July 31, 2009

Entertaining Notions of the 17″ Macbook Pro

I call this: computers,mac — Posted by KP @ 1:01 pm

First, an astronomy lesson.

Our Solar System


As you can see, with the new unibody design, the 17″ Macbook Pro is now slightly smaller than Jupiter.  If you count Saturn’s rings (which also do not fit on airline tray tables), you could even say it’s smaller than Saturn.  Which brings me to the point of this post.  For the first time in my life, I’m letting myself even entertain the notion of maybe for some reason in the future considering one.

I love love love my current 15″ Macbook Pro (I forget it’s official designation, I guess it’s 2nd gen, 2.4gHz Core 2 Duo).  I bought it the day they released the model with the LED backlight.  June 2007.  First of all, when it died on the road this past spring, I had to face the possibility of needing to replace it.  I was not happy about this, in that “oops! my computer’s broken, I guess I need a new one!” kind of way.  The problem is that  Apple in their infinite catering to the non-Pro users of their Pro lineup, have done away with the option of getting the 15″ with a matte screen.  Apparently, despite the fact that the Macbook Pro now comes in three sizes, only the 17″ is now Pro enough to include the features professionals need like a matte screen or Expresscard slot.  The nomenclature is all screwed up now.  It used to be if you wanted an OK laptop you got a Macbook (or an iBook).  If you were a professional, and needed more power or options (which you were willing to pay for), you got a Macbook Pro (or Powerbook).   Now the division between those two things has nothing to do with where the word “Pro” appears in the lineup, it’s inexplicably between the 15″ and 17″, as if all the professionals of the world are giants who only fly first class.  OK, rant done about that.  But it’s the first step in understanding why we’re even having this discussion.

First of all, the timeline.  I’m not shopping for a new computer.  As I said, I love the one I have.  Aside from the fact it completely up-and-died on me an hour before a performance in Phoenix, it’s been otherwise rock solid, and with its new logic board and battery, it’s in many ways only a few months old.  The only feature it’s lacking is the new touchpad that can do zoom gestures, and it still has a separate physical button, which I find just fine.   It’s just over two years old, but lately I’ve started to think long-term about its life.  It just love it so much.  I do not love the current model, so an upgrade essentially would be a downgrade.  But someday, there will be a feature much better than the glass touchpad, that will start to make an upgrade a must-have.  Maybe it will be processing or graphics power.  Maybe built-in GPS (after a year with an iPhone, I go to Google Maps on my laptop and I’m like, “‘Enter starting location.’  Oh that’s easy — here.  What do you mean, you don’t know where here is?!  Do I have to do everything for you!?”) .  Maybe Blu-Ray will become useful for something and Apple will start including it.  Anyway, although I see no reason to upgrade now, my average satisfaction with any computer I’ve ever owned is about three years.  After four years I become willing to sell my body or carry out hits for the mob in order to raise the money necessary for an upgrade.  There’s also the unfortunate possibility my current computer will have another catastrophic failure, get run over by the tour bus, or be stolen, and I will have no choice but to upgrade.

But since in all likelihood its desired retirement is about a year away, I have (quite responsibly, in my opinion) begun to make plans to ensure that whenever that time comes, I will be ready for it.  Mostly that involves having a large pile of cash saved up over a long period of time, rather than having to scrounge it together and go into debt when out of the blue I realize I need to upgrade.  This includes decisions about which jobs I take, what I buy at the supermarket (no Pom juice this week), ways to pocket more of my per diem on the road, and careful consideration of any expenses that are not rent and food.   So I am very proud of myself that hopefully I will be able to afford an upgrade before I even know I want one.

So as I said, this upgrade is still a ways away, I hope, and the current lineup of Macbook Pros is not necessarily a reflection of what my options will be when the time comes.  But instead of looking at the current lineup and praying it changes because I don’t want any of them, I have recently begun to think if I had to make the decision today, maybe the 17″ is an acceptable choice.

Some thoughts:

  • Matte screen. I covered this in my rant. If I go with anything other than the 17″, I will have to settle for the glossy screen. Not cool. I’m not always trying to fit my computer on a tray table. Percentage of the time I spend looking at the screen… hmm, maybe 100%.
  • Screen size Speaking of gaming. The biggest reason I’m thinking about this is because of a discussion I had with someone who also plays Battleground Europe, and happens to be a lighting designer who travels a lot, and also plays on a Macbook Pro, except on a 17″. The thing that makes me miss being at home the most is the screen size — it’s just not the same gaming experience playing on a laptop, largely because everything is so small and it’s hard to aim effectively when everything is compressed to just a couple pixels. A 17″ is not going to compare to a desktop monitor, but that extra 1.6″ and 1920×1200 resolution (which is the same I play at home) would help a lot in easing my frustration with being on the road so much. The larger screen and resolution would also help with the graphics work I do, and make for a more comfortable user experience in general.
  • OK, the size So the thing is big. My primary bag (see review) is designed to accommodate up to a 17″ MBP, so no problem there. The sleeve I bought to go with it would have to go (even if I replaced it, I don’t think sleeve+Macbook would fit in the slot). Some of my other bags are designed for 15″, but at least one of them was really designed for the Powerbook and never quite fit the extra millimeters of the MBP anyway. The 17″ would be more inconvenient to carry around casually (and my casual laptop-and-little-else bag is custom fit for the 15″ and would need to be replaced), but it depends on what the circumstances of my life are. There is no “casual” mode when I’m on tour or doing summer stock anyway. There’s one bag. It has all the stuff in it all the time.
  • A lot of the sacrifices I’m talking about making are adjustments to the idea of never being home. Of course as soon as I invest a lot of money in making that lifestyle more comfortable, then I’ll book a Broadway show and never need to leave New York again. But should I be so unfortunate as to have that happen, at least I could afford to buy a different Macbook Pro every month!
  • 8-hour battery life This is kind of inconceivable to me. I refuse to believe it’s even remotely possible. If the thing lasts for five hours for more than a year, I will still consider it a miracle of science. But at any rate, the 17″ reportedly gets an hour more battery than the 15″ due to the extra room.
  • Extra USB port Not a huge deal, but I could do my gaming without needing a USB hub, which is one less thing to unpack and plug in every day. I would also imagine it would provide slightly better performance than my $5 Radio Shack hub.

So these are the considerations currently floating around in my head. Of course whenever the decision needs to be made the current Apple product lineup will need to be compared, as well as what my job prospects are looking like at the time. I wish I could borrow somebody’s 17″ for like a month. If I had no dignity I should tape blocks of wood to the sides of mine and count how many times a day they piss me off.

UPDATE: I had to go to the Apple Store today, so while there, I took a look at the 17″ which was conveniently next to the 15″. It’s huuuuuge! In both the good way and the bad way. I picked it up a few inches off the table, and it’s noticeably heavier than my current machine. I actually sometimes get nervous that I’ve left my MBP behind when I’m carrying it because I can’t tell it’s in my bag. I don’t expect that would ever happen with the 17″. It’s definitely not small, but I’m not opposed to the idea of getting one.

UPDATE: New Post

July 30, 2009

Apple Releases 2TB Time Capsule. Karen wishes for 320GB hard drive.

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

Today I read this article on TUAW about Apple’s release of a new Time Capsule (router with included hard drive for wireless backups) with a 2TB capacity. Suddenly I feel like a Luddite because the scale of everyday storage capacity is starting to exceed the amount I work with exponentially.

The largest hard drive I own is 160GB. I have three of them. One in my laptop. One that was the backup drive for my laptop and once got knocked on the floor. And the one I bought to replace the one that got knocked on the floor, even though to this day it appears not to have been damaged. One can never be too safe. Of course one could also back up to multiple locations, but one doesn’t have the time for that, or a 2nd enclosure for the other drive, and one is too cheap to get a nice one, and too techno-elitist to get a crappy one.

Anyway. All this to say, I would love to upgrade my laptop drive to a 320GB 7200RPM drive, but I must admit to being a little bit wary of doing the installation myself (my Macbook Pro is out of warranty and Apple Care, so that’s not really a factor, I’m just trying to keep this machine happy for another year or so). However, my computer is now just over two years old. The logic board was replaced four months ago, the battery three months ago. At this point it feels in many ways like a spring chicken again. Which makes the hard drive even more likely to be the thing that fails, though I must say it has always inspired confidence, and doesn’t even make any kind of noise, as one that’s as old as it is, and moves around as much as it does could be expected to make. I check its SMART status every now and then, and it just keeps chugging along. Except it doesn’t chug. As I said, it’s silent. Fujitsu. Damn fine little machine in there. Western Digital tends to be the HD maker I trust, but I think that may need to change for these future drives. I’m impressed.

Yes I said “drives.” In order to back up said drive, I would then need to purchase a second drive at the same time, of 320GB or bigger. So there’s a bit of cash involved beyond just the cost of a single drive at Newegg. The plan currently is that I would only do the installation at home, where I have all my stuff, tools, spare parts, etc. in case I ran into unforeseen complications (I did bring my precision screwdriver kit to Reagle just in case I got inspired).

I’ll see how I feel both technologically and financially when it’s almost time to head home in about three weeks. I also have a phone interview in a few hours for what could potentially be a rent-paying job for the fall, so if I book that I think I can handle a couple hard drives. I actually have been entertaining a number of potential jobs, but hadn’t really thought about it so specifically. It needs to be this one. Momma needs a bigger hard drive!

My concern about the upgrade also is that while I can see that my hard drive is creating the bottleneck in speed, I worry that 7200RPMs will damage my battery life. Which it might. But although I like the freedom at work to sit at different places without having to find an outlet, I do spend most of my time plugged in. Paul has been Super Electricity Assistant this year. Wherever we sit, he’s right on it with a power strip and extension cord. Usually with the power strip gaff taped to the table too, and the cables nicely dressed.

For the external drive I would need more space. Originally when I bought my backup drives it was back in the days B.T.M. (Before Time Machine). Back then you just cloned your drive and that was it. I specifically wanted a drive that was an exact duplicate of the one in my machine, so that in the event of a complete hard drive failure, I could physically swap them and carry on like nothing happened. The way Time Machine works, by keeping multiple backups as far back as your hard drive capacity allows, encourages that your HD be many times the size of the drive it’s backing up for maximum effectiveness. Not to mention it would be nice, since Time Machine does not store its files in a way that’s bootable, to have room for another partition that could be an actual clone. Or even a third partition for storing stuff totally unrelated to backups (like large video files, movies, anything big that doesn’t need to actually be stored on the computer).

The only problem with all of this is that going bigger than 500GB wrecks my whole backup system, because that’s currently the biggest any 2.5″ hard drives come. I like using a laptop drive for my backups. It’s small, light, runs without external power, and serves not only as a backup of my files, but as a backup for the hardware itself. Being on the road all the time, the ability to have a spare hard drive in my computer bag that travels with my laptop 24/7 is a great security blanket.

If I lived at home most of the time, a Time Capsule would be a nice idea for a second, non-portable nightly backup (either an actual Time Capsule hardware, or a hard drive plugged into an Airport Express). I don’t have a Time Capsule, because as is just my luck, I upgraded to the Airport Express “wireless n” router just before the Time Capsule came out. In fact I think I missed the cutoff date to turn it in for an exchange by like 2 days. So needless to say, I really won’t need a new router for some time. And as you can see, I have no idea what I would do with 2TB of storage if I did.

July 24, 2009

A Star is Born

I call this: summer stock — Posted by KP @ 7:23 pm

purseheadshotIn the Reagle Players’ production of Mame, an understudy has become a star. I am speaking, naturally, of this purse shown at right. This large, floppy red purse was Dolly’s rehearsal purse during Hello, Dolly. Rachel York grew so attached to it (as we all did) that after a while the search for a “real” purse was called off and the humble red purse got the job. During tech, pockets were built into it to hold specific props. However, in the end it clashed with most of her costumes and was not nearly crazy enough to match Dolly’s personality. Another, rival purse that had actually been a Dolly purse on Broadway was brought in at the last minute to add some star power, and the humble red purse was relegated to the blue bin of rehearsal props, along with a styrofoam bowler hat and some newspapers.

In Mame, it has made it to the stage as the purse of nanny Agnes Gooch in the opening scenes of the show. Speaking of her co-star, Tony nominee Maureen Brennan said the purse “is kind of like my security blanket.” Brennan is currently lobbying for the purse to be cast in Reagle’s next production, La Cage aux Folles.

The Purse and Maureen Brennan in Mame

July 22, 2009

Quick Tip for Traveling Mac Users

I call this: mac — Posted by KP @ 12:25 am

I just discovered this little gem, and I’m rather ashamed I never thought of it.

If you’re traveling you may very well need to charge some of your small electronic devices over USB. It’s certainly easier than bringing a separate AC charging cable, if you even have that option. One of the things that’s kind of annoying about the Macbook family of laptops is that their USB ports are non-powered when the computer is in sleep mode. So if you want to charge, say, your iPod overnight, you either have to leave the computer on, or find another outlet and use the AC adapter. The other annoyance is that if you plug the device into your computer, then the computer will get all fancy and want to mount it, and sync with it or something. Then you need to be mindful of ejecting it before you unplug it.

However, if you have an Airport Express (or really any Airport), you can plug your device into the USB port there and use it strictly for charging. This doesn’t solve all the world’s problems (in fact, I had stopped touring with my Express after the first leg because I found that I rarely found an opportunity to use it, and never needed it). But this little added functionality might make it worth bringing again. You’re still carrying another device, and still using another outlet, but if you’d be bringing an Airport Express with you anyway, this allows some flexibility in how you set up your little mobile home-away-from-home. It might also be useful at home depending on how you have things arranged.

I do use the Airport Express when doing summer stock, as I am now, to create my own wireless network in my apartment, which is equipped with ethernet, and occasionally to set up a little network at rehearsal so I can keep my printer outside the room and send things wirelessly to it, but this is generally more trouble than it’s worth so I haven’t done that this year. In fact my printer should be plugged into it at the apartment but for some reason it doesn’t want to detect the printer, and I just haven’t cared enough to further explore it. That’s OK though, because at this very moment I have my wireless mouse plugged into it so that it can charge in peace without getting un-powered when I go to bed.

July 12, 2009

Mame Tech

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 10:45 pm

We’ve finished tech. Didn’t get to run the show yet, but this is a big, complicated one, and it’s taken a lot of drilling to get everyone comfortable with scenes and choreography.

As I announced, I have tweeted the entire tech process in my TechTweet Extravaganza on Twitter. If you look at the tag #TechTweet, you will see my tweets, as well as some of those of the crew who also began using the tag towards the end of the process.

We are now finishing out the day with more choreography review (without tech) so I’m basically just minding rehearsal. About half the cast has been dismissed. I can’t wait to go home. We don’t have a day off this week, but tomorrow is our daylight day of rest, where we don’t have to be in until 7PM.

Normally we would do a run of the show, but we’re going to need to stop a few times to add elements that we didn’t have at tech. I’m just glad this weekend is over and we’re almost there!

July 11, 2009

TechTweet Extravaganza

I call this: summer stock — Posted by KP @ 1:34 am

In the morning we begin tech for Mame. I am planning a TechTweet Extravaganza for the whole day (and maybe Sunday too). Expect many tweets throughout the day.

Follow me at @thegobutton on Twitter.

July 6, 2009

Passarelle – Public Service Announcement

I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 10:59 pm

That’s how it’s spelled. Passarelle.
Two S’s, two L’s, one R.
I have made a career of spelling it differently every single time I have to use the word, and even though I’m normally someone who insists on accuracy about things like that, I just stopped giving a damn and decided to throw an arbitrary number of double consonants at the word every time I type it.

Well I just ran across it in a theatrical glossary, and I’m going with that. If you’re interested, a passarelle is a ramp (which is the word most people use when they can’t spell passarelle) which extends from the stage around the orchestra pit.

I’ll use it in a sentence: “Hello, Dolly! at the Reagle Players, 2009, is the first production I’ve ever heard of that used a passarelle and didn’t have someone fall in the pit.”

Eventually I will muster up the enthusiasm to care whether or not there are two L’s in “travellator” (or “travelator,” if you will). I don’t believe there’s any consensus at Phantom, either. In fact, I’m sure I myself have used both spellings in performance reports. A Google search reveals that both seem to be used interchangeably, with the two-L version having more results, and most of them seeming to refer to one of those long treadmill-type things they have at airports, as opposed to an adjustable bridge suspended between two towers which can traverse upstage and downstage. So I guess I will continue to pick a spelling based on my mood of the day.

July 5, 2009

Only in the Theatre

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 10:56 pm

SCENE: The hallway of the theatre. The water dispenser is empty. I scan around for someone to assist me in putting the new jug on. The dance captain comes by and I ask for help. So I uncap the jug, and together we lift it over to the dispenser and get ready to flip it over. I say, “OK, on 3?” at the exact time he says, “5,6,7,8…”

July 1, 2009

iCal, iChat and Your Parents

I call this: mac,theatre — Posted by KP @ 1:05 am

Here’s a tip that you might find useful:
I live about two hours away from my parents (something like 40 miles as the crow flies, but that’s New York for you), but as you probably know, I’m out of town for a good chunk of the year.

When I was going on tour, naturally my parents were very interested to know where in the country I was on a given day, whether I was traveling or had a performance that night. My folks are Mac users, but they had never gotten into using iCal. Before going on the road I published the two calendars I was using for the tour (one for each show) on my MobileMe account, and set up my Mom’s computer to subscribe to the calendars.

Every morning my Mom could open iCal and see where I was and what my day was like, and it would be updated in pretty much real time as our schedule changed. By using time zone support, it also gave her the correct local time (i.e. if I had a show at 8PM in Colorado, she would see it listed at 10PM on her calendar).

There are several advantages to this. First of all, it automates the process of “So where are you? Do you have a show tonight?” This is not to say that I was avoiding actual human contact, it actually made our conversations more interesting because it would cut to the chase: “How was your show in St. Louis last night? I was looking at pictures on their tourism website yesterday. Did you see the arch?” The other advantage is that they can see at a glance what my general day looks like. Is it a day off? Is it a crazy one-nighter where I probably won’t have a free moment? Are we on the bus all day? This helps them to decide when is the best time to call me.

Now that the tour is over, I’ve kept up this practice with my summer stock schedule. It’s a little less complicated than being on the road and crossing cities and time zones every day, but it still helps to keep them involved in what I’m doing. If having your parents know your every move concerns you, keep in mind that I’m only sharing my work calendar. Parties and other personal appointments go in a different calendar!

While I’m at it, I should also mention how much iChat has helped me to keep in touch with family while on the road, out of town, and even from the relatively short distance when I’m at home. One of my first blog posts was about how I bought a webcam for my parents so we could video chat (mostly to save money on phone bills). Bear in mind the tech specs in this post are way out of date (it references the recent release of Mac OS 10.4.9, and a camera purchased at a store that is no longer in business, for starters.)

Video chat is still my usual form of communication with my parents (when my internet connection allows, which even worked well on the bus, until the bus internet started to suck). It became especially important when I was on top of a mountain in Colorado and my aunt had to go in for a serious operation. In the middle of the load-in day I was able to go to the back lounge of the bus and spend an hour video chatting with her the day before the operation, and that made me feel a lot better about not being able to see her, compared to how it would have been if we had simply talked on the phone. I felt like I had actually been there, which was very helpful emotionally during the five days it took her to wake up after the surgery.

One of the things that often sucks about doing theatre, especially touring, is the inability to take a day off work whenever you feel like it. Often you have to miss weddings, funerals, and other major life events. If you’re going to be in a situation where you know you will be stuck if something important happens, I recommend setting up your loved ones with a web cam if they don’t already have one. Even if nothing dramatic happens, they won’t give you the “we never see you!” thing quite as much if they can see your lovely face!