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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