact while I was trying them out over the course of the first week I owned my MBP, both released pretty significant updates. I tried Parallels first and found it just felt a little more comfortable, so when my trials were running out and I had to make a decision, I went with Parallels, but I expect over the coming months the two will go back and forth with who’s got the newest exciting feature.

Once I got everything installed nicely I began installing some games. One problem I found early on was with Sid Meier’s Pirates, which relies quite a bit on the numeric keypad for its controls. Of course laptops don’t have full keypads, but the usual method is to hold the function key to turn a section of the regular keyboard into the numeric keypad. While this function was working in Windows, it wouldn’t work for me in the game, but I came across something called Input Remapper, which has more advanced keyboard drivers for Boot Camp, including the keypad, brightness and volume buttons, and more. Removing the Apple keyboard driver and installing Input Remapper solved my problems.

One more tip: by default Boot Camp’s partition will appear in OS X named “Untitled,” which is not a particularly attractive name for something you’ll probably be looking at in your Finder a lot. You can rename it, but you have to do it in Windows. Right-clicking on the C: drive in My Computer will bring up the option to rename it. After that it will display that name in the Finder as well.

June 19, 2007

Going home… wait, what?

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 9:51 am

I’m one of those people who will be on tour in a city for a week and refer to the hotel room as “home.” So it doesn’t really surprise me that when I slept in my own bed last night I felt like I was in a hotel room, and I’m now looking forward to going “home” to the Hardy Apartments in Waltham. I love my nice soft mattress and my nice soft sheets and my nice soft pillows, but I know that creaky twin mattress at the Hardy is where I’m supposed to be. In fact I just realized last night that I’m much more productive at Reagle mostly because it’s usually more comfortable to get out of bed than to stay in it.

So I’m looking forward to getting back to Waltham, mostly because that’s where a lot of my stuff is and I’m used to it. Plus it’s hot and I want to throw my heavy backpack in the trunk of my car and crank the A/C instead of standing on a hot train platform for 15 minutes, only to remain cramped in a subway car for another 45 minutes, only to walk up and down steep hills with my heavy backpack and up five flights of stairs. I would never want to live anywhere else but New York, but being in the suburbs, especially in the summer, has its advantages.

I took this photo as we left, and decided to mess around with my new version of Photoshop on a fake macro effect that I’ve been wanting to try for a while. I took the picture and then between New York and New Haven, worked on it using tips I found here and here. I probably spent about half that time on the sky. I have learned that suspension bridges are not your friend when you need to alter the sky behind them.

My night at Phantom was interesting. I walked in to a usual night of chaos: too many people out, not enough understudies. This is a fairly regular occurrence, and after nearly 20 years the process of covering the show is routine. This one was almost really messy, though. Since I was present for no other reason than to get my photo taken, I was placed in charge of stage-managing the photo shoot with the various departments. Because of the tight deadline due to the loss of our original photos, we needed to turn the captions in to Playbill by the end of the next day. I took it upon myself (because I’m crazy?) to see that it was done. Again, a little computer skill goes a long way, as does the convenience of an all-Mac office. We had to have a way to get a copy of the photos printed in order to do the captions. They had a card reader, we had a Mac. We plugged it in, grabbed one photo from each group and printed them.

With the photos in hand, I brought them around to the various departments to get names and spellings for each person, and then typed them up. This took the entire first act. I literally was stapling the final caption sheet to the back of the last photo as the chandelier was falling. So how to get them to Playbill in time? I had a hunch, and asked them where the office was. 7th Ave. between 38th & 39th. That was pretty much what I was hoping to hear. It seemed the easiest way to make sure the material was delivered was for me to drop it off personally on my way to Penn Station. That was very easy, and I got a Playbill pen for my trouble.

Anyway, with my work done, I watched the second act from the sound board. I was mostly interested in seeing the new pyro effects, which have finally gone into the show after some planning. I guess there’s a new law which has banned the effects originally used in the show (something to do with the fuses). I had been warned for months it would be lame. It wasn’t quite as lame as I was expecting, but it’s definitely not as good. All I can say is that I kept my eyes open for the flames at the end of the mausoleum scene and I could still see when the lights came up. And apparently it smells worse, but I was too far away to tell. It’s sad that future audiences will lose that part of the Phantom experience. So many people say, “I was in the back row and I could feel the heat on my face!” It was never that big of a deal for me, but I hate to see any part of the original show be lost.

It will be nice to get back to Singin’ in the Rain after clearing my head a bit by spending a day with Phantom.

June 18, 2007

The Macbook Pro and Me

I call this: computers,mac,summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 1:34 pm

Since the purpose of this blog (ostensibly) is to discuss theatre and technology, and ideally both at the same time, now I’d like to examine a few ways that my latest purchase can be used to help me in my job in ways that my Powerbook couldn’t.

The camera

Last year I was supposed to have a MBP before starting the summer season at Reagle. I had the money saved up, but then the IRS took about half of it, and I moved right before leaving for the summer, and the expenses added up to a lot more than I was expecting. So no MBP for me for another year. I thought I was OK with this, until we were planning the second show of the year, Thoroughly Modern Millie.

Our director was coming in from California, but we needed to have a production meeting before he could get to Waltham. We bonded quickly over the phone when we discovered we were both big Mac users, and since the Reagle office is not really set up for meetings or conference calls, we decided to set up my Powerbook in the lobby and have an iChat conference, with everyone gathered around the table and him on iChat. This was the first big moment when I said, “Damn it, if only I had a Macbook Pro!” He had an iSight, and if I had only been able to make that purchase, we could have had a video chat instead of audio, which would have been very helpful for seeing who’s talking (since he hadn’t met any of us) and holding up diagrams to the screen. If there ever comes the need to do that again, now I will be able to do it.

The Remote

This was round 2 of my disappointment on Millie. I ran the projection of supertitles for the show on my Powerbook via Keynote. It was a big deal to get the 100-ft cable run from the projector over the house, up through the ceiling to the booth (this is now a permanent installation and we will use it again this summer). Unfortunately, the cable was run before tech. In theatre it’s customary for the tech and initial dress rehearsals to be run from one or more tech tables, which are usually just sheets of plywood bridging over some seats in the middle of the house, to form a large desk to hold the light board, communications equipment, and for the stage manager and designers to put their scripts, computers and other stuff on. This allows us to see and hear the show up close as the audience will see it, and be near the actors, director, choreographer, etc. for easier communication. Because the video cable was already run, I had to leave my computer in the booth. The result was that I did all of tech from the booth, which is not the ideal way to learn to call a show, or to run a tech. The director and I both had God mics, and every single thing I said or was said to me by anyone in the house, had to be done over the God mics. We got through it, but I kept wondering if it would have been possible with the remote for the MBP to have had the computer sitting in the doorway of the booth (where the cable was just long enough to put it) and for me to have been at or near the tech table and cued it over my shoulder with the remote. It sounds a little unlikely that the remote would work at any helpful distance, and I never tried it for Singin’ in the Rain. Because there are relatively few, and relatively easy video cues, I just got the asst. sound engineer to run it for me during tech.

Improved Wi-Fi Performance

The Powerbooks always had trouble with Wi-Fi because of the metal case interfering with the signal. Somehow the MBP has been redesigned to make this no longer an issue. The antenna is actually in the hinge between the screen and keyboard, which is lower than the old location on the upper edges of the screen, but I guess it gets better signal because the area exposed from the metal is much larger.

Since I usually don’t work in places with good or any Wi-Fi coverage, this improvement could very well be the difference between broadband or no broadband if I’m connecting to a base station far away in the building, or even spilling over from the building next door or across the street. I’ve rehearsed a number of shows in locations where the signal was intermittent or there was a specific spot you had to stand in to get reception. With this machine I’d probably have been able to sit comfortably at my desk and get a decent signal. I’ve heard a rumor from one of my followspot operators that the magsafe cable actually acts as an antenna for wi-fi, but I have yet to confirm this anywhere else. That would be cool if it did, though.

Battery Life

This is a two-part advantage, one part which I will consider cheating. I’d make an unscientific estimate of my MBP’s battery life at somewhere over 4 hours. My Powerbook currently gets about 7 minutes. That’s cheating. But I’m currently writing this on a train, where I’ve been for the last hour and a half, and with my brightness all the way down and wi-fi turned off (but bluetooth going the whole time for internet access, and USB charging my phone), I still have more than half of my battery life remaining (supposedly), and haven’t had to bug the lady next to me to let me use the plug (which is good cause that plug is huge and I don’t think I’d actually ask). The point is, if this model gets better battery life, that’s a big advantage in real-world use when it could mean an extra half hour or more of work gets done.

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