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August 31, 2010

A Heartwarming Tale of Friendship

I call this: phones — Posted by KP @ 8:29 pm


I’m not quite sure what this is yet, but I think I may have found my calling on the internet. I’ve been wanting to do a little thing about my Visor Deluxe, which has been broken for the last 10 years. I dragged it out, took it apart, tried to understand how a digitizer works and why the hell a little broken glass would make it completely inoperable, and then put it back together.

But a little friendship was struck up on my desk, which took me by surprise. The Visor and the iPhone 4, I think they kind of like each other. And I think they might talk to each other from time to time about the latest gadget news. And I’ll just sit around and take pictures of them while they do.

There’s only one problem, which is that the Visor can’t really say much because the digitizer doesn’t work. So I decided to explore how much people are asking to part with 10-year-old PDA technology. So far I’ve found one promising auction, for $3, for a working Visor Deluxe. But that’s not the point, I just want the screen assembly.

This was my first PDA and it’s bothered me for 10 years that I broke it. Which is why I’ve been keeping a broken PDA around for 10 years. I don’t have much money to spend on it, but if I can find a working digitizer, preferably the entire screen assembly, for a few bucks it will see much use!


August 30, 2010

iPhone 4 Review

I call this: phones,tech — Posted by KP @ 1:49 pm

Last week, while getting out of Dodge an hour after closing Hairspray, I took a detour to Radio Shack and bought an iPhone 4. I know. I said I wouldn’t.

For the entire history of my posts on the iPhone 4, I have created a new tag, because I keep having to link them. So go there and read them if you want the whole history of my saga, and my changing thoughts about the phone from pre-announcement to today.

First, The Saga

What you need to know to understand the story is that on preorder day, way back in June, while waiting for Apple’s servers to work, I read online that Radio Shack was offering a very good trade-in deal for older iPhones in good condition. So instead of preordering from Apple, I raced down to the local Radio Shack just before preorders started. There were a couple guys in front of me. There I met Brian, the manager, who I was later to learn was the brother of one of our sound guys at the theatre, Justin. Brian was beset with a half-dozen people wanting to buy the phone, but of course like every other store in the country, couldn’t get through to AT&T’s servers. Eventually I had to leave to go to work, but I got my name put on a list. Later in the day I talked to Brian and found out that even had the computers worked, that store was only assigned one phone, so it wouldn’t have gone to me anyway. So I pretty much gave up any hopes of getting one on release day, since the Radio Shack trade-in deal was too good to pass up.

Time went by, and of course the phone turned out to have its own problems, so I decided maybe it was for the best. Over the course of the summer, Justin would give me occasional updates, the bottom line of which was that it was still impossible to get an iPhone at Radio Shack. By this point I didn’t really want one anyway. I liked the idea of not being tied into a new contract if the phone ever came out on Verizon (I don’t think it would be this year, but next year seems reasonable). And plus I was broke!

Cut to the very end of the summer — an hour-and-a-half before the end of the summer. I’m minding my business, calling Hairspray, my trusty 3GS on the desk next to me. Towards the end of act I, Justin gets on headset and says, “Hey my brother’s store got a 32GB [iPhone].” I was like, “Are you serious?” I mean really, I was leaving town right after the show.

But you know, what could I do? I waited literally all summer, and at intermission of the final performance, when I’m about to get in a car and go away, suddenly the phone is there. It was obviously fate. And by this point I’ve gotten a general picture of the situation, and have become convinced that the sky is not falling over the antenna issue, certainly not when the phone is in a case.

At intermission I ran out the booth door to the sound console to be like, “WTF!?” Justin was already dialing Brian. I wanted to confirm exactly how cheap the phone would be with the trade-in. He estimated $60. In the end it ended up being more like $80, but the point is, it was double-digit numbers for a brand-new $700 phone, that’s like, the best phone in the world. No I didn’t have $80 to spare, but I’m already in debt, so what’s another $80, and now I have a brand new iPhone! It’s got a retina display, man!

I said I’d be there right after the show finished. During the second act I backed up my 3GS, and figured out how to wipe the memory. So after turning in my old phone (which was a 32GB 3GS in excellent condition, which was worth $230), I took home a shiny new iPhone 4.

When I tried to preorder back in June, Justin was like, “You met my friend Karen, you should check out her blog!” and Brian has been a reader since then. Part of the terms of the sale was that I give him a shout-out, so here it is. Thanks, Brian! I love the phone!

Now the Phone

Bottom line: the phone is great. And try as I might, I can’t get it to do the antenna thing. That’s not to say it’s fixed, it’s entirely possible I’ve been in areas with good enough coverage that it doesn’t matter. I haven’t been in any 1-2 bar areas since then, and I never talk on the phone, so judging it by dropped calls doesn’t helped much. I think I’ve made two calls since I got it. The first was to my dad, and he said it sounded remarkably clear. So take that for what it’s worth, I can’t get it to do it. I put my palm or my finger on the spot, and I see no corresponding reduction in bars.

I’m going to just fly through this review. Here’s the deal: it’s an iPhone. If you have an iPhone, it’s the same as your old one, only better. If you don’t have an iPhone, and you want one, get it. Almost everything about it is the same as a 3GS running iOS 4. If you have a 3G or God forbid a 2G, you will see a huge improvement in performance, and in the corresponding features that get enabled in iOS4 with improved hardware. Run, don’t walk, if you have a 3G or 2G. If you have a 3GS, here’s what you’ll notice:

  • Retina Display Oh. My. God. It’s amazing. If you’ve been living under a rock, the point of the retina display is that the pixel density is denser than the human eye can perceive, thus you don’t see any pixels, you just see a gorgeous expanse of color that doesn’t look like a screen, it’s like… magic! I don’t know what it looks like, because I’ve never seen anything like it before. My brain can’t compute that it’s a screen, because it has no pixels. It’s one of those Star-Trek-in-real-life moments. It’s like liquid or something. All I know is I’m always compelled to lick it. It just looks like it should be edible. Before I had an iPhone 4 I was getting a little frustrated seeing all my favorite apps had updates, and the changes were always “support for retina display.” I know how important that is to update for devices with better resolutions, but since it wasn’t an update I benefitted from, I was getting a little sick of it. Now I’m all pissed off at the several apps on my home screen that still have low-res icons! Get with it, guys!

    The biggest thing I can say about the retina display, is that I have always liked computer pinball. I like real pinball too, but I can’t own a pinball machine for a variety of reasons, and seldom find myself in an arcade that has any. So I deal with the computer version. Most of which suck, because you need a really good screen to actually be able to see the whole field and track the ball. And I’m talking about desktop games sucking. A pinball game was out for the iPad, which I suspected might be OK, but I don’t have an iPad so that doesn’t help. On a whim I bought Pinball HD 4 iPhone, which is 99 cents. And it works! I mean everything is tiny, but you can see it. Click on this picture to see it at full resolution, but it doesn’t really do it justice. Imagine that shrunk down to phone size, with no visible pixels. And it’s actually playable! There’s also a zoom view that follows the ball and provides a lower angle close-up look at the field (which is gorgeous), but I prefer to see the big picture. Anyway: retina display: awesome!

  • Camera That’s a 5MP camera with a flash, which is a big upgrade. I first got a chance to really use it yesterday when writing my article about what I pack for the road. All those pictures were taken with the new phone. Almost all of them (except the one of the toiletries bag) were taken without flash in a relatively dark room. The flash didn’t work great for closeups of small objects like this, which would be true of any flash. I was impressed at how good the pictures were without the flash. You may notice that everything is very saturated. Maybe too saturated, but I like it. I’m not much of a photography nerd. A couple of the pictures had some weird pink/purple noise in the upper-left corner. I cropped it on at least one of them, but you can kind of see it in the picture of my hat. I haven’t done much investigation of that, as I didn’t realize it until I viewed the photos on my desktop. I did have my pink lava lamp on at the time, the glow of which you can see a bit on a couple items, but the noise looks like noise, not like something that was actually there. It also could be that my finger was too close to the lens, which I have a tendency to do. I’ll keep an eye out for it in the future. But in general, I’m really happy with the new camera so far.
  • Front-facing cameraThe other big camera news was the addition of the front-facing camera. Unless they add compatibility with iChat, I think I’ll get very little use out of this. I only know of one other person with an iPhone 4, and believe it or not I’m often not surrounded by wifi. What I’m most excited about is being able to use it as a mirror, or to take self-portraits, because I’ve never been good at holding a camera at arm’s length and trying to frame me and some other person properly. Right now Face Time is very limited, but I guess if you’ve got a friend with another iPhone 4 and wifi access, you could do some cool stuff. I read a post from a guy who works in IT who used it to show the wiring in his server room to a colleague to help troubleshoot something. That’s a use case that gets me more excited than showing grandpa baby’s first steps, or whatever Apple’s been advertising.
  • Hardware I for one love the boxy design of the iPhone 4. I find it easier to grip because the sides are wider. And overall it’s actually thinner than the old design. One thing that struck me right away is that it’s noticeably heavier than the 3G/3GS, because it has glass on both sides. It’s a bit more to lug around, but the advantage I see to that is that it’s got more weight pulling it down into your hand, rather than being light and fluffy and getting knocked around.

    The morning after I purchased my phone I set out to pick my free case. I hadn’t been following exactly what the program entailed, because I wasn’t actually intending to buy an iPhone 4. The way it works is that you download this app to your phone, and it presents you with the selection of cases to choose from and an estimate of when they will ship. Each case offers a very brief (too brief I’d say) description, and a few photos, which are sometimes blurry. It’s very hard to choose a case without seeing it in person, so I felt kind of lost. I also hated that every case offered is black or clear. I understand they have to mass-produce them, and free is free, but I would never choose to buy a black case, and clear is just boring. Just a personal preference. So I went to YouTube to see some case reviews of the few I had narrowed it down to, to see what people are saying and get a better feel for each case’s design by seeing it in motion.

    I narrowed it down to the Griffin Motif or the Griffin Reveal Etch. I was also considering the Apple bumper, but I saw a comparison review which showed that the port openings are very small, and I was concerned about third-party headphone and dock connector issues. In the end I went with the Reveal Etch. My logic came down to the fact that I wanted something that wouldn’t add much bulk to the phone. I don’t like the plain black border around it, because black is boring and black rubber is just ugly, and I like the design of the metal edge on the iPhone 4 and wanted to be able to see it. For this reason, I was considering the Motif, because it’s transparent. However, my other consideration was that the Etch almost entirely conceals which model of phone it is (you’d only know if you saw the camera flash on the back), and at this point I think the iPhone 4 is still too much of a target for thieves. I would feel much more comfortable using the phone in public with the Etch, and I believe that a phone is only as good as how easy it is to access information off it. If you choose not to use it because it’s too conspicuous, then it’s not serving any purpose by staying in your pocket. At that point it becomes less useful than writing things on a scrap of paper. So I went the conservative route with the Etch. Also because the Motif is very close to the style of case I had before in terms of size and materials. I think that will be my ultimate preference, and when the time comes that I really want a case like that, I will want a better one in a different color. So I decided to go a little out of my comfort zone with the free case, because if I don’t like it I’d want to buy one that’s not available for free anyway. They say the case won’t ship for 2-4 weeks, but maybe I’ll get lucky.
    So far I’ve been carrying the phone around naked — the phone is naked, not me — but I don’t have a job so I haven’t been leaving the house as much. For me a case doesn’t appear to be necessary to fix the antenna problem, so it’s just about protection. I try to very gently lay it on the table so as not to scratch the rear glass.

  • Gyroscope In addition to the accelerometer and the compass, the new phone has an internal gyroscope, which allows for more precise movement tracking. Mostly this is for games, but I think it could result in better augmented reality apps (that’s when you point the phone at something — usually as if you were taking a picture — and it superimposes stuff over it, like the direction of nearby stores, or the constellations in the sky). I haven’t seen many non-game apps supporting this feature yet. All the accelerometer-based games I own are old and not updated, cause I stopped buying them when I decided that accelerometer gaming doesn’t really work that well. I haven’t purchased anything new to try it out yet. I guess that makes me a luddite, cause I believe that first-person shooters should be played with a mouse and a keyboard, not with your fingers touching invisible joysticks and buttons, and blocking your view of the screen. If the gyroscope can fix the performance of the FPS genre, I’d be willing to try it, but I’m going to give it some time to see what game is most worth buying — I am accepting recommendations in the comments. I spent $10 on Super Monkey Ball the day the app store launched, so I could be all “Look! When you tilt the screen the ball moves!” I’m not doing the early adopter thing this time. Also, accelerometer games are unplayable on the subway!
  • iMovie I haven’t purchased iMovie for iPhone, but I’ll mention it cause it’s basically the other new iPhone-4-only feature you get. I like to put a little more work into my movies that would involve things not self-contained on my phone. But I haven’t tried it, so what do I know?

In Conclusion

Don’t have an iPhone: BUY IT
Have an iPhone 2G or 3G: BUY IT
Have a 3GS: It’s an improvement. The Radio Shack method makes it worthwhile financially. ¬†If you have the money to spare, you’ll enjoy the new features, but if you want to save money or hold off renewing your AT&T contract, you can live without it.
I’m very happy that the opportunity came for me to upgrade on the cheap. AT&T has raised their ETF so high that I have basically no hope of escape unless I win the lottery or get a Broadway show, but you can’t make important decisions in your life that hinge on the existence of a Verizon iPhone. Certainly not in the next two years.


August 29, 2010

So You’re Going on Tour

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 11:50 pm

I guess this is the first edition of Season 3 of “On The Road Again.” Click that picture at the top to see all the posts in this series. It follows my progress on tour with The Acting Company. This year we’ll be remounting Romeo and Juliet and rehearsing a new production of The Comedy of Errors. The tour will exist in two phases. First we’ll rehearse R&J at New 42nd Street Studios in New York, which is an awesome place to work, and conveniently allows me to live at home through production. We’ll tech R&J here in New York at Pace University (where Nick worked this summer and says it’s nice). Then we take it on tour, focusing on the west coast, where we didn’t really spend any time last year. After almost a month of that, we return to the Guthrie in Minneapolis, where we go into rehearsal for Comedy. Then we open Comedy at the Guthrie. During the tail end of that run, we will start playing in rep with R&J. For the rest of the tour we’ll play both shows in rep, until we end our run back in New York in mid-April.

So that’s what lies in store this year. The big news is that I’ve created a big page on the site called So You’re Going on Tour, in which I describe everything that I take with me on tour and why. As much as I love you, my anonymous readers, I’m also doing it for a more practical reason: I have a new ASM, the awesome Meaghan, who you heard a bit about during Season 1 of “On the Road Again” (before it was called that, cause there was no “again”). Meaghan was our indispensable stage management intern at the Guthrie during the first year there. With Nick getting married this coming year, and being all grown up and stuff, he’s not going on tour. Meaghan has been the heir apparent for a long time, and I’m really excited that it worked out for her to do the job. She’s also getting her Equity card, which I’m totally psyched about. I like it when the business works like it’s supposed to: you start out small and prove that you’re capable of better things, and you will be rewarded with better jobs.

Anyway, this is Meaghan’s first tour, so naturally like all good stage managers should, her first reaction to getting the job was to head over to HeadsetChatter and read up on what she should be prepared for! The only thing is, while I’ve done some posts about how I’m preparing or what I’m packing, there was no definitive place on the site that says “these are the things you need on tour.” Until now.

I just got home from the summer season, and we start rehearsal in a little less than a month. Meaghan and I exchanged some emails today, and I’m starting to seriously pull together the information I need. So stay tuned for another busy season!


August 26, 2010

Things I’m Trying Out: Evernote

I call this: computers,mac,phones,tech — Posted by KP @ 9:52 pm

There are a number of products I’ve been using lately that I haven’t taken the time to talk about. Partially because I don’t feel like I’ve used them enough to have a complete opinion yet. But I thought it might be helpful to call attention to them anyway.

Evernote

I am like the last person to the Evernote party, I admit that. My awareness of Evernote comes mostly from my use of OmniFocus (also see my tips page on it). Evernote is often mentioned in the same breath as a competing product, when folks discuss what tools they use to stay organized, which is a topic you can imagine I spend a lot of time thinking and reading about, since it’s like, my entire job description. And I run a website about it, too.

OmniFocus is a very powerful task manager, based on the Getting Things Done (GTD) system. It’s all about projects, due dates, and contexts. Basically all the tasks you put into it become rigidly structured based on when they can be begun, when they need to be completed, and where or in what order they can be worked on. I wasn’t quite sure what Evernote was, except that some people used it instead of OmniFocus, and that it was marketed more as a place to hold all your random information, not just your tasks.

I don’t even remember what exactly got me to finally try Evernote. Maybe one of the many Lifehacker articles that ask what people use to manage their life, where it’s usually the winner far above OmniFocus, (which is Mac-only and $80, and thus at an extreme disadvantage). The nice thing about Evernote is that the basic version is free, so I figured I had nothing to lose by educating myself about this product that obviously a lot of people like.

The first thing I noted is that Evernote really is not a direct competitor with OmniFocus. Obviously for some people it serves the same purpose, when the question is “how do you keep track of your tasks?” But Person A might say “Evernote,” Person B might say “OmniFocus,” and Person C might say “I write it on my hand with a Sharpie,” and the methods would be about as similar.

Evernote doesn’t try so hard to be organized. It’s not about tasks, it’s about stuff. Maybe the stuff is tasks sometimes. You could have a single entry containing a picture, some writing, some tasks and an audio file. It doesn’t really matter. You just put your stuff in a note, assign it to a notebook (which could roughly represent a project, or a context, or anything you want), and give it any number of tags that might make it more helpful for you to find it. OmniFocus teaches (maybe forces) you to use the GTD method. Evernote is more of a blank slate for however you want to use it.

So that sums up the basic idea — you put stuff in it, you give it some basic categories so you can find it later. The strength of Evernote comes from a couple places: cloud storage and cross-platform compatibility.

The Cloud

All your notes are stored on Evernote’s servers (unless you want them to be only stored locally). While there, some fun stuff is done to them. Images are scanned for text, and if text is recognized, it will come up when you search for it. So you can take a picture of a sign, a business card, or anything else with text, and when you do a search that picture will come up. For premium subscribers, you can also store scanned PDFs and search them too.

The best thing about cloud storage, combined with the fact that Evernote is available on many platforms, is that you can get to your stuff from pretty much anywhere: on your computer, on Mac or Windows, on iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Windows Mobile and Palm devices, or from any computer using a web browser — no need to have Evernote installed at all. In addition to using it on my Mac and iPhone, I also have it installed on my gaming PC, and on my Windows installation on my Mac, so I can access and create information when I’m booted into Windows. It’s helpful to have a cloud-based, cross-platform repository for pretty much everything.

A frequent situation for me on the road:

  • I get a few hours of peace and leisure time, so I boot into Boot Camp and fire up a game.
  • *ding* an email comes in on my phone. It requires a response, and the information I need is on my OS X partition, where everything other than games lives.
  • FML. I was just trying to have a little fun!
  • Now I have to decide whether I can ignore the email for a while, or if I need to stop gaming, reboot into Mac, get the info, return the email, and then either reboot into Windows so I can continue gaming, or just give up trying to enjoy myself.

There may still be situations where that’s necessary, but the use of a combination of Evernote and Dropbox to manage my work stuff could make those occasions less common.

Sharing

Evernote has some very basic sharing and collaboration abilities. You can share your notebooks either with the whole world or with specific people you invite (kind of like how Google Docs works), but the best part is that you don’t even need to ask the other person to start an Evernote account. This alone makes it much easier to bring others on board with your collaboration tools if they don’t need to sign up for something they’re not sure they need. Unfortunately right now you can only view shared notebooks on the web, not in the native clients, but that feature sounds like it’s high on the list for future upgrades. I imagine a use case where I put notes for my show in a notebook and can share a link with my ASM, who can join Evernote for free if they want, and use the app on any platform, or just use the web interface if they want. Also, in situations like at the Guthrie where the stage management intern is using a company computer and may not be able to install third-party software, everything can be accessed in the browser.

Related Products

If I had a premium account I could literally store anything. The free account only stores text, images, audio files and PDFs, but for now that seems fine for me. I use 1Password for most wallet-type duties, for sensitive information and logins, which is not cross-platform, but I can access it on my phone when using Windows (actually a Windows client is in beta, but it’s going to require a separate purchase from the Mac version, which is a very different philosophy from Evernote’s which wants you to have access to your data from any device).

Encryption

The biggest disappointment I have with Evernote is that it’s not secure — you can’t encrypt a note or a notebook. You can hide a piece of text within a note, but I have also heard some complaints that that’s not always secure. I already use Macjournal, which is sort of a similar idea, but without all the cool cloud features. It does have very flexible encryption features, which makes it great as an actual journal, where you wouldn’t want your most private thoughts coming up in a search for something work-related. I wouldn’t use Evernote for anything that I didn’t mind sharing with the whole world. But even though I will have to continue using other apps that do parts of what Evernote does, I have found in several weeks of use that Evernote fills a niche that is useful to me in ways those other apps are not.

iPhone Client

The iPhone client is also great for snapping a picture or taking an audio recording quickly and knowing it will be ready to be categorized on my desktop. As a side note, the Mac desktop client has a simple iSight feature, so you can hold something up in front of your computer to take a quick picture of it. There doesn’t appear to be a built-in desktop audio recording feature though, which seems like an obvious oversight.

The iPhone version can’t edit notes which have rich text or multimedia parts to them. It’s pretty annoying — and the definition of “rich text” covers almost everything, including checkboxes and lists. There’s a workaround where it creates a duplicate plain-text note that you can edit (and then presumably cut-and-paste into your original note on the desktop), or to append new text to the end of a note, but that’s pretty lame. I hope that will be improved soon.

Tasks

And getting back to tasks, the “task” feature, such as it is, is that you can put a checkbox among your text, using a pretty simple shift-command-T keystroke. Then you’ve got a checkbox, which you can check or uncheck. What you do with it is up to you, there isn’t any fancy functionality behind it. But that’s actually what I need sometimes. The first thing I did with that feature is create a list of my cast. When I’m checking that everyone is present, I don’t need a task manager, I just need a simple checklist that I can check and uncheck at will. I also find it easier for grocery shopping. For simple lists, putting it in OmniFocus sometimes just gets in the way. Then I have entries like “celery” carrying the same importance as “reformat calling script,” and it’s just too much work for a damn vegetable! Apparently the Evernote folks are considering making the task features more complex, but I’m happy with it just the way it is. Well actually I really wish it had a “check all” and “uncheck all” feature, or if it does, I haven’t found it yet.
UPDATE: strangely, it exists in Windows but not on the Mac. Grrr.

Podcast

As I’ve been trying to get accustomed to what I can do with Evernote, I’ve also been listening to their podcast, which is very entertaining and informative. It looks like they’ve been doing about one per month, but I’m still working my way through old episodes.

Premium Subscription

As I’ve indicated, there is a premium subscription which provides more features. The most significant is that it lifts the 40MB limit on how much stuff you can upload in a month (your total storage is unlimited, but you can only get it there 40MB per month without paying). Premium subscribers can upload 500MB per month.

As I said, premium users can upload any file type. The iPhone client does not store all notes for offline viewing for free users. You can mark a note a favorite to get it offline, but premium subscribers can access all notes offline automatically, once they’ve synced. That’s a decent workaround to help the free people, but given the number of hours per day that New Yorkers spend underground, offline access is a big deal to me, at least until they get data service in the subway stations.

Only premium subscribers can upload scanned PDFs (i.e. where the pages are images, not text) and the Evernote text recognition will make the text searchable. Also the ads in the desktop version are disabled for subscribers. This may seem like a minor cosmetic detail, but when my window is very small in the corner of my screen, the ad takes up a huge portion of the sidebar, which along with the needlessly big “Activity” window, makes it hard to see all my notebooks, much less tags and the other things there.

The subscription is $5 per month or $45 per year. I think it’s a fair price, but it’s also a lot of money compared to other apps. Even OmniFocus, which is very expensive at $80, goes longer between paid updates. I bought OmniFocus 16 months ago, and haven’t had to pay again. That’s exactly how much it would cost for a $5/mo. subscription to Evernote. It’s hard to do a direct comparison of the two business models, but the point is that a premium subscription to Evernote would be like owning another OmniFocus. As much as I like the premium features, I can’t justify the cost quite yet. If I had the money I would pay for it, but the free version is good enough for me. I should mention, though, it’s easy enough to find $5 each month. Bringing a lunch from home instead of eating out one day a month would cover it. I think once I reach a situation in which I really could use the premium features, I will subscribe.

Also, a very great thing the devs have done is that you can become premium for a month or more and then stop paying, and you don’t lose anything you already had. So if you need to upload a bunch of stuff for a while (like a complicated project at work, or you’re on vacation or something), you can subscribe and then bump back to the free version later. So there’s really nothing to lose by being selective about when you need more features and when you don’t, and it’s not like once you subscribe you’re stuck continuing to pay forever or else you lose functionality. I have a feeling I will subscribe when I get into production for the tour next month.

Comments

Do you use Evernote? Drop a note in the comments. I’d love to hear about what other people think of it, and what you’re using it for.


August 23, 2010

FLAT – A New Movie

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 6:04 pm

If you liked Backstage Flood, then you have really low standards of entertainment, and you will love FLAT.

FLAT tells the story of an event that happened during our second-to-last performance of Hairspray. Before the final performance, we made a movie about it. The production values are much higher than Backstage Flood‘s. Which is not saying much. But we actually, like, put thought into it and stuff.


August 19, 2010

Pilot: Company Puppy

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 7:32 pm

While hanging out on the dock with the crew, and our lovable company puppy, Pilot, I was asked why I haven’t blogged about Pilot.

Well the truth is, I thought he was a little too similar to Bam-Bam, the Acting Company’s truck dog, below:

They both have at least some Jack Russell in them, and are both painfully adorable. Pilot belongs to one of our wardrobe ladies, and pretty much owns the wardrobe room and the attentions of anyone who enters it. I really can’t express any more about it, he’s just too cute for words.


August 17, 2010

Why I Don’t Have an iPhone 4

I call this: phones,tech — Posted by KP @ 12:53 am

I have blogged a bit about my decision not to purchase an iPhone 4 when it came out. First here, and then here when antennagate happened, and a little bit here. It’s now been nearly two months, and I still haven’t got one.

The first reason is that I’m totally, completely broke.

But the real reason that I’m not simply a few hundred dollars more in debt than I already am, and the owner of an iPhone 4, is that I’ve never seen one. It didn’t dawn on me until this week. In my money-saving mode, I’ve spent the entire summer without going to a mall or electronics store, and especially not the Apple Store. I’ve never seen an iPhone 4 in person, or held it in my hands. And I do believe that’s why I haven’t been bothered by the fact that I don’t have one (except when taking photos and wishing I had a better camera and/or a flash).

So I think this is a good thing, but it makes me wonder if I should accidentally come into contact with one, if suddenly I’ll involuntarily waste a bunch of money. Probably.

I’m going to try to put that off as long as I can, mostly because I’m still convinced that it’s an inferior product and I should save my money and contract commitment for something better. And it’s a day ending in “Y” so there’s another new rumor this morning about the Verizon iPhone, specifically that code for it is included in the latest OS — apparently the source who leaked this info says that the unreleased model in question is a CDMA phone, but so far as I can tell in my not-a-phone-engineer expertise, there isn’t actually anything in the code that indicates what kind of radio it has. There are also steady reports of a new iPhone (which everyone seems to be assuming is Verizon’s) in January.

At this point, I’m beginning to take a personal stake in the Verizon rumors, because now I’m depriving myself of newer technology, hoping that in the end I benefit somehow from waiting. If the next iPhone to come out is on Verizon, that will have been a worthwhile wait.


August 16, 2010

Stop Using Your New Macbook Pro Adapter

I call this: mac,tech — Posted by KP @ 8:37 pm

In my travels across the internet, I had a brief virtual conversation with an unfortunate person:

This person had a newfangled Macbook power adapter, like the one that came with my laptop, as this illustration from this post indicates:

Now think about this: what is the purpose of the Magsafe adapter? It’s so that when somebody trips over your power cord, the connector pops off harmlessly, rather than your laptop being dragged off the table, or the connector being bent or damaged.

But look at how the new one works: if someone trips over your cord to the left, the cord pops off. If they trip over the cord to the right, the wire bends around the side of the laptop and drags it. You can try this yourself by gently pulling in either direction, and you will see that you can make the laptop move and spin by pulling to the right.

This might just be a theoretical problem, but the poster also provided a gruesome photo of a huge dent in the corner of their MacBook Pro created by what would have been a complete non-issue with the old style adapter. That’s it. The moment I get home, I am swapping this adapter with the one that stays attached to my desk, and my laptop is never going out in the world with one of these new adapters again.

This is worse than antennagate when it comes to fixing something that wasn’t broke in the attempt to make it look cutting edge, while removing its sole function. If you have an old one, you might want to go back to using it in situations where somebody might trip on your cord. And if you don’t and you really love your Macbook, you might want to find an old one someplace, because Apple’s stopped making them.


August 15, 2010

The J/K Tree

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 8:18 pm

Gather ’round, children, and I will tell you the story of the J/K Tree.

(For anybody over the age of 20, or people who spend too much time in real life, and not enough time on the internet, “J/K” is text-speak for “just kidding.”)

This summer at Reagle the J/K Tree has become a metaphorical representation of anything that happens onstage when it’s not supposed to.

It began at the start of the summer, with our first show, Into the Woods. The set consisted of a bunch of two-dimensional trees covered in random text from fairy tales, as though they were cut out of the pages of books. Like so:

There were ten trees at various depths and locations, which would fly in in seemingly random patterns to define different areas in the story. In reality, which tree was in which scene was often very important to direct focus and allow access to certain parts of the stage while concealing others. But for the purposes of running the show, there was really no easy way to remember when a certain tree was supposed to fly. You just always had to have the right linesets moving.

Sometimes the wrong tree or set of trees would move. I had a tree-tracking table in a sheet protector on my desk which showed all the moves, the cue numbers, and most importantly, all the trees that were supposed to be in after a given cue had completed. Generally if it was found that a mistake was made, we would just have to deal with it for that scene and assign fly cues so that on the next transition we would end up with all the right trees in.

Until the J/K Tree. The J/K Tree was known to the director and the cast as Tree #2. It was known to the crew as lineset 7. I had to memorize both sets of numbers, which gave me a headache. Anyway, there was one particular transition, on one particular night, when Tree #2 flew in when it wasn’t supposed to. Because it was pretty far downstage, and close to center, it caught attention right away, and I and several other people immediately cried out that it was wrong. But it was coming in like it meant to, and being the center of attention, couldn’t just come halfway in, stop, and then go out. We figured, as we usually did, that we would just have to live with it until the next possible transition. As soon as it landed I mentally scanned ahead in the show to figure out when it could make a graceful exit.

Immediately I realized the problem: this was the transformation scene, where the Witch turns into a beautiful woman. There was a special in the floor that would shine right up at Rachel. I knew the special was just downstage of Tree #2, so her mark for the transformation would be exactly where the tree is. I said, “It can’t be here for the transformation, get it out!” and away it went, almost as soon as it had come in. As it casually returned to the sky, someone on headset commented cheerfully, “J/K!” And from then on it became known as the J/K Tree. Because of the words painted on the trees, we thought it would have been nice if it actually had the letters J and K on it, but I don’t think we ever inspected it that closely.

So through our techs of later shows it’s been the joke when something happens when it’s not supposed to, and is then quickly, and not so subtly, corrected — such as a dramatic light cue called early and then backed out of, or an actor who starts to sing before their cue and then stops — “Oops! Fly in the J/K Tree!”

It’s one of those you-had-to-be-there stories, but I noticed that I used “J/K” in my video in the previous post, and figured I should explain the particular history of it among our crew.


Crazy Sunday Afternoon

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 7:38 pm

All we had to do today was a Sunday matinee. After that we have no show until next Thursday. Things have been running smoothly, audiences have been leaping to their feet. When the sun rose this morning, all that stood between us and three-and-a-half days off was two-and-a-half hours of awesome musical theatre.

9:30AM

I’ve already been awake for a while, because somehow I’ve become an early bird like that. My phone rings, and it’s our star. She’s not calling me at 9:30 on a matinee day just to say hi. As I suspected, she wasn’t feeling well. She was calling me to get our producer’s home number to see if she could be rushed in to see a doctor so she could get a prescription before the show. Much to my relief, that was the extent of my involvement, and she was indeed able to see the doctor, and was feeling OK for the show.

12:15PM

I’m about to leave the house. Like packing my stuff. And I get a call from one of the Dynamites. It’s obvious right away it’s train trouble. A large portion of our actors commute on the red line from Boston, and need rides from Alewife, which is the last and nearest station to the theatre. There are two regular pickups: an hour-and-a-half before the show is the Ednamobile, which is driven by our “Edna,” Dan. 15 minutes later is the scheduled departure of the Musicmobile, driven by our music director and keyboard player, also Dan (which is why the two cars have names, instead of “Dan is driving me.”) Anyway, I find out that it’s not just the usual Sunday delays on the red line. Apparently the entire T has been shut down for about 40 minutes due to a power outage. Part of my dismay is that, not being from the area, I really don’t know how to help people when they have train trouble. But I do know that somebody even being slightly delayed on the train can really mess up my day, so all the trains in Boston being shut down less than two hours before a show doesn’t sound good.

I decided that getting to the theatre was not important at the moment, and stayed on my computer trying to reach people who could potentially offer rides, while checking Twitter to see what other Bostonians were reporting about the outage (the MBTA website showed all trains happily running with a green checkmark. Thanks!) Shortly after that, the trains started running again, and our actors (and one of our other keyboard players) made it on, and slowly towards Waltham. The Musicmobile would stay behind for them.

Act I

So finally everybody arrived and the show started without incident. Marissa wasn’t having problems, and I soon stopped worrying about her completely. We had almost gotten through act I when everyone kind of noticed at once that there was something in the air in front of the house right light tree. With all the fake hairspray hanging in the air, seeing particles in the beams of light isn’t anything unusual, but as our board op, Jess, pointed out, there hasn’t been any hairspray sprayed in that area in a really long time. So then the only explanation is that something is burning.

Thankfully this happened at the single point in the show where we have lots of time, during the last scene of the act. There was definitely steady smoke, but even with people looking from all possible angles, nobody was able to tell which instrument it was coming from. The light trees are just in front of the front row on either side and probably contain about 12 instruments each, from about 15-30 feet in the air. We spent the last 10 minutes of the act trying to narrow down the offending equipment, and praying it wouldn’t set off the fire alarm before we could examine it more closely at intermission.

We made it, and soon a good portion of the crew had gathered with flashlights to look at it, and saw nothing. After some debate, we decided it was time to take the inelegant step of bringing a ladder out into the audience. Taking a chance, we got the 16ft. ladder, which was much less disruptive than the A-frame, but wouldn’t be able to reach the top rows of lights, if that’s where the problem was. Basically we just wanted to figure out which light it was so we could unplug it or turn it off at the board.

Most of intermission went by and still no luck. We had our deck electrician on the top of the ladder checking all the connections. We brought all the lights up at 20 percent and he saw no sign of smoke. Finally I said that if we couldn’t find anything we’d have to give up, and suggested we put everything on that tree at full in the hopes that the offending light would show itself. Soon after, the smoke began again. After more looking with multiple sets of eyes on the ground and on the ladder, they found it was coming from a damaged connector. Jess quickly took all the lights out, and the connector was unplugged, and traced to the lights it controlled. That channel was parked out on the board, and soon the ladder was being spirited away backstage.

After the Show

We were pretty exhausted by the time the second act started, but everything went very smoothly for the rest of the show. Then as soon as the show ended, or perhaps as it was ending, the stage right toilet started flooding. Not like kind of backing up, or leaking a little bit. It was gushing water like Niagara Falls. By the time I got there there was at least an inch of water on the bathroom floor, so I wasn’t going in to see exactly what was happening. Two of our stagehands were inside trying to do something, and succeeding mostly in getting soaking wet. Wardrobe, who are based in the room next to the bathroom, and props, who have their tables set up just outside in the hall, produced several tubs filled with towels and we began laying barriers to contain and direct the water away from the props and costumes. The janitor arrived from the lobby, and splashed bravely into the bathroom. Soon we heard cries of, “Leatherman! Leatherman!” coming from inside. I dug into my bag and passed my Leatherman forward. Several seconds later, the sound of rushing water stopped, and the three intrepid plumbers emerged from the bathroom, mission accomplished.

Remarking that in one day the theatre had been attacked by both fire and water, I was getting out of there before the plague of locusts showed up.

I did, however, make a movie about the end of our harrowing day.


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