August 30, 2007

BBP Hamptons Bag Review

I call this: bag reviews,computers,mac — Posted by KP @ 11:00 pm

While browsing the online Apple Store for something new, I came across a new bag. It needs to be said that I am a major bag whore. I own lots of bags, each one appropriate for a slightly different situation, most of them with lots of fun pockets and compartments. Since the last year and a half has been devoted to the purchase of a Macbook Pro, which I finally now have, I haven’t been buying new bags because I was saving every penny for the new computer. I also hadn’t seen anything to catch my eye lately. Until I stumbled across this bag.

The company’s website is here. I ended up not purchasing it from the Apple Store. If I had been able to find one in an Apple Store, I would have, but online I found it much cheaper on Amazon (retail price is $95, but I got it for $50), and I have been putting ridiculous amounts on my Amazon credit card, so my gift certificates covered it. It comes in other colors, but I liked this titanium and orange one best. They come in three sizes: small, medium and large, which hold different sized laptops. I got the medium as they claim it perfectly fits the 15″ Macbook Pro, which it does. It also comes with some velcro-in padded inserts that you can use to customize the shape for your particular laptop. I actually used all of them in the bottom of the laptop compartment to provide a little extra cushioning.

The straps

The thing that makes this bag unique (and maybe a little frightening) is that you can wear it like a messenger bag over one shoulder, or like a backpack by converting the strap so that it attaches to the middle of the bag and over both shoulders. You may ask yourself, “Won’t I look like an idiot with a messenger bag dangling down on my lower back?” I asked myself the same thing. Maybe? Probably? But I decided it might be worth a try, and if it was really humiliating, at least I would still have a new messenger bag to wear in the regular style.

My first reaction to trying the straps is that it is indeed quite comfortable to wear the bag backpack-style. It also works well over one shoulder with the strap in backpack configuration, so it’s sort of a cross between backpack and messenger. It takes a little re-rigging to really switch modes, so I have been finding this the best way to be able to swap back and forth quickly.

Once I started using it on a day-to-day basis, I discovered a system that seemed to work well. I wear it backpack style as I walk to and from the train and my apartment, where it’s not crowded. While on the train, I switch it to messenger style, which works better in the tight confines of midtown streets where I can put it in front of me, to the side, or slung around to the back depending on the size of space I need to squeeze through. The bag definitely feels much heavier in messenger style, but it’s rather wide when worn on the back, and has been getting caught on things.

The other annoyance I have about wearing it backpack style begins with something BBP has on their site:

I was very comforted to hear this before purchasing, as I’m 5’0″ and often find that no matter how high on your back a bag is supposed to ride, it always winds up hanging down on my butt and distorting all the intended weight-distributing design. I thought maybe I was in the clear with this one. No such luck. I have read a review claiming that despite the low-hanging design, the bag does not bounce on your butt. Let me tell you, if you’re 5’0″ you can hike up all the straps to their shortest length, and the bag will still bounce on your butt. Hard. With every step. That’s thousands of bounces every time you go somewhere, and I don’t appreciate my laptop being bounced on anything thousands of times a day, even though the padding on the back of the bag is quite thick.

Brightly lined interior… or not

One of the things I found appealing about this bag that I now look for in all my bags is that the interior should be a bright color so you can find stuff in it. My bags, especially my computer bags, hold lots of tiny little cables and adapters, and generally I find them by sticking my hand way down into the pockets and finding stuff by touch. This is not really ideal. I was a bit disappointed when the bag arrived to discover that only two of the compartments have the fun yellow interior, and even that is a stretch. The big giant compartment is yellow, which is less helpful to me because I tend to put big giant things in the big giant compartment, and big giant things are usually easier to find anyway. The wide compartment in the front has yellow on the back side, adjoining the big giant compartment, but the pockets and the outer side are black. So you can sort of see things in the pockets, but anything sitting in the space in front of the pockets (which happens to be the natural place for all my cables and adapters) is lost in the blackness. Every other compartment in the bag is all black. Considering they tout this as one of the features of the bag, it feels a little half-assed when only one of the bag’s eight compartments is fully lined in a bright color.

The shower test

About once a year it seems I find myself walking 20 blocks or more in a torrential downpour. The kind of downpour where it feels like there’s more water than air in the air. For this reason when I buy a bag capable of holding my computer the first thing I do before ever letting it carry my computer is put it in the shower. I stick pieces of paper in the various pockets where sensitive items might be, and after letting my shower rain down on it for a while, I check to see if the papers got wet.

I’m sorry to say this bag did not entirely pass. The manufacturer clearly states on the website that it’s water resistant, not waterproof, but I was especially worried by the fact that the laptop compartment is conveniently located behind the main flap so that you can take your computer out without opening the flap. It has a water-resistant zipper, but it’s not protected from water like it would be if the flap covered it.

After ten minutes under the shower (suspended, not sitting in the water at the bottom), here are the results:
Inside flap: surprisingly dry. You can see that the lighter-colored silver area is where the interior pockets pretty much survived.

Inside the big compartment: wet! As you can see the paper was pretty soaked at the bottom, and there was also a large pool of water in the bottom of the bag. I attribute this to the fact that I sometimes spun the bag under the shower head which probably let a bunch of water in through the sides under the flap. Probably more severe than anything that would happen in an actual rainstorm. The large black seam at the top of the photo also showed a little wetness seeping through. The wide front compartment which I can best describe as “where I would put my power adapter” came out wetter than I would like at the bottom. I attribute this to the fact that the bottom of this compartment adjoins the bottom of the main compartment, which was filled with water. The pouch in the front came out almost completely dry.

The cute magnetically-sealed iPod compartment: soaked. I expected this, especially because this is the one pouch that doesn’t have a zipper, and it’s exposed on the outside of the flap. In the rain I would never have my iPod in the external pouch of any bag, but this illustrates why. I didn’t bother putting paper inside any of the other outer pouches.

And finally, how has my laptop been faring during this downpour? A bit wet. There is also a little water pooled at the bottom of the compartment. I’m not sure whether it came in from the adjoining compartment or from the seams at the top.

My overall verdict is that while my test was probably more severe than I would encounter in the real world, if I were ever caught in a real rainstorm with this bag and anything water-sensitive in it, my first priority would be to get the hell out of the rain.

The designers did add something helpful that I’ve never had in a bag before: an umbrella holder on the inside of the flap. I can’t demonstrate it because I kind of hate umbrellas and didn’t bring one with me this summer. They also give me this cool thing up here called a “car” which means I never have to walk 20 blocks in the rain. But when I get home this will be a nice incentive to carry an umbrella.


I think it will almost completely replace my usual messenger bag, the Timbuk2 Commute, which is also a great bag (and waterproof), and it should fix the main complaint I have about the Timbuk2, that it’s too small to hold much besides my laptop and script and a few accessories. This bag holds enough stuff to actually be usable for rehearsals when I have to bring everything, and the different carrying options will allow me to distribute the weight better than I would be able to with a normal messenger bag, on those days when it’s just too heavy for one shoulder.

Some little details I like:

Extra D-rings on the outside of the flap and on the straps for clipping… whatever onto them. I wasn’t sure what I was going to use these for, but figured I would find a use eventually. After the final performance of my summer stock season, I had crammed my belongings from the theatre into every possible pocket (see photo for an idea of how wide the bag gets), but I had nowhere safe to put my headset. So I tied the strings of its drawstring bag around one of the D-rings and let it hang on the outside. I wouldn’t call that a “safe” way to carry a headset, but for the trip from the booth to the trunk of my car it worked fine.

The open pocket on the back has a zipper at the bottom which opens it up to be put over the handle on a rolling suitcase. I love those things. Here’s a picture of it in action on my trip home from Reagle.

The magnetic clip on what is presumably the iPod pouch is classy. A special softer lining on the inside would have been a great touch, but no luck.

One other oddity is the center mesh pocket on the outside of the flap. I’m not a big fan of mesh in general, as I think it will result in the contents falling out, either accidentally, or because a potential pickpocket can see exactly what’s in it, limiting it to holding nothing more expensive than a roll of BreathSavers. This particular mesh pocket doesn’t even have a piece of elastic at the top. Now think about this: you put something in this pocket, then later you need to get something out of your bag and lift the flap. The outer pocket is now upside down! Something that is designed to be turned upside down as part of its normal operation should probably be closed at the top. Odd.

All in all, this bag has some really bold and smart design choices, but I don’t think it’s going to fully replace any of the bags I already own.

A New Job

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 12:49 pm

If you’re like me, you’ve probably been wondering when the hell I was going to post something new. Well I assure you I’ve got a number of posts in draft, mostly new computer-related product reviews which I’ll try to finish now that I have a few days off. But other than that, there just hasn’t been anything to post about.

In my last post I mentioned something cryptic about possible big jobs on the horizon, and the biggest of them has officially been offered to me, so now I can tell you about it. I’m going to be the ASM for the Off-Broadway production of Frankenstein, which starts previews October 10 at 37 Arts. The show’s website is here, it stars Hunter Foster, Christiane Noll and Steve Blanchard, and it looks like it will be a fun time. It doesn’t start rehearsals until Sept. 17, but exciting things should be happening soon.

August 19, 2007

Reagle Roundup

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 10:34 am

My summer season has come to an end. I’m currently on the Long Island Rail Road going directly from Waltham to a family barbecue that conveniently happened to be scheduled for today. I am so far enjoying the benefits of civilization like a cell phone that gets four bars and EV-DO coverage in a tunnel. There really isn’t any higher form of civic advancement than good cell coverage.

I’m glad to be returning home to my other group of friends and colleagues and to all my stuff, and most of all a big soft bed with nice soft sheets and pillows just the way I like them. I met a lot of great people this summer, and worked again with some more great people, and we put on three very good shows. I’m hoping to maybe get a bit of a break from the PSM thing for a while, but I’ll take whatever comes. My future is filled with a couple definite small gigs and some possible big gigs, and the usual subbing on Phantom and The Fantasticks. I don’t have any dates booked yet, but I’m hoping to get back into both rotations quickly, especially Phantom as I never like to let too much time go by between performances. I’ll need to spend some time with my calling script at home so that I’m ready at a minute’s notice if the call comes.

This concludes the summer stock mini-blog (at least this year). Thanks for reading. Hope you stick around!

August 17, 2007

iWork 08 Review – Pages

I call this: computers,mac — Posted by KP @ 10:25 am

While in the five years since I switched to Mac I have grown to love Apple’s style of hardware and software that “just works,” I still like to know that I have control over the way things work and can customize them to my liking. For the most part I haven’t felt that being a Mac user has taken away my ability to customize, but sometimes that means replacing Apple’s built-in apps with 3rd party replacements. Missing Sync instead of iSync, Firefox instead of Safari, and the biggest of all, Office.

I have tried. I have no love for Microsoft, and their Office apps are buggy and slow, especially because they just don’t seem to have gotten around to updating their software for Intel processors like, oh, I don’t know, pretty much every other Mac developer on earth. But still, I don’t seem to be able to tear myself away from Office. But with each release of iWork, I try again.

When Apple first released Pages, I was excited to see what it could do. I became frustrated very quickly. With Word, even when I don’t know exactly where to find a certain function, I usually instinctively look in the right general direction. Every time I try to use Pages I find myself searching the whole app, in menus, preferences, the Inspector, contextual menus, all the while wondering if I’m even going to recognize the name of the option when I find it. And when I do find it, it’s usually somewhere that makes no sense to me and took way too many clicks to get to. I just don’t like the layout of these kind of Apple apps with the Inspector, and the giant Font menu that pops up and gets all in the way just to make a simple change. Having this in an app as important as a word processor was driving me crazy. I never realized how much I’m tied to the Microsoft way of doing things, although it makes perfect sense since I’ve been using MS word processors exclusively pretty much every day since the age of nine. There are certain things I just expect in the UI and the menus, and can’t conceive of doing any other way. Knowing that Apple is often right about these things, I keep trying to get used to their way, but every previous attempt has sent me quickly back to Word.

I worked with a director last year who did everything in Pages 2, and his stuff looked great, and I made another effort to force myself to use it, but when I couldn’t get things to look exactly as I wanted, again I had to give up and do it in Word where I knew exactly what to do.

When 42nd Street started rehearsals last month, there were a lot of changes in the schedule every day, and I needed to produce new and easy-to-read schedules pretty much on the spot. Taking time to format them and make them look pretty was time we didn’t have. And they had to be easy to read as they were being made, so that we could see problems, like time overlaps or too many rehearsals scheduled in one room. Despite being in full anti-Pages mode at the time, I knew that this particular job was perfectly matched for Pages. It can look pretty, and it can look pretty immediately. I made a table, created the right number of columns, and began dragging things around to form our schedule, merging and dividing cells as needed. At right you can see an example. Stuff is just typed in without any thought to formatting, and it looks clean and legible. I would save a copy every day as a PDF to be e-mailed to the cast. Pages can also save in .doc format, but I prefer PDFs more and more as different versions of Office can screw up margins and formatting, and if the document won’t need to be edited by the recipient, I prefer the safety of knowing it will look exactly as I intended.

As the weeks went on, I came to appreciate the ease of Pages more and more, and sometimes would play around a little with settings, and got used to where to look for various options. So I was already in the right frame of mind when Steve Jobs announced the new version of iWork last week (yeah, I’m totally one of those people who sits at home following IRC chats and liveblog updates any time Jobs gives a keynote, and then watches the video of it once it’s available for download). A new version of Pages, plus a brand new (but not at all unexpected) spreadsheet app called Numbers, had me very excited. I use Keynote quite a bit in my career (as discussed here), but nothing in the new version has particularly caught my attention, it’s all been about Pages and Numbers.

The Pros

The big thing that got me all excited while watching the Stevenote was when he mentioned a contextual formatting bar. The best thing possible — all the easy-to-reach formatting goodness I miss from Word (you know, drop-down font menus, font size, alignment buttons), and contextual, to make space for only the options I need at a given moment. So exciting!

One other thing that seems to be improved is that Pages appears to be remembering my preferred settings for default documents. By default it has this maddening setting to add 12 points of blank space every time you press the enter key. It’s some sort of “paragraph break” or whatever, but I’m fully capable of hitting enter twice when I want such a thing, thank you very much. It’s nice to have a style option like that, but it drove me nuts that it was enabled by default and when I finally figured out where the hell to change it, I had to do it every time I opened a blank document. It doesn’t seem to be doing it to me anymore now, so either it’s teasing me, or it has learned that I don’t like it and will remember that from now on.

Pages has always been better than Word at page layout, and one of the new features is a separate page layout mode, which lets you start a document which is totally blank and waiting for you to add text boxes, images, etc. and you don’t have to worry about the regular typing area. It also has a feature I have long loved in Keynote: a line that shows up when you get close to aligning objects to sensible things like horizontal or vertical center of the document, or aligned with an adjacent object. It makes it really easy to arrange things perfectly. I’m not 100% sure this is new to Pages 3, but I think it is, and regardless, it’s something SO much better than Word. Have you ever tried to perfectly align an image or text box in Word? Enough said.

Office 2007 for Windows was released at the beginning of this year and it features new document formats which are supposedly smaller and better. I have been living in 2007 for eight-and-a-half months now, and have never crossed paths with one of these documents. I guess they’re slow to be adopted as many people and businesses haven’t upgraded to the new version of Office, or are using the old formats for the sake of their non-’07-using colleagues. For Mac users who need to open these documents, MS has recently made available a beta version of their conversion tool, which supposedly will be built into a future Office update… someday. In the meantime, while Office cannot presently open documents in the current Office format, there are some other apps that can. Such as Pages and Numbers. (In fairness, so can the open-source office suite OpenOffice, but it’s more fun to point out the irony that Apple’s apps are more Office-compatible than Office.)

The Cons

Two of my favorite things in word processing are tables and comments. I use tables a lot as you can see in my schedule example above. Now imagine I’m making that schedule. As I’m typing I say to myself, “do we need Julian to come to the ‘Go Into Your Dance’ rehearsal?” So now I want to put one of Pages’ oh-so-sexy comments pointing to the cell for that rehearsal and say something like “Julian?” Problem. A comment attached to a table attaches to the entire table, it can’t be used to indicate a particular cell. Bummer. It was a bummer last year when I was trying to get into Pages, and it’s a bummer in this version. In fact, in trying to test this, I find I can’t even get a comment onto a table at all in word processing mode, only in page layout. Not sure what’s up with that.

In Summary

I think the new version of Pages includes enough of the features I want to finally get me over my Word withdrawal so that I might actually be able to make the switch. When I’m old and gray and Office 2008 eventually comes out, I may have to still buy it just in case, but that’s still a long time away. If I can get Word and Excel out of my life, I will look again at getting rid of Entourage, but e-mail and PIM functions are the most important data I work with, and I find Mail + iCal + Address Book very weak in comparison to the power of Entourage. Thankfully, Entourage can be purchased separately if it comes to that. I look forward to seeing what happens to those three built-in apps in Leopard, maybe they will come closer to what I want, and I won’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on Office anymore.

A review of Numbers will be coming soon!

August 12, 2007

42nd Street Photos

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 11:36 am

We’re in the Money


Lullaby of Broadway

See, you can even see the tops of everyone’s head on the upper platform.

All photos by Herb Philpott.

August 10, 2007

42nd Street First Performance

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 2:52 pm

Last night was our first show. We were sold out, which was a little unexpected. I heard last week that the Saturday matinee is sold out, but I hadn’t heard anything else in a while, so that was a nice surprise. It was our first sold out show this season.

When I arrived the stage was still filled with sets getting their final touches, and the marquees for the ballet still being wired. Eventually I was able to bring in the curtain and open the house, but work continued behind the curtain until pretty close to show time. Nobody really saw the marquees hung and lit until 1,100 people saw them all at once, and I snapped a picture of the moment.

They looked great, although they need a little tweaking to make the heights more varied. Considering there was no way to really check that before the show, they came out pretty well. They actually look a lot better to the audience than they do from the booth because the viewing angle is different.

The first show was very smooth, and everyone was in great spirits afterward.

This is Mugsy. He belongs to one of our actors, and makes a cameo in the “Gettin’ Out of Town” scene, as the fictional cast packs up their belongings, “dogs, cats, canaries…” and heads for their out-of-town tryout. He’s doing a great job.Since we had only a matinee, the evening was taken up by a party at a local cast member’s house, which was very well attended and a great chance for cast and crew to unwind and mingle after a hectic couple weeks. The party was a fiesta, and of course it wouldn’t be complete without a pinata. Somebody got a sun pinata, because “There’s a Sunny Side to Every Situation.” Here’s me trying to hit the pinata. I got in a number of good hits, but alas I was not the one to break it.

Night Crew

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 2:32 pm

The night before opening of 42nd Street, we had our final dress, did some fixes and notes, and dismissed the cast around 11:00PM. By midnight our production meeting was over, and I was well on my way to going home. On the stage and in the shop, however, the crew had been working since the run ended, cramming in all the little details that still remained to get in shape for the first performance at 2:00PM the next day — painting, set repair, refocusing lighting instruments. They stayed until 3 or 4 in the morning, returning at around 10 to continue work and get ready for the show.

Before I left I took some portraits of our hard-working crew:

Ray touches up the paint job on one of the “Lullaby” stair units.

Christina lurks under the other stair unit, doing the same thing.

Jamie starts painting a column to match the pink marble style of the existing ones that frame the proscenium.

Who says the wardrobe crew can’t do physical labor? Joe sets up scaffolding.

Matt refurbishes the edge of the big dime to make it nice and shiny. Here he shows off a technique known in the theatre industy as “gaff-painting.”

August 7, 2007

The Glittering Desk Lamps of Broadway

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 10:08 pm

As promised, here is a picture of our electrical stand-ins for the 42nd Street marquees. I didn’t get a chance to take a photo of them in the scene, as I wound up rather hastily calling the run from the booth tonight. By hastily, I mean that as soon as the Overture started we realized that even literally screaming into our headsets we wouldn’t be able to hear each other over the blaring trumpets and tapping feet, and after about 32 bars, I gathered up my calling script, pencil, God mic, headset, and cup of soda from the tech table and ran up the aisle to the booth, calling cues as I went. We often have this problem of the orchestra sound getting into the headsets and drowning everyone out, but for some reason thought that on this show of all things I could get away with calling from the house. We realized our stupidity right away.

So when we got to the ballet I realized too late that I didn’t have my camera with me to get a shot of the “marquees,” and anyway I would have been too far away to get a good picture. After the run Steph turned them back on for a photo op. She also corrected my earlier post which assumed they were taped to the pipe. Oh, no. The desk lamp is actually lashed to the pipe by its cord. And of course the clip light is attached by its clip. And I forgot to mention my personal favorite part of the whole display, the extension cord with the end that glows orange when it’s powered, adding a nice third light source to the mix. I’m going to miss all of them when the real marquees go up tomorrow.

Fun Things in the Shop

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 1:58 pm

Just five minutes ago I was dragged skipping into the shop by our master electrician, Steph, and knew immediately what I was going to see.

Here Nick, Steph and Justin show off their creation. It’s been a long and complicated process to turn the giant marquees from the national tour (this is the smallest one) into something that doesn’t cost thousands of dollars in bulbs, and require more power and counterweights than anybody should really need. A bulk order of Christmas lights arrived in the morning, and even up close they look quite a bit like real marquee lights. They won’t be hung until all the marquees are done tomorrow, but for now we have an empty pipe with — I kid you not — an upside-down desk lamp and a clip light taped to it to represent the marquees for lighting purposes. It’s hysterical. I’ll try to get a picture of it.

Competing with the marquee builders for my attention is head painter, Matt, who is refurbishing the fabric on the Regency hotel unit.

The third and final project currently underway in the shop involved Scott, Tim and Ross climbing around on top of the “Buffalo” cars.

When I inquired what exactly they were doing, I was told, “attaching mirrors,” with the express instructions that it was to be pronounced “murrrs.” There’s murrrs all over this set, most of which are in need of something between cleaning and replacement. With a lot of the big fixes done, a lot of the little projects in the next two days will involve making all the murrrs look respectable.