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.

My Weekend Vacation

I call this: summer stock — Posted by KP @ 11:12 am

Somewhat against my will, I’m spending my 36 hours off taking a little vacation. I’ve never been a fan of doing anything crazy on my days off at Reagle. I’m usually just catching up on basic things like sleep, laundry, groceries, and general relaxation. So today it’s Monday, and I don’t have to be back at work until Wednesday night’s show. And I’m currently on a train to… New York. Not at all where I would be going were I going somewhere. A lot of our New York-based actors go home on the days off, because they tend to have kids or spouses or some compelling reason to be there. I’m going to get my picture taken.

This is the stupidest reason I have ever had to do anything. On April 25 — I say again April 25, the photos were taken of the Phantom company for the Playbill Broadway Yearbook. This past Friday, I was at our opening night afterparty at a Waltham restaurant appropriately named Margaritas, just being served my margarita, when I received a phone call shortly before midnight. This was June 15. Apparently “due to a corrupted disk” they have lost the photos for the yearbook. I haven’t been able to get any more details about who lost them or when or how, or if it’s just Phantom or every show, or something in between. All I know is that in 52 days, somebody managed not to make a reliable backup of photos intended for publication.

The bottom line is that I was very pleased that the photos were originally taken while I was in town and available (as opposed to the first edition of the yearbook when I managed not to be in the book at all, despite having worked on three or four shows, and spent the entire year answering people’s questions of, “How come I don’t see any pictures of you in the yearbook?”). It was also a nice intimate photo of the Phantom stage management team, as opposed to the large group photos we’ve had in the past (see my profile pic for example). I was looking forward to seeing how it came out, and had made inquiries about getting a digital copy. So I was rather not-happy when I got this phone call telling me the pictures were lost and had to be retaken. The one good thing is that they happened to reschedule picture day for a Monday. At first I wasn’t intending to spend my weekend and a bunch of money dragging myself to New York just to get a picture taken. But I was so furious about the whole thing the more I thought about it overnight, I decided the money was replaceable, and if I threw enough money at it, I could make it a rather relaxing couple days off instead of a hassle. And I’d get to see my friends and sleep in my own bed, and most importantly, be in the picture for posterity and not have to be bitter about it the rest of my life.

I thought about driving, but I hate driving, and I didn’t feel comfortable parking the rental car in my neighborhood, and certainly wasn’t driving through midtown. I thought about the bus, but the whole prospect of five to six hours each way on a bus was unbearable. So I went with the train. I took the cheapest trains each way, and the ones in the most reasonable hour of the day. I’ll arrive just in time to take the picture and depart in the late morning tomorrow, and should be back in Waltham around 3:30, with more than 24 hours left in my weekend. Not so bad, really, and it’s more interesting than what I’d be doing if I weren’t going anywhere.