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June 29, 2010

Tethering, Bitches. Legally.

I call this: phones,tech — Posted by KP @ 1:14 pm


So today is the first rehearsal for Music Man and I was thinking how awful it will be to go back into rehearsal because that means bouncing among lots of rooms that don’t have internet access.

That made me go back to AT&T’s website for the umpteenth time, to see if they’ve finally added the tethering package to their data plan options, as they were supposed to last week. Well they did. And this being the first rehearsal, I jumped on it.

With that, I had to give up my unlimited data plan, and can never go back to it. I’m not terribly concerned about the 2GB limit, and the cost of extra GB is fair in my opinion, in the event I needed to consciously use more data, it would be an emergency, and money would be no object if we’re talking an extra $10 or even $20, vs. not having internet access. The flat fee of $20, combined with a pay-per-MB plan for tethering is an absolute travesty, but what can you do? Maybe you know my opinion on the matter, that there is no limit to the value of simple, reliable tethering. And anyway, when you factor in the lower cost of the data plan, it’s only $15 more, which is half the cost of some other tethering plans.

I had tethering on my phone when it was jailbroken, but I didn’t really like being jailbroken because it made the phone a little less responsive, and any minor OS upgrade became a big deal. Plus, the jailbreak methods of tethering suck. They disconnect, they decide randomly not to connect when you really need them to. The method Apple devised for official tethering, (which I used briefly a year ago when the hack came out to activate it, at the expense of losing your voicemail), is naturally brilliant, beautiful, and the easiest method I’ve ever used in nearly 10 years of tethering various phones.

I’m also not a cheap person. I don’t mind paying AT&T for a service I need (which costs them nothing beyond my normal data usage, but whatevs) now that they’re finally willing to take my money.

I just hope I haven’t somehow made a huge mistake.


June 24, 2010

Pop Quiz at 7:30

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 5:03 pm

Today is the Thursday of the second week of the run of Into the Woods. Let me explain how things work at Reagle: we rehearse for a week. Then we have a day off. Then we go back to work (usually just around the time we start work on Act II), and from that point on, we don’t have another day off until two weeks later, when the show has already done 4 or 5 performances. We go from barely having staged Act I to a finished, polished product, while living, breathing and sleeping nothing but the show for two weeks. Then we have a luxurious three-and-a-half consecutive days off. It’s actually a really awesome schedule, once the hard stuff is done.

But coming back after that time off is always rather interesting. It’s sort of like cramming for an exam. You work so hard to learn everything there is to know in a short time, but then when you step away for a while you get to see how much of it you actually retained. I feel pretty good about my comfort level with this show, but it’s always a little weird to come back and feel like you’ve been away forever.

…And it looks like we’re about to have a flash thunderstorm just as I need to leave the house. So I’m going to try to get to the car before it starts pouring. Wish me luck!

Edit: made it to the car. Got about 3 mins down the road and it was raining so hard I literally could not see through the windshield with the wipers going full speed. Since I’m not getting out in this anyway, I pulled over the first place I could. It’ll be done in 5 mins anyway. It’s already pretty good. Oops, it just stopped. See? Crazy New England weather.


June 22, 2010

TV Piece on Into the Woods

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 8:45 pm

The Boston PBS station, WGBH ran a profile on our production of Into the Woods tonight, including clips of the show and an interview with Rachel York. They also did one last year on Lee Meriwether in Mame, which was quite good.

You can see the video here.


June 21, 2010

Resize Images for the Web Using Folder Actions

I call this: mac,tech — Posted by KP @ 2:38 pm

One repetitive task I do a lot is resizing images to be placed on the website. On the blog I don’t have to worry so much about it because WordPress handles all that stuff in the image uploader, but for the main site, I have a couple standard sizes I use.

No image on the site is ever wider than 500px. If it is, then a smaller images is created at 500px and I will build a link to the bigger picture. Sometimes I want more of a thumbnail, and the size can vary a bit, but 150px is kind of my standard.

Today I decided to play around with folder actions a bit. A folder action in Mac OS X is basically a script that runs when you drag a file onto a folder, that does something to that file. This seemed like a good project for a simple one.

I created the folder action using Automator, which is the GUI scripting tool that comes with OS X. It’s pretty simple to drag and drop different actions to perform basic tasks. Here’s what my folder action looks like:

The other one is the same except it reduces the image to 150px, and adds “_thumb” to the end of the filename.


June 20, 2010

Mac RSS Reader Reviews – Gruml and Socialite

I call this: mac,tech — Posted by KP @ 8:07 pm

I like reading a lot of tech blogs and keeping up with the happenings in the world in general. One way that I try to save time, while at the same time being as close as possible to knowing things the moment they happen, is to subscribe to a lot of RSS feeds.

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, and is a standard format for compressing web articles into simple text and pictures which can be downloaded and read in other formats besides the site they are on. Some mail clients, like Apple’s Mail.app have RSS readers built in, so you can see articles from your favorite sites in a similar way to how you read your email. Most browsers can display RSS feeds, and then there are a number of separate applications dedicated to more robust management of feeds. That’s what I’m going to talk about today.

My first criteria in choosing an RSS app is that it must be compatible with Google Reader. Reader is Google’s web-based RSS aggregator that is popular mostly because of its syncing features. You can subscribe and read feeds from its rather busy web interface, or use an app on your mobile device or computer that supports Reader. If you read an article in one place, mark it as a favorite, etc. those changes will be synced and carried over when you access your feeds again, no matter what device you’re using.

My choice for an iPhone RSS app is Byline, which was the first (probably no longer the only) app to support offline caching of photos. The offline feature is really important to me when I’m home because I like to read my feeds on the train, and the ability to display photos offline is very helpful as a lot of tech blogs are really boring and pointless when you can’t see the pictures. Imagine reading Engadget, of which 90% of their posts are like, “Look at this cool secret phone somebody snapped a picture of.” “Here’s a picture of Motorolla’s latest thingamajiggy.” Not being able to see the pictures totally ruins it. Byline is $4.99, but there is now a free version that’s ad-supported as well.

On the Mac side, I’ve spent the last few months searching for the perfect RSS reader. Especially when I’m not working, or when working from home, I like to have my RSS reader running in the background all the time, and check on it all day long when it displays a badge showing unread articles.

I tried at least a half-dozen apps, but very quickly narrowed my search to two possible candidates: Gruml and Socialite.

Gruml

Gruml is free, and open-source. It’s also in beta (maybe one of those perpeturally-in-beta things), so it doesn’t always work perfectly.

What I love about Gruml is that it tries very hard to support every feature of Google Reader. You can set favorites, likes, comments, share articles, write notes on articles, and see the list of recommended feeds generated based on the articles you’re reading. So far as I can tell, it’s not missing any of the available features. It has an optional built-in tabbed browser, if you want to visit the web page for an article without leaving the Gruml window or cluttering up your main browser. It also has a very attractive, Mac-like interface. It offers several simple styles for displaying content (I like graphite, myself), and you can create your own if you know CSS.

However, I find it to be slow. Unread counts are very unreliable. If you enlarge this screenshot you can see I have drawn attention to a slight discrepancy in the unread count of the Lifehacker feed. On the sidebar it says 252, but in the list it shows only 1 (which is correct). More importantly, the number in the dock icon’s unread badge is 295, which includes the phantom 251 articles. It’s really annoying to see the unread badge in the dock when in fact all the articles are read. I’m constantly clicking on things that I shouldn’t be because it’s mis-reporting read and unread feeds. A recent update has improved the speed a bit, but I always feel like it doesn’t try to retrieve feeds until I click on them, which causes a bit of a lag, and is absolutely unacceptable when on a slow or intermittent internet connection.

The bottom line is, I want to like Gruml so badly, but the performance issues make it unpleasant to use. But as it’s beta and being developed for free, I can’t complain, and I have high hopes that someday it could be perfect.

Socialite

Socialite approaches the concept of an RSS reader a bit differently than most. It’s not just about RSS. The concept is that it’s a place to keep up on all your social networks: blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Flickr, and lots of other stuff, all in one place. Socialite is a paid app, which sells for $29.00, but never fear, there is a free version which is ad-supported, and just recently was improved to unlock all the paid features. Also, the developer, Realmac Software, very often participates in bundles like MacHeist, and I’m hoping that it will be included in the next bundle that comes out.

The two ways I use Socialite most are for RSS feeds and Twitter. It’s not the most feature-rich in either — basically it tries to access many different services using a somewhat unified interface, so it’s not particularly designed to use any of them in the most ideal way, but it still manages to support the most common features. It’s definitely handy not to have to check a separate Twitter client, and it does a decent job at presenting Facebook content in a less annoying way than the actual Facebook site. You can also individually select which types of content you want to display in the unread count on the dock icon. I like this because I want to be alerted of all new Twitter and RSS news as soon as they come in, but I don’t care so much about checking Digg or Facebook every time.

Speaking of timely alerts, one of the simplest but most important differences between Socialite and Gruml is that Socialite can refresh feeds every minute, while the most frequently Gruml will automatically update is every five minutes.

One con of Socialite is that it doesn’t have a built-in browser, but it will open links in Safari either in the background or foreground, depending on your preference, which is probably a better, more stable way of doing it anyway. Also, if you have one of the new Macbook Pros that can switch between on-board graphics and the Nvidia graphics card to save power, Socialite for some reason triggers the more power-hungry card, and Gruml does not. No idea what that’s about, and it’s not a dealbreaker for me, but if you’re obsessed with battery life, it would make a difference if you had it running all day.

The Winner, for Now

After spending the last few months bouncing back and forth, through many updates to both apps, I am currently using Socialite. It feels more stable and polished, and although it’s not as pretty, and lacks some of the advanced Google Reader support that Gruml has, the many features it does have work very reliably, and on top of that it also offers access to other services.

When I set out on this quest months ago, I intended to within a week be able to write a review of the RSS app I liked best, but I found it too hard to pick a clear winner, so I submit both for your consideration. There are reasons to love either one, so take your pick!

Postscript

If you’re looking for some feeds to subscribe to, these are some I recommend. Most browsers and RSS readers work happily together and you should just be able to click on the links, but I’ve included the URLs for them as well in case you need to copy and paste them.

HeadsetChatter Blog (well I read this so I can check on how my articles are looking in RSS, you should read it to keep up on all the latest posts!) http://headsetchatter.com/blog/feed/

TUAW – the Unofficial Apple Weblog http://www.tuaw.com/rss.xml

The iPhone Blog http://feeds.feedburner.com/TheiPhoneBlog

App Advice Awesome for finding out about iPhone apps that are put on sale or free for a limited time. http://feeds2.feedburner.com/AppAdvice

TechCrunch http://feedproxy.google.com/TechCrunch

Gizmodo http://feeds.gawker.com/gizmodo/vip

Kotaku (video game news) http://feeds.gawker.com/kotaku/vip

Boy Genius Report http://www.boygeniusreport.com/feed/

Lifehacker http://feeds.gawker.com/lifehacker/vip

The Bowery Boys (NYC history) http://theboweryboys.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default?alt=rss

Strange Maps http://strangemaps.wordpress.com/feed/


June 19, 2010

Playbill Article

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 1:04 pm

Just a little plug for Playbill’s Article on Into the Woods‘s opening, with a full photo gallery. Update: just realized the gallery isn’t linked from the article. It’s here.

I call that Rachel’s Technicolor Witchcoat‚ĄĘ, btw.


June 18, 2010

My iPhone Upgrade Plan

I call this: phones,tech — Posted by KP @ 5:25 pm

Since Steve Jobs’ latest keynote a few weeks back, I haven’t mentioned what my thoughts are on the iPhone 4. I did tweet a bit during the keynote. Before it began I said:

(8:57AM) Just for the record, as of right now I don’t feel the need to buy a new iPhone the day it comes out. We’ll see in a few hours.

Later during the keynote my tone changed:

(1:37PM) Sigh. Do want.

Basically what attracts me about it is the higher pixel density (“higher” is kind of an understatement for allegedly greater than the human eye can perceive), and the camera features. I use my camera constantly, mostly for blogging and Flickr, and often for work. When I’m not using my camera, it’s usually because I want to take a picture, but the subject is too dark, or will come out too blurry for my needs. Any improvement to the camera is something I will benefit from every day.

Unlike some people, I really like the new design with the square-ish edges and metal border. Especially when we found out that the border is metal because it IS the antenna. That’s pretty brilliant, and I hope it pays off in better reception. I don’t honestly think the phone gets bad reception on average. I think AT&T’s coverage spontaneously decides to suck (like this morning when I got a phone call in my apartment where I normally have full bars of 3G, but at that particular moment had 1 bar of GPRS and couldn’t hear the other party).

Anyway, I decided the phone was worth getting, and since it will be obsolete in a year, buying it on day 1 or day 20 or day 100 is going to cost the same amount of money, but will provide the earliest and longest enjoyment when purchased on Day 1.

So on pre-order day I began trying to place my order. The Apple site was crashing when it tried to access AT&T’s records, so while attempting to use it for hours, I read all the tweets complaining about it, and found one that mentioned that Radio Shack is offering a trade-in for old iPhones. Now I’m a self-respecting Mac geek and would never go anywhere to buy an iPhone other than an Apple Store at 5AM on launch day. Certainly not to a freakin’ Radio Shack! But I did some more research and found that they are offering between $200-300 for a used 3GS, depending on wear and tear. I think mine is in pretty good shape, having been in a case all its life. Still recovering from the purchase of my MacBook Pro, a discount that would simplify the process of getting rid of my 3GS, and give me back most or all of the cost of the new phone sounded too good to pass up. So I went to my local Radio Shack just before they started taking preorders.

I was #5 in line when sales started at 1PM. After a few tries, the first guy got his phone. I waited in that store for 45 minutes, with three registers attempting to reach the servers, and in that time, nobody else was able to complete a sale. Then I had to go to work. Just before I left, I also found out that Radio Shack — all of Radio Shack — had only 9,500 units available for preorder. They have 6,500 stores. Having recently read an article about Radio Shack franchises, I knew this number was somewhere around 5,000, and realized that I had been standing on line for what was probably only 1 or 2 available phones.

Now I know that Foxconn can only make so many phones before launch (especially with most of their employees jumping off the roof), and that Apple wants to make sure that their own stores have the best supply, but I was insulted at having spent an hour of my life in line for a phone that it would have been impossible to buy, even if the servers had worked. Why even bother selling something if you only have one per store? That doesn’t benefit customers at all, it only benefits the corporation to trick people into their store with an item they want, when they know damn well they don’t have any.

The local Radio Shack is taking a waiting list, but at first I was still considering making the annual pilgrimage to the Apple Store at 5AM, because it’s fun, more than anything else. But I think I need to be a responsible adult and enjoy the release of iOS4 on launch day, which will still be exciting for my 3GS, and then at some later date, when the second batch of phones hits Radio Shack, I can get mine cheap. I don’t need to have the new features next week as opposed to next month. Most of all I will really miss the excitement of an Apple Store opening on launch day. If anybody I know is getting one, I would totally get on line with them for moral support!

Unless I can think of something to buy with the Radio Shack store credit that I actually need and would have to eventually buy anyway… Windows 7 is a possibility. So in short, I still don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. But right now I think I might wait a while.


June 15, 2010

Tech Complete!

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 1:56 am

Well we just finished tech.

It was a long few days. Things moved along quite smoothly, but just slowly. The show is a unit set, and as such, it’s very simple in terms of moving scenery, but a lot of care had to be taken to create new looks for each scene, and that takes time. The show is also LONG. I think most people probably aren’t aware of it, but Into the Woods can apparently reach three hours with intermission in many productions. The script is 188 pages long. And the show switches setting sometimes several times per page, so there’s a lot of tech to be teched.

Today was supposed to be our first dress rehearsal, but we ended up using the day to finish teching Act II, and then we ran Act II, which was all we had time for. The run actually went very well. It’s one of those shows that goes like a freight train, and it was a very smooth ride, that felt much shorter to me than the hour and four minutes it took.

I’ve been very wound up for three days, because my job is to tech the show, and the difficulty we were having keeping to our timetable has been very heavy on my mind. The first night I got a very restless sleep, dreaming about mics breaking and other assorted theatrical disaster. Last night I slept a little better, mostly because we had already sketched out a contingency plan for tonight, and it was one I wasn’t too worried about being able to pull off. Today for the first time since Saturday morning, I felt I could walk out of the theatre with my head held high, knowing that we have something resembling a show, and that at least Act II is proven to be in good shape for where we are in the process.

Because of the pressure, I haven’t actually been enjoying tech as much as I usually do. Once we began the run, and it started to feel like a run, rather than just an especially long unbroken stretch of tech, I started to have fun. Act I is a lot more complicated, so once we get there tomorrow — with costumes, wigs and makeup, and an orchestra on the clock — I will be more nervous, but tonight really cheered me up.

Obligatory tech table photo:

Several fun things about this tech table: I have to give credit to Justin Scalese, who is a loyal reader of this blog, and although I can’t get him program credit, I can at least acknowledge here that he has been dubbed “Ms. Parlato’s Personal Technical Advisor.” The program will refer to him as “Sound Engineer,” but we know the truth. I’ve asked for a number of creature comforts this season. First of all, knowing how many fly cues there would be in this show, I said I really wanted a working cue light system. Reagle had one in the past, but it hasn’t been functional in the five years I’ve been around. Justin was able to get me one cue light on very short notice for this show, and by the next show, we should have at least two, and will steal an idea from a theatre I toured to in Texas, and use rope light along the length of the rail, rather than a few light bulbs. The other complexity I threw at him was that the controls for the lights had to be able to be used not only in the booth (where the wires already ran through the ceiling), but also to the tech table, or else there would be no point to the whole thing. He came through.

With just one light, I’m using it on most of the cues, but for the really complicated sequences, it’s a combination of verbal cues, by cue number, for the flypeople on headset, and the cue light for those who aren’t. I think there’s one section that requires six people on the rail.

A few days after Project Cue Light, I posed one more challenge to Justin, which I thought would be impossible, or at least impractical: to get the conductor video monitor at the tech table. The cues in this show are all very musical, and there are a lot of vamps and safeties, where the only way to know what’s coming is to see the conductor. Apparently there’s a large surplus of BNC cable, and that project was completed before I knew it. Both improvements made the tech much easier, and will contribute to the overall quality of the show when it’s seen by audiences, because it was able to be teched with more precision.


June 5, 2010

Five Midnights Gone – And Happy Every After

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 8:44 pm

Day 5. The show is staged. The show was staged by lunch. Done.

Obviously there’s plenty of work still to come, but it’s really remarkable that such a complicated show can be taught, staged and choreographed in four-and-a-half days. This gives us lots of time and freedom to refine things and make the show really special.

Today the crew worked nearly 12 hours on stage while we were in the rehearsal studio, and over the course of the day, we were able to peek in and see the stage go from bare, to a tree-covered forest, to covered with the giant “book” platform which dominates the vast majority of the playing space. Tomorrow afternoon we’ll be able to rehearse on stage, where we will start from the top, adjusting to having the actual platforms and levels that we have to work with. Everyone is very anxious to get a real sense of how the show will play with the very 3-dimensional space we have.

After tomorrow’s rehearsal we have our sole day off before opening, which I’m very much looking forward to, knowing that we’re ahead of schedule and in great shape to begin week 2.


June 4, 2010

Three Midnights Gone

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 12:58 am

Day three of rehearsal for Into the Woods, and already I’ve had my first inquiry of “when’s the next blog post?”

We’ve been moving very quickly. Tonight we almost finished blocking Act I. We started blocking last night at 5PM. We stopped in the middle of the Act I Finale (in this show the openings and finales of the acts are probably the majority of the running time). Then we went all the way back to “Once Upon a Time” and ran as far as we could before the end of the night, which was to the end of “It Takes Two.” It was really amazing to see how much of a coherent story we’ve already constructed. We also continue drilling music throughout the day, because, well, the score is evil. I continue to be amazed at how well the cast can absorb and retain it.

I am also becoming aware of the fact that calling the show is not going to be a cakewalk either, and that by tech I probably will need to know the score as well as the cast does to be successful. I’ve started marking my script where obvious cues should be, because there will probably have to be a whole lot of them as focus bounces all over the stage at a rapid pace. During our run tonight I actually started circling a couple places where those cues might best be called. I always feel good when I can get to that point, because it makes rehearsal relevant to my preparation for my part in the show, rather than just being a secretary and furniture mover for other people’s process.

I’m having a great time just enjoying the performances that are taking shape. We have a great group of character actors who also happen to be very strong singers. I found myself wondering why some of them aren’t Equity yet, and then remembered that they’re still in college! I’ve been here for six years and still can’t get over how much talent of all ages and experience levels can be found hiding out in the Boston suburbs.


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