June 9, 2017

Phantom Journey 360

I call this: tech,theatre — Posted by KP @ 2:33 pm

POTO360Hi. It’s been a while. But you need to see this. I hope this link stays functional for as long as the internet exists, because it’s important to what we’re all doing here.

I had no idea this happened until a friend sent me the link, but apparently the good folks at Phantom Broadway stuck a 360-degree camera on the stage (in several locations) and filmed the journey. And then CNN put it on Facebook (I’m sorry if you can’t access Facebook, I’m not sure if it is or will be posted anywhere else).

So yeah, you can sit in the middle of one of the most famous moments of stagecraft in musical theatre history and drag your view all around and look at whatever you want. I knew this was cool when I instinctively panned up to watch the portcullis start to move. I wish I could share this page of the calling script, because this is a fun little toy for stage managers.

It’s probably actually a more useful simulation of the deck:

  • flashlight the boat driver as he moves from the upstage wing to left 2
  • make sure the candles go down in front of the boat
  • watch the portcullis come down
  • make sure the boat generally doesn’t crash into anything as it turns around
  • make sure the organ and mirror are coming on in 1
  • make sure the boat is parked reasonably center, and not too close to the portcullis (enough room for a body to get through)
  • watch the Phantom throw his hat into L2 (maybe it’s just my connection, but I can’t actually see where it goes here)
  • if you’re me, stare into space at the FOH monitor, until the sound guy stands next to you as if to say, “can I turn this thing off now, or are you looking at something important?” and then go, “Oh! Yeah, we’re good. Thanks.” (That monitor is only on for the boat sequences, to help the driver and deck SM check position.)

I immediately thanked the press rep for making this possible for all the lucky 12-year-old stage managers who get to grow up with internet access and virtual recreations of their favorite scene shifts (do 12-year-old stage managers still obsess about this one? I hope so.)

March 8, 2016

Calling Off an iPad

I call this: iOS,mac,tech,theatre — Posted by KP @ 11:58 am

If there’s one area where I’m a real technophobe, it’s the calling script. I don’t want a script where anything can go wrong with it, short of it catching fire (and aside from one particular performance of Phantom, I’ve never actually felt that was a possibility).

Technology is great, but we make certain tradeoffs in reliability to embrace the latest capabilities. For the same reason we don’t want space ships and airplanes running Windows 10, I don’t want anything more complicated than ink and dead trees determining my access to the calling script during a show.

However, there are a lot of stage managers, some I respect very much, using computers and tablets to call their shows, even on Broadway. I’d like to spend more time shadowing these people on larger shows to see what hardware and software they’re using and study how it works and what the pros and cons are in regular use. But I felt no hurry to try it myself.

My booth on Silence! The Musical was so small and inconvenient that when I started I did experiment with using an iPad very briefly (my ASM had taken another solution, of having the script printed and bound in half-page size, so it fit on one of the few available surfaces). I don’t remember much about the iPad experience except that I didn’t like it and very quickly (like maybe within the same performance) went back to paper. I think in that case, it may have been largely because I was still becoming comfortable with the show and I didn’t like that the page is smaller than paper-sized and thus harder to read (especially since the booth layout meant the script couldn’t be right in front of me). Also, the whole idea of the page turn lagging for even a second was a huge turn-off.

Years went by, and although I’m curious how other people stand it, I’d never cared to try again.

This winter I was the PSM on Broadway and the Bard, a one-man show starring Len Cariou on which I was light board op, sound board op, A2, props, basically everything except (usually) wardrobe. It was pretty much the cleanest possible scenario in which to try something potentially stupid. The show, while beautifully designed with a good number of cues to keep me busy, was very contained, never too crazy. It was a guy on a stage with a stool, a bench, and another guy at a piano. Nothing really moved. They talked. They sang. Most important for the purposes of this experiment, I couldn’t kill anybody. And once we’d been running about a week, I was comfortable enough that I had sections of the show memorized. I started making an effort to test myself, thinking ahead to what all the cues were on the next page, checking, and then running that page without looking, all in preparation so that by the end of week 2 of our 6-week run, I could reasonably expect to be able to continue calling the show if I couldn’t access my script for, say, 30 seconds.

Once I felt confident, I charged my iPad that I never have a use for, and put the already-typed calling script on it. I used GoodReader as my PDF-reading app. I found it worked well enough, so I didn’t bother trying any others. The first time I used it for a show, I had the paper script open and was keeping it on the correct page. After that I put it off to the side closed, but someplace where I could grab it quickly. For reasons I never figured out, the later pages of the PDF got garbled where all the text boxes had rendered in the wrong place, which I didn’t discover until turning to the first of the corrupted pages. So I did get to experience the failure of the script and having to go back to paper, and on this show, it was fine. I also want to point out that the messed up formatting happened in the conversion from Word to PDF, and had nothing to do with the rendering on the iPad. But just so you know, I tried to open the Word doc directly on the iPad in a couple different apps, and as one would expect, it completely sucks at rendering text boxes with the kind of accuracy required here. If you type your cues in-line, you’d probably have better luck.

As I had thoughts about the iPad during various performances, I jotted them in my performance notes:

  • At this point I would never use the iPad on a show where not being able to see the script for a few seconds could get someone hurt. It might be very unlikely to have a problem, but it’s still not worth it. I was lucky on this show to always be able to format the script to avoid bad page turns. Any lag, or an unexpected popup taking focus when trying to turn the page, could cause a problem on a show that requires fast page turns.
  • One of my other big issues in the past is that I like to make pencil marks in my script all the way through a run. I would definitely want to be using a pencil through tech and the early part of a run where I was actively refining the call, but on a show like Bard, it did eventually slow down to the point where changes were few. Also the layout of the booth put my script binder above the light board, which made it harder to doodle in. Using the iPad actually allowed me to have the script closer, and easier to tinker with. I don’t use GoodReader all that much, but the few times I wanted to change placements or mark things I needed to pay attention to, I could, at the next gap between cues (even if it was 30 seconds), add some text or an arrow, and place and color it appropriately in the short time available. It’s actually cool in some ways to be able to have a red arrow or giant red-and-yellow text instead of a pencil mark. But I still think on a more complicated show, where there isn’t going to be time to do more than throw down a very quick pencil mark, it would not be as good. But that’s probably the same kind of show where I can kill people, so it’s moot I guess.
  • If I were spending time to actually format a script with the intention of using it in this way, I could’ve eliminated the margins so the text could be bigger and the white space around the pages wouldn’t be wasted.
  • I think part of the reason I wasn’t bothered by the size of the text or the difficulty in marking the script was that at this point I wasn’t actually reading the script to find out what the cues were. As a board op, I don’t need to say the cue numbers out loud, and as far as placement goes, it’s more of a visual thing. I’m not really reading the text like I’ve never seen it before. I can glance at the cue on the page and the only reason I need to see it is to go, “ah yes, that one.” A quick glance is all that’s needed, so a scaled-down PDF works just fine.
  • I had accidental page turns on occasion when I just brushed or tapped the screen with my finger on the sides. In at least one case I didn’t notice I did it until I looked back at the script and saw I was on the wrong page. On the other hand, the efficiency of motion needed to turn the page was great, especially on a show I was operating with both hands for much of the time. And although this particular booth was pretty isolated sound-wise, in a small house with audience close by, the fact that you can rapidly turn the page silently is a plus.
  • I hate glossy screens, in life in general. I understand why tablets need to be glossy more than laptops. Still. I had to cover some LEDs on the gear in the booth because they were reflecting off the screen.
  • I have an iPad 3. I can’t really comment on the later ones which are a bit thinner, but as a thing of limited usefulness, it’s kind of heavy. Maybe smaller and lighter than a paper script, but here’s the difference: I never bring my script home. Depending on the security of the theatre, I’d be less likely to leave my iPad overnight, which means I’m lugging it around. In this case, I did leave it at the theatre (hidden) because I refused to lug it around. But that’s not exactly smart. If you actually use your iPad for other things, and don’t carry your laptop every night, this probably isn’t a hardship.
  • Battery life was pretty good, especially when in airplane mode. And somehow it made me laugh (and shake my head) when I’d say to myself, “I should charge my script overnight.” Of course if I’d planned this from the start, I’d have the charger run to a position where it could be plugged in at the desk instead of on a table behind me, but as long as I checked the battery life every couple days it was fine. I think I only charged it two or three times in four weeks.

Overall, my opinion was that I quickly came to prefer the iPad on this show. I don’t know how much bigger a show could get before I didn’t want to use it, but I’m willing to figure that out, because it actually was very handy. My next show could be a good candidate for something more complicated but not too complicated. We’ll see.

May 25, 2014

On Using A Show-Specific Email Account

I call this: tech,theatre — Posted by KP @ 1:48 pm

A few months ago, when I learned I would be doing an open-ended show this summer, I put a question to my Twitter followers:

I only got a few responses, but none addressed the reasons I would have considered doing so. First, here was my thought process:


  • The show can be passed off to a replacement without the company needing to send emails to a new address, and the new PSM gets access to all the old emails.
  • Show-related email is easily separated from personal email accounts.
  • Email folders (or labels, as Gmail calls them) can then be used to further separate show-related email (i.e. “design,” “reports,” “cast” whatever).
  • A sub or ASM can handle show-related email and send reports by logging in to the same account, again without having to use the PSM’s personal email.


  • When the show closes, you either keep the email active forever, or people who know you by that email no longer have a working email address for you. If I’ve learned one thing in this business, it’s that no matter how many times you tell them, some people will always use the old one.
  • For people using web mail, it requires a separate log-in. I prefer a desktop email client, but if I was using web mail it would be a bit of a pain, especially if it were a gmail account, because my main personal email is also gmail, so I’d have to log in and out all the time, as opposed to having everything come to one inbox.
  • People from the show may want to send you private emails. If you use your personal address, they know the email is going to you, not an ASM, sub, or future replacement.

Two followers pointed out a Gmail feature that would be useful if my motives were different:

These are two good points: if I was concerned about filtering, and wanted a solution where people could still contact me at my main address after the show closed, this would be a good idea.

For my purposes, I believe the con of people no longer having your email address is serious enough to be a dealbreaker. I get all my work on recommendations, so everyone who works with me needs to have an address that will work years later.

The pro of being able to delegate email responsibilities to other members of the team is a good one, but I think in practice it really only becomes useful or necessary if you have an office computer that everyone uses. Or if the PSM is going on some kind of extreme vacation and isn’t bringing their phone or computer. I’ll let you know when I do a show with a big enough budget for an office computer, or that runs long enough for me to take a vacation!

But for now, I’ll be continuing to use my personal email.

May 17, 2014

iOS App Review: SMBox

I call this: iOS,phones,theatre — Posted by KP @ 1:55 pm

AppIcon76x76One of the most time-consuming and error-prone things a stage manager has to do is deal with time. Break times, scene timings, performance timings… Anything that can be done to automate this process makes me happy.

05-SMBox-iPhone-TimersWhich is why I was excited to get to try out a new app for iOS called SMBox (iTunes link). It’s the first app from a developer called Backstage Apps, who promises further apps to make life easier for entertainment professionals. The app sells for $8.99 and works on all iPads, and iPhone 4 and higher.

I’ve since used SMBox on two productions, the first a one-act play, and the other a two-act musical. Thankfully the app can store multiple shows. You could also use the multiple-show feature to have different configurations of timers for different situations (like one for rehearsal and one for performance).

The interface is designed to be dark and very running-light friendly, which is pretty much a necessity for an app of this sort. However, a lot of the time I was using it in the rehearsal room during scene work and run-throughs, and would have liked to be able to switch to a brighter UI for normal lighting conditions. I hope this will be one of the features added in version 2.0, which is in development.

smboxIn addition to the usual run time calculations, I found it especially helpful for getting scene timings. I love having too much information about run times. I like having up-to-date data on the length of every scene, because you can do so much with it: How much time is left in the act? How many scenes can we get through before lunch? When the director says “Let’s just run this scene before the break,” is there a chance in hell that’s going to happen?

So the way I configured SMBox was to get individual times of all 14 scenes in my play, and then total them. The app can only store one set of timings at a time, but there’s a button to quickly email yourself a copy of the data it has so you can clear it and start over. My one feature request on this front is that while the app saves your email address to send these summaries, there doesn’t seem to be a way to send it to multiple people (without manually adding them to the email each time). I’d love to be able to include my ASM’s email along with mine as the default addresses.

If you need to stop your timer for any reason (like the director stops to give a note, or someone stumbles over their lines, or the scene change goes totally awry), you can tap on your timer to pause it, and tap to resume. A long drag from left to right resets a given timer. The timers can be configured in a number of ways: to count up or down, or both (which is cool in the case of intermission — how long it is vs. how long it should be). You can decide to include or exclude each timer from the total. I wish there was a way to have more than one total (i.e. all the scenes in Act I totaled, all the scenes in Act II totaled, then everything totaled, then everything plus intermission totaled).

It’s not possible right now for a single SMBox “show” to capture and calculate all the data I put in my reports. In particular the Start Time and End Time feature, which record the time of day vs. the run time, don’t appear to support multiple acts or display the time in seconds. The app is very flexible with timers, much less so with “what time was it.” This makes it unsuitable for me in a performance setting, but I did find it helpful in rehearsal, where I’m not interested enough to create a database to track scene timings, but can be bothered to tap the screen a few times during a run.

I am admittedly a very tough audience when it comes to stage management timer apps because I develop my own solutions for these situations, and tend to take them to ridiculous extremes (at some point I must tell you about my famous “Are They Dead Yet?” feature, which was known to predict the time remaining in a performance, or the time an act will end, to within a couple seconds, and which I intend to revive for my next show). Once I have this data on running times, I want to do a lot with it, so my mind immediately jumps to things like exporting it in formats that can be imported into spreadsheets and databases.

That isn’t really the point of this app. There are plenty of stage managers who are using the “lap” feature on their phone’s stopwatch, if they’re doing anything fancier than jotting numbers on a piece of paper at all, and SMBox is a big improvement on that. I can see myself using it on a reading or quick show where I wouldn’t bother using any specialized software. It’s a simple solution that anybody can configure, and the devs seem to have put a lot of thought into making it as flexible as possible. I’m eager to see where they take version 2.0.

April 22, 2014

My 4-year-old, Perfectly Adequate MacBook Pro

I call this: computers,tech — Posted by KP @ 7:00 am

MBPat4I’ve been a computer geek basically my whole life. I started taking computer programming classes at gifted camp when I was 8 years old, and as a result of that managed to get my first computer when I was 9. Although my career isn’t in the technology field, and my knowledge of programming languages is pretty pathetic, I’ve always wanted to stay on or close to the bleeding edge of computing power and new technologies. For as long as I can remember, four years has been generally accepted as the amount of time a computer remains useful if used for anything more complicated than browsing the web, emailing and word processing. I certainly have never been satisfied with a computer any longer than that.

Another driving force in my life is my desire not to have to have a “survival job” while making a living as a professional stage manager. In the course of my career, I’ve had good jobs and bad, long-term jobs that barely pay the bills, and great-paying flops that ran a month. When I used to work more regularly at Phantom I could very suddenly end up with a lot of disposable income. Getting offered somebody’s vacation week meant I could go out and buy a computer just for fun. Last month I got offered a rehearsal and performance in the same week and thought, “Oh thank God, I can turn my cable back on!”

What I’m getting at is that sometimes the unpredictability of my career has forced me to put my dreams of computing on hold. Maybe I’m just getting older and more mellow. The money that buys the shiny new computer thing will probably be needed for rent, so I look more carefully at what I have, and what it can and can’t do, and really ask myself if I need the new features, extra speed, etc. that comes from the latest models.

Which leads me to my MacBook Pro. I purchased it when I was on the road in Philly, in April of 2010 (4 years ago today). You can read my post from the day I got it, if you like. It was something of an expected emergency. My 2007 MacBook Pro had been having problems with the screen for a long time. I waited for a refresh to come out for the 15″ MBPs, and from that point on, every time we got to a new city I’d call the local Apple Store to find out if they had 15″ high-res matte screen MBPs in stock, just in case it died. Finally in Philly, it was too far gone, and I brought home (to the hotel) my current model, officially known as the “Mid-2010” model. I liked it better when the names were a combination of construction material and processor speed, like “1.25gHz AlBook.” It’s rude to say how old a lady is. You’d never know it by looking at her.

File transfer in progress (note the show's lighting monitor that I brought home to use the old computer)

File transfer in progress (note the show’s lighting monitor that I brought to the hotel so I could use the old computer)

Its first performance. Philadelphia, April 2010.

Its first performance. Philadelphia, April 2010.

Anyway, to give you a brief montage of the life and times of this living legend (for this isn’t an “in memoriam” post for a computer being retired, as I’ve done in the past — this baby is still going strong as my primary machine), here are the highlights I can remember of its life so far:

  • Two tours with The Acting Company (the end of the 2009-2010 tour, and the entire 2010-2011 tour)
  • Morning on the bus.

    Morning on the bus.

  • Has been a stage management computer for at least 25 productions and other events (I keep terrible records of all my jobs)
    Who needs paper groundplans?

    Who needs paper groundplans?

  • Until recently had a relatively modest career running projections, having done only four benefits, until this month when it was pressed into service overnight before a matinee, when the PC running my current show died. It not only took over the multiple-projector show, but did it running Windows.
  • Occasionally runs QLab, serving as a rehearsal sound computer (including my current production)
  • Has edited two short films (one in progress), a music video, two other short videos, and countless personal projects just for fun
  • Suffered a video card failure in the middle of tech for Triassic Parq, and took several sick days to go to Texas for a new logic board
  • Tragedy strikes at the dinosaur park.

    Tragedy strikes at the dinosaur park.

  • I don’t think it’s ever needed a battery replacement, which is really quite remarkable. If it did, it must have been a really easy repair process, cause I don’t remember it. Battery life is maybe not quite what it used to be, but I go lots of places without my charger.
  • Now runs Windows 7 and has taken over some of the gaming responsibilities from my “gaming rig,” which hasn’t been updated since 2008.
  • A little hotel gaming.

    A little hotel gaming.

  • Began life with the 320GB 7200rpm hard drive from my old computer, and about a year ago was upgraded to 750GB/7200rpm. Presumably the last laptop I’ll own with a mechanical hard drive.
  • Getting naked for a hard drive swap.

    Getting naked for a hard drive swap.

    Saving Up

    When my last computer died its tragic death, I didn’t have the money to replace it, so I had a lot of debt on my credit card, which I was hoping to pay off during the following year’s Acting Company tour, but basically defeating the purpose of returning from tour with a lot of money. While we were in rehearsal for said tour, I got a check from Phantom, which was forwarded to Minneapolis. I said, “Oh, they’re probably paying out vacation pay. I haven’t worked there in forever, it’s probably like five dollars.” Around the same time I got an email from the company manager letting me know he had sent my vacation pay because it was “a significant amount of money.” At this point I’m thinking it’s like $50. So the check arrives in the rehearsal room one morning and I open it to see how much free money I’ve gotten. It was nine hundred dollars. Which was pretty much the remaining debt on the computer. Once again, Phantom provides the deus ex machina to all my financial problems. It’s like my employment with them is some kind of parable meant to teach me about the difference between wanting money and needing money.

    Anyway, the need to replace the computer without having any money saved up made me vow to be more prepared next time. Figuring I could get at least 3 years out of my new purchase, I began very slowly putting money away. Any time I found myself with actual cash (like birthday money, friend pays me for theatre tickets, etc.) I put it in a drawer. Sometimes I used that drawer money to pay the Dominos delivery guy, but over time I noticed the pile was getting bigger and bigger, too big to keep all of it in a drawer. It was actually becoming enough to significantly offset the cost of a top-of-the-line MacBook Pro, and that made me even more eager to put money aside. About six months ago, with my computer three-and-a-half years old, i.e. too old to be repaired if it breaks, I stopped putting money into the fund, because I had enough to pay for the computer, the taxes, and a couple hundred bucks of miscellaneous expenses I expect to need, like new adapters and cases. I was really proud of myself, especially given that I had had some long periods of unemployment and under-employment during those years, and despite my checking account coming very close to zero many times, had never had to give up my computer fund.

    So now I’m just sitting on the money, waiting to be unsatisfied with my 4-year-old computer. And it hasn’t happened.

    Looking Ahead

    Recently my iPhone needed a new battery, and I was left to wander the Apple Store for a half hour while the repair was performed. Having not had much disposable income in several years, I don’t think I own a single thing that was on display in the store, so it was an opportunity to get a little more acquainted with the current hardware options. First on my list was the newer, thinner 15″ MBP, as being the owner of 4-year-old, out-of-warranty MBP means that every time I open the lid there’s a chance some tiny component has fried, and whether I like it or not, the current top-of-the-line 15″ is going to be my new computer.

    I love the thinness, I love the lack of an optical drive, I love the resolution, I love the SSD. I hate glossy screens. The actual gloss has been much improved over the years. They seem much less reflective. But the other problem is that the glass is heavier than the matte screen, which means that the “thinner, lighter” form factor is not really that much lighter than my current model, because the screen is a pound heavier.

    I’ve been lucky to have purchased my last two Macs at a time when they were offering matte screens as an option. It seems they’re currently in another phase of forcing gloss on everyone, which makes me want to wait as long as possible in the hopes they change their minds and decide to be nice to their visual-artist type customers again. So that’s reason #1 that I’m underwhelmed with the current upgrade options.

    Thunderbolt seems cool in theory. I’d love to have a Thunderbolt display which I can connect all my other stuff to, streamlining the number of cables I need to hook up when I get home. Then I looked at a Thunderbolt display in the store. I couldn’t even tell how the picture was because it was so glossy all I could see was the reflection of all the lights in the store. I turned away in disgust without even using the machine. I believe it’s relatively late in its product life and probably due for a refresh, so I won’t judge too harshly, but it’s obscenely expensive (currently $999), 27″ isn’t unusually big for a high-end monitor these days, and it looks like crap! So consider me underwhelmed about the Thunderbolt connector, which is the biggest “you-don’t-have-this” item on the new models. Also, I expect any refreshed monitor will be like $1,500 and still be some degree of glossy. If I’m going to buy a monitor that costs more than a couple hundred bucks, it might as well be matte.

    One thing I am looking forward to, whenever the day shall come, is that the current MBPs can drive two external monitors. Mine can do it with a USB adapter, but it’s not native support and slows everything down. Now that I’m making a little money editing, it’s more than just something that looks cool to post on /r/battlestations on Reddit. But it will require a significant investment of money to do it right, between getting another mounting arm, and possibly needing to buy two monitors that match and fit together nicely, rather than just adding one. I’m crossing my fingers that I have a good job when the time comes, and have the flexibility to make quality purchases that will give the most benefit in the long term.

    In the years since I made my last purchase, I’ve stopped touring (although I’d certainly do it for the right job), and I’ve stopped gaming as much. I have little need for portable gaming power. But I’ve also started a side business as an editor. So raw computing power isn’t as essential as it was before, but I still need enough to work with HD video comfortably. I definitely wish my computer was faster, but it’s not so slow that I want to throw it out the window. It’s teetering on the windowsill, if you will. But I’m trying to be patient to see what’s coming down the road.

    I’m really amazed that after four years, and with the money in place, I don’t have any particular desire for a replacement. I’m not sure if this says something about the quality of the Mid-2010 model, my mellowing as a geek, or the lack of innovation in the last 4 years. I guess it must be all three. I don’t know how much longer we have together, but for now I wish a happy birthday to my strong and loyal friend, who I hope will be some part of my computing arrangement to its 10th birthday and beyond!

February 24, 2014

Filling Out Payroll Forms Remotely

I call this: computers,mac,pc,tech,theatre — Posted by KP @ 11:35 am

This is more of a company management post than stage management, but it might be a useful link to send to your company manager. Or if, like me, you take a company management gig because it comes attached to a stage management gig, and/or you just really need some money, you might want to use this yourself. Or maybe you’re actually a company manager, in which case, I invite you to let me explain this process to your company.

So everybody always wants to get payroll set up before first rehearsal. Especially stage managers, who are supposed to get paid on the Thursday before first rehearsal!

In a lot of cases, you have actors coming from out of town, busy on other gigs, or the company itself is out of town, and it’s hard to get everybody to come into the office early to fill out their contracts and other paperwork.

DISCLAIMER: Before we get into the paperwork stuff, I’d like to remind you I am NOT a company manager, general manager, producer, or any of those people who know or care very much about payroll or running a business. This post is really about the technical aspects of filling out and returning a PDF online. Which forms you need and what you do with them are up to you to figure out.

The IRS has payroll forms online that can be filled out and printed, for example:

So you send your company the link, and they can fill out their information on the form. But now they need to get the form back to you. I recently found myself in this position, and because it’s my nature, I guess, I basically wrote a blog post with graphics to my company explaining all the ways they could do that. So I figured, you know, might as well save all that work and put it in the blog. Plus, knowing how to print to PDF is something that everybody should learn because it has applications far more useful than filling out a W-4.

If you’re sending this to anybody, you can actually skip all the explanatory stuff above and use this link to skip to the good part: http://headsetchatter.com/blog/2014/02/payroll/#instructions

Instructions Start Here

This assumes that you’ve already got the link to the document you need, opened it in your browser, and filled in your information.

Now you need to print your document to a PDF, which you can then email to your company manager, producer, or whoever is asking for it.

Choose to print the document and then click on “PDF” and “Save as PDF” as shown:

On a PC there are a number of ways to add this ability. If you don’t know if you have it, look on your list of printers for something like “Save to PDF” or “Print to PDF.” Even if you don’t have this feature, if you use Chrome as your browser, you can use it within Chrome, which is good enough for our purposes. Open the IRS link in Chrome and when you’re done, choose print, then click as shown: “Change” in the printer section, and “Save as PDF.”

I didn’t bother confusing my company with this, but for you, my dear readers, I’ll share another of my paperwork-returning secrets: you can use your iPhone (or iPad for that matter, or your Android device) as a scanner. A crappy scanner, maybe, but if you have steady hands and decent lighting, it works fine for basic paperwork.

If you want a free solution for iOS I suggest GeniusScan, which has a free version that can quickly scan, PDF and email multipage documents (make sure you select PDF as the format — if it’s a single page it may try to send it as a JPG).

I own a scanner (which is ancient, and a pain in the ass because it no longer has Mac drivers, so I have to fire up Windows to use it), and unless I’m scanning photos or something very intricate, I never need to use it.

January 7, 2014

We Need to Talk About RGB LEDs

I call this: tech — Posted by KP @ 2:55 pm

Recently I made an impulse buy: I found a great deal on a good length of RGB LED ropelight with associated color-changing controls. Essentially what this means is that it’s a length of ropelight that can make pretty much any color — within reason — it would depend on how many levels of control it has over the red, green and blue, whether it’s thousands of colors or millions. I’m guessing thousands. Let’s just say it’s a whole lot more options than going to Home Depot and buying a roll of, say, red ropelight. Which I did at one point.

And if you know how theatrical LED lighting works, well it’s basically like that. It’s not as pure of a color as a light going through a color filter (like a gel, or regular ropelight), because sometimes you can see the different shades that make up the overall color, but it’s still pretty cool. And I don’t have to call a show in my living room, thank God, because I have something of a love/hate relationship with LEDs on stage. Mostly due to watching them attempt to dim and brighten.

In my travels around the web, I found this deal on eBay, which is only a few dollars more than buying a single color of ropelight at Home Depot. (When the link stops working, the seller was dazzlewerllc.)

So I tore out the red ropelight that ran along the back edge of my desk and replaced it with the RGB strip. And I’m addicted. The controller I have comes with a bunch of preset colors, and six programmable buttons for whatever color you can invent. Here’s what I’ve come up with in a few days:

I really like this soothing yellow in the morning.

I made this deep orange to match the backlighting on my keyboard.

This purple is very calming, especially at night.

This blue matches the wallpaper on my computer (right now the default Mavericks wallpaper), which is apparently a popular thing to do, cause I guess it’s easy on the eyes when the color matches what you’re looking at on the screen. Some people even hook their LEDs up to their computer and have software that automatically adjusts the LED color to match the screen.

And this is just my favorite lighting color in general:

These were all taken during the daytime, obviously, but given that my apartment is always rather dark, I actually appreciate the accent lighting more during the day. It makes me feel like I have windows that let in light coming from somewhere other than the concrete wall across the street.

It’d also be pretty cool for lighting a road box without needing to do any fancy electrical work. You could have bright white light when you’re working, and then some dim blue (or red, or whatever) light during the show. Make it the color of your show logo, or the color of the set.

The possibilities for fun and practical uses are kind of endless, and it’s gotten much more affordable than I realized.

January 6, 2014

A Brief Moment of Technological Bliss

I call this: computers,iOS,phones,tech — Posted by KP @ 11:09 pm

Just before leaving work I had downloaded a sample of a book I was considering buying, thinking I would read the sample on the train, and probably buy the book when I got home.

I started reading the brief introductory chapter on the platform, and when the train arrived the conductor announced it was going local. Realizing I was already halfway through the sample, and that I liked it, I regretted not buying the whole book for what was now going to be an even longer ride home.

Then I set myself a challenge: could I set up a hotspot with my phone, connect my Kindle’s wifi to it, purchase and download the book, all before the doors closed and the train left the station? Thanks to the new cell reception in many midtown stations, I had a precious few seconds left at 59th Street, before heading north into the great underground wilderness.

I’m pleased to say that I accomplished my goal, and was so engrossed in my book that I nearly missed my stop. Sometimes, despite the obstacles thrown in our way by patent lawsuits and greedy wireless carriers, we can actually use our inventions to accomplish the things they should be able to do. [Hugs Verizon.] I’m sorry about all the things I said about you. They were all 100% true, and you deserved to burn in hell at the time. But I would be remiss if I didn’t also acknowledge when things cease to suck.

Telecommunications industry, you made my night.

May 20, 2012

Rehearsal Software

I call this: tech,theatre — Posted by KP @ 3:36 pm

At the end of our first week of rehearsal, I’d like to take a moment to talk about the technology in use on this production.


By far the star of the show is Dropbox, which is used both internally by the stage management team, and by the production manager to coordinate paperwork across the entire production (except for the cast, who get things from me by email, which is so late-20th-century, but it’s good practice to keep tentative information and schedules that concern other departments from confusing them).

This is the first production I’ve done where I had my Dropbox, and subscribed to another one for the wider team. It’s a little confusing, but I think the dual Dropbox is necessary to keep stage management documents accessible for us to collaborate on, without becoming public before we’re ready to share them. The system I’ve come up with (so far) is that when a document is shared, the PDF ends up on the production Dropbox, and the files used to make it stay on ours (unless it’s a document meant for others to edit).

We also keep our master script on our Dropbox, but place a copy of it on the production Dropbox at the end of every rehearsal, so if the writers need to edit it, they always have a current copy they can build from, and anyone else can see the current script, while at the same time we have control of our copy and how the changes go into it. As it turns out, so far all the script changes have happened in the rehearsal room, and they’ve been tiny. I had a real industrial-strength policy to handle script changes, which to this point has been total overkill.

Which brings me to a piece of paper-and-plastic technology I call the “Triassic Parq Post Office.” It’s a box of file folders which function as mailboxes for everyone in the room. When we have new paperwork, it’s put in the mailbox and each person can check their folder to receive new pages, calendars, whatever. This is something I always want on every show ever, and never get to do, for various reasons. But part of my industrial-strength script update policy was, “screw it, we’re doing mailboxes.” So far they’re very popular, and so far we haven’t had a single script update that modified more than four words per day, so the advantages of the mailbox haven’t had a chance to shine.

Near the mailboxes, on a table that is designed to attract actors and creatives like flies to honey, is the food table. On it we have various snacks, and seven labeled water bottles that we provided for the cast, to cut down on the amount of wasted water and containers that results when using cups or unlabeled bottles. There’s a gallon jug that we continually refill and leave on the table, so water is always available without leaving the room (the water fountain is on another floor). My two interns keep the bottles filled at the start of the day, and as the day progresses. It’s kind of like magic. It also encourages me to drink more water, because I really don’t have to do anything to make it appear on my desk.

Here’s the food table.


We’re using Evernote more on this show than I have in the past, which is partly a testament to the improvements they’ve made in sharing support in the past year.

A sample of what’s in our notebook:

  • A note where we indicate the page numbers that have changed that day. This makes it easier at the end of the day to quickly make a PDF of the day’s changed pages for printing.
  • A note for each of our production meetings (we’re up to #4, which is our next and last one) where I jot down questions that I want to bring up. During the meeting this is also the note where I take down the meeting minutes, which later get cleaned up and emailed to everyone. This note is pretty much only edited by me, but everyone can reference what I plan to ask about, and what the results of previous meetings were.
  • The rehearsal day checklist, which is kind of obvious, but I like having it just to remind us of the really basic things we need to get done, which I feel is perhaps even more important when you have a lot of people on your team and it’s easier to lose track of what hasn’t been done. The list includes things like lowering the shades on the windows (to keep the temperature down), checking the spike tape on the floor hasn’t been damaged, schedules are printed and distributed, water is refilled, the room is set correctly for the day’s work, etc.
  • A couple of cut-and-pastes from emails that have useful information we might want to reference in the future: our company manager’s summary of ticket policies, the description of a set piece that the designer sent me in response to an inquiry about how it works.
  • Cast checklist. Easy way to take attendance, or track the completion of something in which the names of cast members need to be checked off.
  • Music teaching checklist. Lists all the songs, and we check them off as they’re taught. You can also do the same thing with staging or choreography.
  • List of cast birthdays. One of Ashley’s first tasks during pre-production was to find out everyone’s birthday so we could have spectacular celebrations of the birth of our collaborators… only to find out that only one person has a birthday through the end of our currently-scheduled run in August (which is only one more reason we need to extend).


We considered more extensive use of this app, but the fact that multiple iPads can’t access the same file makes it a $200 waste of money for more than one person to own it. Marshall (our director) bought it, and uses it to plan blocking before we started staging. In rehearsal, he also sometimes uses it to help the cast understand the big picture, by showing them the overhead view of the stage picture, so they can better understand where he’s asking them to be. StageWrite exports to PDF, which the rest of us have access to. Ashley found this very useful when creating breakdowns during pre-production. Of course we expect things to change as we’re staging, but having all of the director’s initial ideas clearly mapped out in a single PDF is a great head start. I have great hopes for this app, but they really need to make it possible to share the file so multiple people can edit it (I wrote to the developers about this when Marshall and I first discussed using it, and this is something they plan to add in the future). Sharing and syncing is becoming such an important part of how software works, that paying $200 for something that keeps your data stuck on a single device seems kind of old-fashioned. I look forward to it becoming more flexible.

March 30, 2012

iPad 3 Review

I call this: phones,tech — Posted by KP @ 8:19 pm

On March 16 I received the new iPad, which I, and presumably everyone else in the world, will refer to as the iPad 3, because as I learned in nursery school, 3 comes after 2. Although sometimes in Apple-land, S comes after whatever the previous thing was. But let’s stick to integers.

I’ve had a little over a week to get to know my first iPad — this is important, that this is my first iPad. I have said in years past that I wasn’t quite sure how an iPad would fit into my workflow, and I’m still not completely certain, except that I’m much surer now that it will be useful somehow than I was when I wrote a pseudo-review of my Dad’s iPad back in 2010.

Choosing the Model

I got the 4G version instead of wifi-only, even though I expect to use it almost always on wifi. My reasoning is that I can’t really grasp all the ways I’ll want to use it, and I figured spending $800 and regretting my choice would be worse than spending $900 and possibly having a feature I don’t need. Also, I found out after my purchase that the wifi-only models don’t have true GPS, just the ability to use nearby wifi networks to guess your location. So that’s another bonus of the 4G that people should be aware of.

Choosing the Carrier

When the iPad went on sale for preorders, the carriers weren’t even acknowledging its existence, so I took a wild guess based on their plans for the iPad 2, and went with AT&T kind of by default, since it would match my iPhone. After the iPad had been on sale nearly 24 hours, AT&T and Verizon bothered to announce their data plans, so people could make a more educated decision. Their pricing is different, but in a way that might be better or worse depending on what you want. This graphic shamelessly stolen from the Apple website explains it best:

The big mystery, of course, was the “Who’s Going to Be More Evil?” game, which in my world for the last decade usually has something to do with tethering. Which mega-corporation, or both, would feel like charging by the GB and then charging again based on where the GB goes once it reaches your phone and is no longer on their network? This time, the winner is AT&T. Verizon is offering tethering at LTE speeds, at no extra cost. It’s almost like they want to help the customer by providing a service that costs them nothing… for free. AT&T caps off their victory not by announcing that they’re charging for tethering, but that they aren’t allowing tethering at all, for now. It’s just like their past iPhone plans, when they acted shocked — shocked, I tell you — by the carrier-related features the phone had, and took months to even announce how they would support them. Whenever they get their act together, I expect it to cost an arm and a leg.

It took a while for me to build up a good head of steam of burning rage about this, and I was more interested in the device itself than in the data plan I might never use anyway, so I didn’t undo the hours I spent trying to place my order on Apple’s website. After a week I was reading a post on Reddit asking if there’s a workaround for the AT&T tethering issue, and somebody was like, “just return it and get a Verizon one.” I’ve never been a big believer in returning a perfectly functional device, but I had forgotten entirely about Apple’s no-questions-asked, our-products-should-be-perfect-or-your-money-back, 14-day return policy. And my product was definitely not perfect. In fact, I was decidedly disappointed, and although it’s not quite Apple’s fault, they did take my money without being able to tell me what the terms of my service plan would be.

So after a week of ownership, I called up one of the local Apple Stores, and got lucky on the first try with a store that had the appropriate model in stock. I hopped on the train and in less than 5 minutes I was in and out of the store with a Verizon iPad. I had a nice chat with my salesguy about choosing between AT&T and Verizon on iDevices in general. He’s happy with his Verizon iPhone, and says that despite AT&T having better maximum speeds when service is good (which was my explanation for putting up with them), he finds on average he gets much better speed with Verizon because AT&T’s service is so often performing far below its capability. Or the capability of a 14.4k modem, for that matter. His one complaint with Verizon was the inability to use data while on a phone call, but that’s a non-issue with the iPad anyway.

I’ve just activated the data plan yesterday, and haven’t used it much except to test it, because I have no idea how quickly I’m going to use up my 1GB. I’m doing a three-week gig in April, so I started the plan just late enough that the job will fit within my billing month.

Here’s my speed test result:

Not bad at all. It’s better than a lot of people’s home internet, though of course the data cap kind of defeats the purpose.

Thankfully the plans offered by both carriers are very flexible. You can pay month-to-month, which is great for someone like me who works a different job (or not) often on a monthly-or-less basis, and may have a need for it sometimes and no need at all at other times.

I’m curious to see how often I want the 4G. The kind of places I’d need it are probably the same places I wouldn’t be inclined to take the iPad out in public anyway. It doesn’t seem to me like the kind of device I’d whip out anywhere. On a long train ride, maybe — I mean a train-train, not a subway. But I think it would be seldom enough that tethering to my phone wouldn’t be too much of an inconvenience (happily, tethering to the iPhone works just as you think it should — neither carrier seems interested in forcing you to buy two data plans). Unless I had a job where I’m spending hours every day in a place without wifi, I don’t expect much need for it, but I will see on my upcoming job if I find a lot of uses for it. It will certainly be better than any rehearsal studio’s wifi, although we’ll be at Pearl, and their wifi has always been good enough that I’ve never felt the need to tether and burn megabytes off my data plan.

The Hardware

As I said in my impressions of the iPad 1, these things are heavy. When I envision a world where we all carry Star Trek-like tablet devices to diagnose alien diseases or record our captain’s log, I picture them being a little lighter. Maybe not as light as my beloved Kindle 4, but I don’t really want to be conscious that I’m getting a forearm workout while I’m diagnosing a problem with the warp core. The iPad 2 is lighter than the iPad 1, but the 3 is a small step backward. The difference may be worth it, but before we knew what the iPad 3 was, besides the obvious retina display, I dreamed it would also be amazingly thin and we’d all be shocked that they managed to include the upgraded display as well as a thinner and lighter design, without sacrificing battery life.

I like to imagine there was a conversation between Steve Jobs and Jony Ive that went something like this:

Come to think of it, that's probably the conversation that concludes the design process of every Apple product.

So I guess I can cut them some slack. But not having had to stand around holding this thing for any extended period of time, I can’t say if the weight will be a deterrent to using it in some situations. I still use my Kindle to read on the train, because it weighs almost nothing in my bag, is less likely to be stolen, less likely to be missed if stolen, I find touchscreens more trouble than they’re worth for reading, and I find the eInk soothing to look at in a well-lit environment. However, the retina display is much easier to read on than other LCDs, and I have taken to reading in bed with the iPad, mostly because I like to read with the light off, and also I’m running out of room to keep all these devices by my bedside! The ability to sync the page I’m on between the actual Kindle and the app makes it pretty easy to switch between them at will. I just have to make sure I turn on my Kindle before I leave the house and let it sync because it’s wifi-only.

So, the retina display.

Have you seen one? Have an iPhone? It’s like that, only bigger. It’s like staring into liquid or something. It has less pixels-per-inch than the iPhone, but it still has more pixels than all but the most awesome of desktop monitors. I have no complaints. It’s gorgeous, and I never want to look at anything else. I feel vindicated that I refused to buy an iPad without one. I don’t think I’d ever want to buy another screen of any kind if I expected such a hi-res version to be available within a reasonable timeframe. I am not buying another MacBook Pro without one, though in light of recent rumors of hi-res icons in Mountain Lion, I suspect we will see one on the market long before I’m shopping for a new laptop.


For those who are curious, it will charge from a MacBook Pro (2010). I’m glad I can probably keep the chunky charger at home. I think it’s just trickle charging, but whatever. Usually if I have my phone charging from my computer when I’m away from home, it’s just so I don’t run down the battery after 8 hours in rehearsal. As long as the battery level isn’t going down, I don’t usually need it to go up.

This heat issue

I know a lot is being made of some reports of iPad 3s overheating. I haven’t noticed it myself. But then again I haven’t been playing 3D games. I have streamed several hours of video non-stop, without any noticeable heat at all, though. I’m curious to see if this turns into a problem-problem or just a quirk of this model. “My iPad is hotter than my old one” is a problem along the lines of “My PowerMac G4 MDD sounds like a wind tunnel.” “My iPad is shutting down because it’s overheating” is something a bit more serious, so I’d like to know how many people are actually experiencing that severe of a problem. The more time goes on, the less this is sounding like a real issue. More recent reports have said that the heat is in line with similar Android tablets.


First of all, I just want to say something to the development community in general: there are some really awesome sync solutions out there. Especially given how little control iOS gives to devs, they have made it possible to own three computing devices (computer, phone and tablet) and to feel like they’re all working in harmony without a lot of backtracking to move the data around. If apps that handle data couldn’t sync, it wouldn’t be worth the trouble to use more than one (certainly not more than two) devices for the same purpose.

Some credit also has to go to Apple, as iCloud is making its presence felt just a little more now. Syncing apps and other purchases automatically to all devices saves a lot of time. Not to mention all the stuff I already take for granted like bookmarks and email, calendars, contacts, etc. that were awesome enough when just syncing from computer to phone. What a pain it would be, with the potential for losing important information, if I had to remember to sync all my devices every time I made a change on one of them. However, it drives me nuts that it only syncs new apps, not updates to apps. No idea why it makes that distinction.

I also want to point out one of my longtime apps, the RSS reader Byline, which offers a discounted upgrade from their original iPhone-only app to their newer universal app. The App Store is pretty inflexible about giving developers the option to offer discounts or upgrade pricing, but they’ve found a way to do it. I’m not actually sure how they did it, but every other developer needs to steal it. They get bonus points for finding a way to give a break to loyal customers.

The internet look like ass.

When you start Safari, especially if like me, you spend several hours just setting up retina-enabled apps before venturing out onto the web, you will notice that sites that rely on graphics for their UI elements look like crap. Web developers are starting to discuss ways to adapt their sites for the new iPad, but apparently it’s not simple: it means either serving bandwidth-hogging large images to everyone, or using javascript to decide which images to show based on what device is viewing it. There doesn’t seem to be much of a consensus about the best way to handle it, but people are already talking about the impact this will have on web design.

Personally, I’m grateful that this site doesn’t look that bad, as I’ve always tried to keep the use of images to a bare minimum anyway. I’m going to let everyone else figure out the best solution before I worry about it. There are a couple tiny background images I might try to replace with CSS3.

No stocks and weather in the notification screen.

Boo! I don’t mind not having the apps, but the widgets are awesome. The stock ticker and location-aware weather summary on the notification pull-down thing make them very worthwhile. Before iOS5 I could understand eliminating the built-in apps since there are so many better ones available in the App Store. But since third-party apps can’t have similar displays on the notification screen, there’s no way to replace the functionality of the Apple apps. I wish they could at least be optionally downloaded from the App Store.


You’re going to need some big wallpaper to cover the 2048×2048 total size of the iPad’s screen (it needs to be 2048 in both dimensions so that it covers the screen no matter which way you turn the iPad). My favorite wallpaper site, Interfacelift has a surprising number of iPad3-sized wallpapers already available, with more added every day. That link will take you directly to the iPad3-compatible offerings.

Apps I Love So Far:

Most of the following apps are already compatible with the retina display, and all are making the most of the iPad’s capabilities.

TweetBot – Possibly the best Twitter client

Skitch – easy illustration app recently acquired by Evernote

Alien Blue – truly awesome Reddit client

Byline – Google Reader RSS client I mentioned above – not updated for the retina display, but I didn’t notice that until I checked. Still like it better than all other RSS clients I tried.

OmniFocus – feature-rich project and task management app. The iPad client is without a doubt their best UI.

What’s On – a TV listing app. Soooo much easier to read than on the iPhone’s tiny screen. Not retina-enhanced, but the listings themselves are hi-res text, so I don’t even notice it.

Google Maps (built-in) / Google Earth – The UI on Google Earth is not retina-enhanced, but that’s hardly the point. The satellite view maps look amazing on the screen, and the size and touch interface of the iPad is a great way to explore the maps.

Use Cases and Other Thoughts

Stay tuned for another post which will look more in-depth at how I find the iPad useful for work and other activities. I started to include some of that stuff, but I think it’s a bit premature at this point, and both posts will be better served by remaining separate. I’ve just started using the iPad in preproduction for my next show, and I’m also working a benefit on Monday, so I should be coming up with some good experiences to share soon.

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