May 30, 2009

Razer Mamba Review

I call this: computers,gaming,pc — Posted by KP @ 3:50 pm

side1My birthday present to myself was the brand new Razer Mamba wireless mouse.  How new?  Well actually I don’t know, because last I heard it was supposed to come out on May 18, and then on like May 3rd I went to the website to see about preordering it, and there it was, “in stock.”  I feel like Razer sends me a promotional email on pretty much a daily basis about some headphones or keyboard or some crap, and yet they never actually bothered to advertise via email or on the front page of their website that pretty much their biggest product release ever was now available for purchase?  Razer mice aren’t always carried in stores, but I did find it on Amazon, which is where I purchased it, since I have an Amazon credit card and some gift certificates to spend on it.

First of all it should be said that the mouse costs $129.  If you can’t see the value of spending that much on a mouse, you can stop reading now if you like, or continue reading for fun if you want, but I understand there are only a certain percentage of people for whom this product is intended.  Those are probably the same people who have a keyboard worth $129, a joystick worth $129, and a set of rudder pedals worth $129.  At that point, why should the mouse — the primary way to interact with most games — be given any less attention?

The big deal about this mouse is that it’s the first time that Razer has released a wireless mouse.  Being the dedicated gaming hardware company that they are, they didn’t believe any wireless mouse could stand up to the needs of serious gaming, so they simply chose not to make one until they thought they could do it right.  So it was with much fanfare that they announced some months back that they thought they had finally come up with something worth doing.

Despite the enormous potential for it to be a disaster, I decided that my lifestyle which will have kept me away from all the comforts of home gaming (big monitor, joystick, pedals, TrackIR, surround sound) for basically a full year deserves to be treated to the finest of the one peripheral I actually get to bring with me — the mouse.  My current mouse of choice was the Razer Deathadder, which is a wired mouse in basically the same shape as the Mamba.  In addition to being wireless, the Mamba also offers two additional buttons, placed kind of strangely in the upper-left corner of the left mouse button.  They’re primarily intended to adjust sensitivity on the fly, but can be configured for anything.

One of the coolest things about the Mamba is that it can convert pretty much instantly from wireless to wired mode and back.  The transmitter has a dock built into it that the mouse can rest on when it’s not being used, and it charges over USB.   If you’re using the mouse and start to run low on the battery, or simply want the reliable performance of a wired mouse, you can pop the cable out of the transmitter and plug it directly into the mouse, and voila! you have a wired mouse.  The delay is only the time it takes for Windows to recognize a mouse being unplugged and then plugged in.  I have found that sometimes it seems to take a little longer for the connection to become stable when switching to wireless, but it’s still about 30 seconds.  I wouldn’t recommend doing it in the middle of a firefight, but it’s easy to do during a quick break from action.

Here are a couple shots that illustrate how the cable is removed:

On the underside of the mouse are a few buttons. The latch on the upper-right is the release for the USB cable. On the lower right is the pairing button. I don’t find it generally necessary, but there’s one on the mouse, and one on the transmitter — I guess for when they get confused, or perhaps on a new install. And on the left side is the power switch for the mouse — it’s turned on for wireless mode, and off when charging or when wired.

The two little gold dots are the charging connectors.  The mouse docks on the transmitter, kind of like a pedestal, like so:

charging1Of course if you’d rather play than stare at your beautiful mouse, you can just use it wired, and it will charge as you continue playing.

Mamba vs. Deathadder
As you can see in the photos, they are really pretty much the same size. The changes are very subtle, and from what I can tell, all seem to be good adjustments.

I’ve found the adjustment from the Deathadder to be pretty seamless.  The Mamba is a bit heavier because of the battery, but the teflon feet are much smoother, so I don’t notice the weight.  I’m also not the kind of gamer who really has to lift the mouse that often, so it’s not a big thing for me.  Another small difference is in the area of the side buttons.  The buttons themselves have a thin layer of rubber on them, which feels nice, and there is a more generous rubber area below the buttons, which makes it a nice comfortable place to rest your thumb when you don’t want to hit the buttons accidentally.  There’s also a very slight lip towards the back of the mouse which gives a little more grip and control in the thumb area, especially if you need to lift the mouse a lot.  The cord, should you choose to use it, is woven, not rubber like the Deathadder.  A lot of people prefer that because it moves a little more freely.

Any gaming gear strives to be both functional and sexy.  The Mamba has the standard blue LED style going.  Some people think blue is too cliché, but I don’t mind since it happens to match the lighting on my keyboard and joystick.  The Mamba has less lighting than the Deathadder — just two narrow strips of blue on the mousewheel.  However, the charger/transmitter has blue lighting on the bottom, and around the button on the front of it.

Another good thing is that like most of Razer’s mice, the settings are saved on the mouse itself so when you plug it in on another computer your keymapping and sensitivity settings travel with you.  I believe that requires the drivers to be installed on each machine.  That’s fine with me, since I primarily need it when switching between my home computer and laptop, it’s nice to know that any changes I make to the settings will be up to date when I switch machines.

Rant On
One thing I absolutely hate about Razer is their driver software.  They packaged this thing like it came right out of the dark side of Cupertino (the packaging would take up a post more complex than this one — feel free to google, I’m sure you’ll find lots of unboxing videos and photos).  I swear, I have never seen a product packaged this well from Apple.  And yet their software is absolute crap.  Look at this mess:

mambaNot only is it ugly, I don’t know what shenanigans they have to do to make the edges do that, but whatever it is is totally non-standard and refuses to pop up when I alt-tab out of a game.  Like it can’t overlay against a 3D game or something.  If they had just made it a regular damn window it would be fine!   There’s a lot of shenanigans going on in their software.  Like why is it when I plug in my Deathadder on my Mac, before choosing an OS, it goes backwards? The X axis is reversed! See most fancy mice, when you plug them in to an unknown computer, the computer’s like, “Oh, that’s a mouse.”  And then you install the driver and the computer’s like, “Wow, that’s a really fancy mouse!”  Well with most Razer mice I’ve owned, you plug it in, and the computer’s like “WTF is that?”  And then it does the hardware detection thing, and slowly gets the idea, and the mouse starts working, and then you install the drivers and it starts working well.   But right out of the box, it’s not actually a mouse.  And that pisses me off.  Every time they release a new product I hope they’ll change all this crap and stop acting like, “Hey look at this cool interface we coded in our dorm room — it has jagged edges,” and act like the professional purveyors of pwnage they otherwise present themselves to be.  Whoever designed the packaging for the Mamba needs to bitchslap whoever designs their GUI, and get them on the same page.  Rant off.

Overall I’m very happy with it. It hasn’t changed my life, but even as a wired mouse it’s a step up from the Deathadder. When gaming I like to have the mouse directly in front of the keyboard, but the wire usually gets in the way when I need to type. This is the biggest change I’ve noticed in usability from being wireless –I only need to worry about where the mouse is, not what the cord is dragging over.

Look – It’s a Game You Can Carry in Your Pocket!

I call this: gaming,phones — Posted by KP @ 12:27 pm

While visiting my parents last week, I ran across this contraption that was rather special to me in my childhood. On one side, it has a chess board with little holes, and these two drawers slide out and there are little teeny tiny chess pieces you can stick in the holes. On the back, there is a circular maze-like game where you have three silver balls and have to tilt the board so that all three balls wind up in the center of the maze. I thought this multi-purpose portable gaming device was the coolest thing in the ’80s.

It was nice to see it again, and I had it just sitting on the table in front of me for a while, and then at some point put my phone down on the table. Eventually I went to get my phone and found these two devices sitting side-by-side. See, 20 years ago, the device on the right was sooo cool, cause it was portable (although you’d need some pretty big pockets!), and you could play two games!

May 2, 2009

Turning 30

I call this: gaming,random — Posted by KP @ 10:49 am

You know when you’re playing an RPG, where you have to complete some side tasks before moving past a certain point in the game, or not make any mistakes, or else you’ll never be able to achieve the good ending? And once you’ve failed to do that, you might not even be halfway through the game, but from then on you know the best you’re going to get is the generic ending. And maybe you bother playing the rest of the game out, but you’re not really enjoying it, because you screwed it up and no matter what you do you can’t get to the result you want. That’s how I feel about turning 30.

July 2, 2007

My Pokemans – Let Me Show You Them

I call this: gaming — Posted by KP @ 10:56 pm

Somebody help me, I just bought a Pokemon game today.

It started a few weeks ago during a performance of Singin’ in the Rain. One of our followspot operators, Nick, is a fellow lover of the Nintendo DS, and he had told me he had just purchased a Pokemon game. While I have a general knowledge of what Pokemon are, I had never actually played one of the games.

Over the course of the next few performances, I would sometimes hear exclamations from Nick on headset like, “Yes!! My Pokemon evolved!” We have several gamers on the crew, and our off-topic conversations on headset sometimes revolve around games we’re playing. So occasionally I would ask a question about exactly how the game worked. One day he had his DS with him down on the ground, and I watched a little bit of the gameplay and asked more questions. Having gotten bored of Animal Crossing for a while, I decided this might be something I should check out. He warned me that it would consume my life, but that would be nothing new. It couldn’t possibly be more demanding than Animal Crossing, which punishes you for not playing often enough. I asked exactly which version he had, which was Diamond. I had heard of it, and had a general idea that it was one of the newer titles.

So today I stopped into the local GameStop while waiting for my laundry, and they happened to have a used copy. It started out slow with all the setup of the story and training-type exercises, but yeah, it’s kind of addictive so far.

June 20, 2007

The Macbook Pro and Windows

I call this: computers,gaming,mac,pc — Posted by KP @ 9:19 pm

One of the reasons I was originally excited about Apple’s switch to Intel processors was the prospect of running Windows at a reasonable speed on my Mac. I have always owned Virtual PC as long as I’ve been a Mac user, just because every now and then I’d find something that absolutely couldn’t be done without a PC (not your everyday tasks, but things like flashing a hacked ROM onto my cell phone). The one thing I use Windows for on a regular basis is gaming. I have a gaming PC (which I swear one of these days I’ll actually make a post about), but since my primary computer has to be a laptop because of my job, and a Mac because of my sanity, the prospect of taking my games with me was previously an impossibility.

When I first switched to Mac I tried to like the games, but the selection is limited to only the few most popular PC games, and they usually aren’t released until long after PC users have tired of them and moved on to something better. I knew this going in, but what distressed me even more as I came to own more Mac games, is that the few ported PC games there are are usually terrible ports. They’re buggy, they’re slow, and in general don’t play as well as the PC version. And from what I can tell, the developers don’t care, because there’s no competition (it was basically Aspyr and Macsoft), and so few people playing the games that it really doesn’t matter. If the same problems existed in PC games there would be a patch out immediately. So I quickly got tired of throwing my money away on such crap and decided I would be better off building a PC and having access to all the games I wanted, I just couldn’t play when away from home.

Having a Mac laptop running Windows fast enough to play games is something I’ve been looking forward to as long as we’ve known about Apple’s switch to Intel. So now that I finally have one, I’ve been catching up on all the options available and playing around with it. I knew that Boot Camp was the best method for running games, because it addresses the actual computer and all its resources, but I knew I’d also want virtualization software so that I could quickly access Windows while getting actual work done. Parallels was the first to come out with a solution, and I didn’t really become aware of VMWare’s Fusion until I began seriously researching this after buying the MBP.

I was stupid when packing for the summer and didn’t bring my Windows XP install disk from home, even though it was obvious I’d be getting a MBP at some point over the summer and would need this to install Windows with Boot Camp. I did have Virtual PC running on my Powerbook, and was happy to find out that VPC disk images can be easily converted to run on Parallels. So that’s how I first tried Windows on the MBP, running my old VPC image. It was certainly fast enough to feel like a real computer, not like the slow-motion experience of running VPC.

About a week later, I had my XP disk and some games from home sent up to me, and installed XP under Boot Camp. The install software will guide you through the process of partitioning your hard drive to make a partition for Windows. Thankfully, you can do this without erasing the whole drive. Here you have a couple choices to make. First, the size of your partitions. I picked 20GB for Windows, as I don’t really want to take too much space away from OS X, but I think 20GB will be enough to install a decent amount of games, which is all the XP partition will really need to hold.

The other decision is one I wasn’t expecting: you have to decide if you want the partition formatted in FAT32 or NTFS. I know from my Windows experience that NTFS is better for XP because it allows more advanced security features like encryption, and in general is better for stability. However, the installer warns that NTFS is not good if you want your Mac OS to be able to read the files in the Windows partition. This concerned me, since I wasn’t really sure what they meant by that. Much Googling was done before I proceeded. I still don’t fully get it, but what I found pointed to NTFS as the better choice. Apparently it works much better in Parallels as well, which is the main way I intend to share files between the two partitions. I assumed that the incompatibility was that I could not directly open files on the Windows partition by clicking on the volume in the Finder and navigating like I would any other disk. Well it turns out that you can access files on the disk, but it’s read-only. So to move files from OS X to Windows I need to drag them into Parallels.

By the way, you will wind up with the Windows partition visible as a volume in the Finder. At first I found this kind of annoying because I don’t really want that partition anywhere in my life if I’m not actively using it, but it’s growing on me. The biggest realization I had about the Boot Camp method is that when I back up my hard drive, backing up my OS X volume does not back up Windows. If I were using a Parallels virtual disk, one backup would cover everything because the Windows content would just be a file within my OS X files. Now I have to do two separate backups, so I partitioned my backup drive the same way, with a 20GB partition to back up the Windows volume. Part of me doesn’t give a damn what happens to the Windows partition and some game files, but I guess it can’t hurt to back it up once in a while.

I used my product key for a copy of Windows that I no longer use, and it activated and all was well. Using the driver CD that Boot Camp has you burn, I installed the drivers for the MBP with no problems, and all my hardware seemed to be working, and I was on my Airport network quickly. As Steve Jobs said in his WWDC keynote, when Leopard comes out it will have Boot Camp included and the drivers will be on the install CD so you won’t have to burn one yourself. As long as you’ve got a blank CD hanging around, it’s no big deal to use the current method.

So with everything in Boot Camp looking good, I rebooted in OS X.
You can set one OS or the other to be booted into automatically by setting the Startup Disk in OS X System Prefs, or hold Option when you start the computer to choose which one to use.

Now I went back to Parallels and got rid of my VPC version of Windows. Unfortunately Parallels will not detect the Boot Camp partition and give you the option to import it unless you have no other virtual PCs. So I just deleted the one I had been playing with, and it saw the Boot Camp partition and loaded it up.

There are two major obstacles to using a Boot Camp partition with Parallels, as far as I’ve discovered:
1. When you close Parallels you must shut down the virtual computer. You can’t save the state and return right back where you were the next time you start Parallels. This is to prevent you from screwing everything up by trying to access the files from Boot Camp while they are suspended in Parallels. I wish there was a better way around this so that if you primarily use Parallels you don’t have to always wait for the computer to start up and shut down, but I guess the only option would be to never close Parallels. Anyway, Windows doesn’t take all that long to start, so it hasn’t been that bad. VPC used to take twice as long just to restore from a saved state.

2. Activation. As you probably know, Windows has all sorts of annoying ways to make sure that it’s as difficult as possible for you to use the operating system you paid for. One of the things it does to treat all users like criminals is to look at your system specs and deactivate itself if the specs change too much. On a “real” computer this could mean upgrading RAM, changing your hard drive, video card, processor, motherboard. I’m not sure exactly what it looks at, but if you like to upgrade your hardware you’ll run into this problem. On the Mac this is pretty much unavoidable. When I installed Windows in Boot Camp, it sees itself installed on a machine with 4GB of RAM and a Nvidia something-or-other video card. When Parallels loads the same installation, it uses a virtual machine which tells Windows that it’s running on hardware of lesser specs than my real hardware (because some of my resources still need to be used to run OS X). So it sees a machine with 1GB of RAM, a Parallels Video Driver, and a virtual hard drive, and it thinks (not unexpectedly) that it’s installed on a different computer. So it freaks out and demands to be activated within 3 days or it will stop working. When you go to the website it directs you to, it gives you lots of reasons this might have happened, like maybe you bought the computer used and the guy you bought it from was using a pirated copy of Windows. Not one example assumes you actually are trying to use a legitimate copy of Windows in a manner allowed under the EULA, and that the activation feature is simply wasting your time.

So I called the 800 number they give, which of course directed me to India. I explained that I was using XP on a Mac and that because I was using Boot Camp and Parallels the activation software saw it as two different computers and was asking for another activation code. I was given no argument from the nice lady, she simply asked if I bought the OS at retail or if it came with a computer, and I said it was a retail copy. Then she gave me a code to put into the activation window, and it happily accepted it. When I got back into Boot Camp, it once again popped up the activation warning, and I was about to lose it. But when I picked the option to activate over the internet, it did its business and obviously got an answer it was happy with, because it activated. Since then I’ve not heard a peep from the activation app. I was pleased to find that the Microsoft rep did not give me any grief for being a Mac user or act like what I wanted to do with my copy of Windows was wrong or strange. I’ve heard others say the same as well, so I applaud MS for at least making that part of this ridiculous process easy.

I tried Parallels first because I was more familiar with it as the first virtualization program available for Intel Macs. In trying to find out the advantages and disadvantages between Parallels and VMWare, I realized that both programs are so new and developing so rapidly that anything I read was pretty much obsolete because the two apps have been constantly one-upping each other with each release. In fact while I was trying them out over the course of the first week I owned my MBP, both released pretty significant updates. I tried Parallels first and found it just felt a little more comfortable, so when my trials were running out and I had to make a decision, I went with Parallels, but I expect over the coming months the two will go back and forth with who’s got the newest exciting feature.

Once I got everything installed nicely I began installing some games. One problem I found early on was with Sid Meier’s Pirates, which relies quite a bit on the numeric keypad for its controls. Of course laptops don’t have full keypads, but the usual method is to hold the function key to turn a section of the regular keyboard into the numeric keypad. While this function was working in Windows, it wouldn’t work for me in the game, but I came across something called Input Remapper, which has more advanced keyboard drivers for Boot Camp, including the keypad, brightness and volume buttons, and more. Removing the Apple keyboard driver and installing Input Remapper solved my problems.

One more tip: by default Boot Camp’s partition will appear in OS X named “Untitled,” which is not a particularly attractive name for something you’ll probably be looking at in your Finder a lot. You can rename it, but you have to do it in Windows. Right-clicking on the C: drive in My Computer will bring up the option to rename it. After that it will display that name in the Finder as well.

June 13, 2007

The Highest Purpose for Theatrical Projections

I call this: gaming,mac,summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 9:10 pm

I had a few minutes tonight as we were doing the pre-show, and we had our first round of NES gaming on our lovely projection screen. We didn’t have a chance to do much, as most people were actually engaged in important work, or were about to be, but it was nice to try it out. I played a little bit of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, showed how much I suck at Spy Hunter, and just a tiny bit of Bionic Commando to show the young’uns a cool game that they may not have heard of, before moving on to the greatest game ever made, Super Mario Bros. 3.

Here’s a short video clip of Angela trying out SMB3. And yes, the sound is being run over the house system.

Here’s the (messy) setup in the booth:

The controller is something I picked up last year. It’s an actual NES controller that has been rewired for USB by RetroZone. The Emulator I use on the Mac is Nestopia, which is freeware, but does not support joysticks without a shareware add-on, which is $30. For only $20 you can get USB Overdrive, which is an all-purpose driver for tons of USB devices. You can assign buttons to do just about anything, and have different profiles for individual apps, so I could have my NES controller assigned as a really cool iTunes remote in that app without screwing ups its functions in Nestopia. Not that I would ever need it to do that, but now that I’ve come up with that example, I think it just may have to be.

Getting the game on the projector is simple. Just drag the window off your main screen to the side that leads to the projector’s screen (see here for details on setting up the projector). It was necessary for me to resize the window a bit to get it all on the screen.

May 20, 2007


I call this: computers,gaming,mac,summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 9:58 pm

OK, I’m really going to do something productive now. I’m going to think about packing. My task is made a bit easier because I have a crate up at Reagle with a lot of my stuff in it. At the end of my first season there, I found I had accumulated a lot of stuff that there was no point bringing back to New York — apartment things like a hairdryer and Brita pitcher, stage management-y things like pencils, paper and blank CDs. It was silly to throw the stuff out, and I had been told early on that I was welcome to come back the next year, and I wanted to come back too, so I asked if it would be OK if I bought a storage crate and kept some stuff in it. If something else came up and I couldn’t return, they would be free to give the contents to the next stage manager. They were happy to accept it, probably because they figured if they had my stuff I’d be more inclined to come back!

As luck(?) would have it, the Broadway show I had booked for last spring/summer was canceled before rehearsals began, so I found myself back at Reagle, and my crate was waiting for me. At the end of that second year, it expanded from just essential supplies that would be of use to anyone, to my own personal box of goodies. Does anyone else want my hairbrush? I think not, but I do, and the likelihood that I would be the PSM in possession of the box the following year seemed high enough that I packed just about everything in there.

What’s in there? I don’t know. But I learned from my mistakes last year — having unnecessarily purchased or brought from NY things I had forgotten were in the box — and at the end of last summer, made a complete inventory of what I was putting in the box, with a hard copy in the box itself, and saved in a document in my “Reagle” folder, cryptically titled “What’s in my storage box.” Let’s see…
Household Supplies:

  • 2 sponges
  • can of apple cinnamon air freshener
  • 2 boxes Snuggle fabric softener [this was one of the things I bought by mistake]
    Bottle of unopened hand soap [probably that, too]
  • Bathroom clock radio
  • Corkscrew
  • Approx. 4 sq. ft of bubble wrap
  • partial box of large trash bags, mostly full box of kitchen bags
  • hairdryer
  • hair brush
  • nightlight
  • Approx 200 Q-tips
  • GNC Women’s Ultra Mega vitamins
  • Alarm clock w/ 9-volt battery
  • Deodorant (degree)
  • razor & 1 spare blade

Office Supplies

  • Approx. 30 business-size envelopes
  • 4 6×9” manila envelopes
  • Approx. 20 crappy yellow pencils
  • Approx. 15 ballpoint pens<
  • 1 red roller-ball pen<
  • 1 blue, 1 orange highlighter
  • 1 glue stick
  • Unopened pack of post-it page markers
  • 1/2 roll of packing tape w/ dispenser
  • disposable wipes for electronics
  • spool of 7 CD-R, 7 DVD-R
  • iPod firewire cable [that I can’t even use with my nano – why did I keep that?]
  • Significant amount of blue construction paper
  • Approx. 500 sheets white paper
  • Package of photo paper
  • Perhaps 150 business card templates SINGLE SIDED
  • AEA Stage Manager packet
  • 11 thank you cards w/ envelopes [think anyone notices I keep using the same ones?]
  • Approx. 6ft continuous cable wrap
  • 4 binder clips
  • 1 keyring
  • 25ft coax cable
  • ethernet cable
  • 1 6-outlet vertical power strip

Hmm… Looks like I brought the contents of my personal pencil case home with me and just left the bulk supplies for the company. WTF was I thinking? That’s heavy, why didn’t I leave it there and replace the stuff when I got home? I don’t have any of my favorite pencils, or scissors, or scotch tape, or anything like that. Well now I have some Staples items to add to my shopping list (which is a memo on my Treo called “Reagle Shopping Day 1.”) The other puzzling omission is the two binders for my scripts — a large one for my blocking script, score, and technical documents, and a more svelte 1″ binder for my calling script. While the Reagle office supply closet always has a good supply of cheap binders for my temporary needs, I only use these for my main scripts, and I know I had them — a white 2″ one, and a 1″ blue one. I’m sure I didn’t bring them home (what a crazy idea anyway) because I don’t even have a white 2″ binder in my apartment right now. I’m inclined to think it’s a typo, but I remember being very thorough about this list. They would have been the last thing packed after the final performance, and maybe I just felt it was so obvious I didn’t write it down. I sure hope they’re there, they’re expensive.

I like to pack really light, so it’s always a huge to-do the night before when I decide the suitcase is just too heavy and/or won’t close, and stay up all night obsessing about reducing the weight in such minute detail you’d think I was planning to launch it to the moon.

The Kit
I love-love-love-love-love the container I currently use for my kit. I got it at the Container Store, which is like a porn shop for stage managers. Here it is. Ooh, it’s so sexy! I have the large one. It’s not here at the moment to be experimented with, as it’s currently living on my desk at the Riverside Theatre, but the big challenge is that it just barely fits in my suitcase. It actually has to be at a little bit of an angle to fit, which requires some creative packing to make use of the space around it. Now that I think about it, I’m not even sure I brought it last year. I think I used (gasp!) a ziplock bag, and just brought the things that couldn’t be easily obtained at the theatre (i.e. no paperclips, push-pins, screws, etc.).

In New York the design of this case is wonderful because it’s so thin and easy to carry while navigating crowds and packed subways and stuff. It’s a fact of life that sometimes I work in places where I don’t have a place to store even something that small, and the need to carry it everywhere makes portability very important. But in Waltham it just sat in my trunk most of the time, and I do believe I had more success last year with a bare-bones ziplock bag that stayed in my backpack. I guess that’s the plan again.

I won’t decide exactly what to take from my kit until the night before, when we load out of Riverside and I have it back at home, but here’s my rough guess:

  • Leatherman (Charge XTi) and flashlight (Surefire 6P) in combined holster
  • lithium batteries for said flashlight, as they’re way too expensive when not bought in bulk
  • maybe a couple binder clips, since I only have 4 in the box up there
  • LED keyboard light — my Powerbook has its own backlit keys, the light is for my script
  • laser pointer (don’t use it often, but it’s great for pointing out exact positions at a distance — which light I’m talking about, position on stage, etc.)
  • stopwatch
  • this weird tool I have with tiny blades and screwdrivers — I can’t even describe it
  • maybe a pair of earplugs — was PSM for a rock musical years ago, still keep multiple kinds of earplugs, guitar picks of all thicknesses, and a drum key in my kit. It used to be a necessity, now it’s my favorite thing to be comically over-prepared for. The earplugs are light and sort of health-related, so I may throw them in just in case we’re using the little-known Metallica orchestration of The King and I.

A lot of the things in my kit are there on the assumption that I am essentially stranded on a deserted island and have to be able to fix any problem with its contents. When working in a professional and well-equipped theatre like Reagle, where people are employed to do the things that aren’t my job, there’s a lot less I have to carry since I can just do what a rational person should do — if an actor breaks a shoelace, I’m sure a wardrobe person can help me. I don’t need to be able to produce a spare shoelace at a moment’s notice.

The last thing that is show-related is my headset, which will not travel with my kit or computer supplies because it gets packed gently in my suitcase between my clothes. I have a little leather pouch I use to keep it clean, but I have to be careful not to crush it. My headset of choice is the Telex PH-88, which I first fell in love with when it was at the calling desk at Phantom. Now they use one of those huge Sennheiser things that feel like wearing a football helmet — ugh. Anyway, when I first arrived at Reagle, Lori asked if I owned a headset because she was preparing to place an order for some replacements if I wanted to get one. I spent the first show of the season swapping between the Telex and the Clear-Com CC-26, which I have always liked for it’s very light weight, but as they get older the booms tend to get floppy, and I have this nervous habit of always having to hold onto them to make sure they’re actually in front of my mouth before I talk. I decided to go for the more expensive but more sturdy Telex, and I was able to get in on the discount pricing with the theatre’s order.

The computer stuff
As I may have mentioned, I’m planning to buy a Macbook Pro over the summer (hopefully June 11 will see the announcement of new models). My trusty Powerbook will limp through one more trip to Reagle, and hopefully by July will be enjoying retirement recording TV shows while I’m at rehearsal. Yes, it’s a bit disappointing to not have been able to make the transition before the season started, and to lug two laptops home at the end. On the other hand, you should see what the difference in sales tax is when buying a computer in Massachusetts. More than makes up for the inconvenience.

So… the Powerbook, of course, in its MacCase sleeve (I might need a new one to fit the slightly longer MBP, I think — but the old one is stained from when a certain director spilled his smoothie into my computer bag, so I guess it’s OK). The power cable for the Powerbook obviously, especially since the elderly machine has its original battery, and starts threatening to shut down after five minutes of use. Also in the main compartment of my computer bag will be my script for Singin’ in the Rain, without a binder. I carry an assortment of cables, many of which are in cute little retractable spools: firewire, USB, mini-USB, ethernet, phone cord, iPod, Palm sync/charge cable. My Canon i70 printer, which is the same age as my Powerbook, besides needing some serious percussive maintenance over this past winter, is still going strong after years of hard work. Along with that is the Airport Express. See this post for the whole story on how they’re used. My Nintendo DS Lite and charger — I had a lot of fun last year playing Animal Crossing with the kid playing Chip in Beauty and the Beast. We actually inspired two people on the crew to buy the game, too. Everyone else in the building thought we were dorks. …What?

Low priorities
And finally, if there’s any room in my bags left over, I might not have to walk around naked. I pack exactly eight sets of clothes (including the one I’m wearing on the travel day). That leaves me a one-day grace period to do the laundry every week. One of those is my “nice outfit” which is not intended to be part of the normal clothing rotation, as it’s too nice to wear on an average day. It’s only for occasions when I know I can sit in my ivory PSM tower and not get dirty. Opening nights, parties on the day off, etc. I usually wear a sweatshirt of some kind on the travel days (so the sweatshirt doesn’t have to fit in the suitcase, of course), that way I have one heavier thing to wear should it ever be cold. This year I’m sure it will be my 1-up jacket. I love that thing. I also pack a lightweight windbreaker for rainy days. I bring only one pair of shoes, due to space and weight constraints. This depresses me because one of the best things about Reagle is that I never have to dress in all black for three whole months. On days I don’t have to wear black I enjoy wearing a nice bright pair of white sneakers, but because white sneakers aren’t classy enough to be worn with the “nice outfit,” that means my one pair of shoes must be plain black sneakers that are subtle enough to pass for dress shoes if no one looks too closely. I just bought a new pair to cheer myself up about this (and because the old ones had a huge hole in them).

Usually a few stray items also find their way into my suitcase. A small notebook mouse went up the first year so I could do a little bit of computer gaming. The sad state of Mac gaming and the age of my Powerbook made that a joke, but this year it might make the trip again for the new computer. I might bring another cheap little mouse I got for free instead of the good one — then I can leave it there.

Well that should more or less cover it. It certainly is nice to have a consistent experience and know exactly what I can expect to have available to me up there, and where I can obtain all the other things I need. It’s a big difference from my first year where I packed a lot of stuff not knowing whether I would need it.

April 2, 2007

GTA IV Update

I call this: gaming — Posted by KP @ 3:37 pm

So I went to Gamestop today (the 8th St. & Broadway location) and reserved my copy of GTA IV for the PS3. I was very excited to be presented with a sticker in return. I remember when San Andreas came out they gave out a giant sticker to people who preordered, but gave it out with the game, which is a nice surprise, but kind of upstaged by having the game itself in your hands. This way is much better, I think. Unfortunately I don’t really have a good place to put it, so for now it’s just lightly stuck to my computer.

The minimum deposit for the game is $5, which is what I paid, considering I don’t even own a PS3 and am not 100% sure that that’s the platform I’ll be going with. Not to mention that I really have no idea where I’ll be working in October. I could be touring Europe for all I know.

One thing that sucks about the way Gamestop does reservations is that you have to be there in person. Last year I wanted to pre-order the DS Lite, but I was going to be working in Massachusetts for the summer, and it was being released about a week after I arrived. I asked my local Gamestop if I could pay them and have the game held at the Gamestop up there. Nope. I called the Gamestop up there and explained the situation, and asked if I could reserve over the phone and pay by credit card. Nope. So when I finally arrived, I picked up my rental car and immediately tore down to Burlington to make my reservation in person. I got the second-to-last one. I don’t really see what the problem would be with allowing someone to make a reservation with whatever store they’re going to be near on release day.

April 1, 2007

GTA IV Trailer Released

I call this: gaming — Posted by KP @ 4:54 pm

I don’t know how this escaped my attention for two days, but Rockstar Games has released a trailer for the upcoming Grand Theft Auto IV, which will be set in a city resembling New York. The release date is still set for October 16. The Rockstar website for the game still has no other content besides the trailer, but so far it looks awesome.

I’ve been holding off buying a 360 or PS3 until the release of this game. I’m still thinking I’ll wind up with the PS3 because I find the controller much more comfortable than the X-box, especially for someone like me with small hands. Not looking forward to the cost of it, but I still have a long time to make that final decision, and find out what the differences will be between the two versions of this game in particular.

My day tomorrow:
9:30 Dentist
11:30 Go to Gamestop and preorder GTA IV

March 25, 2007

Something cool I once did with my desktop

I call this: computers,gaming,mac — Posted by KP @ 8:00 pm

While my desktop these last few days is the highly-original default Aqua wallpaper that came with OS X Tiger (shown here), I did once do something pretty cool with it.

I’m a big fan of the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), and I’m kind of fond of having little bits of NES nostalgia in my life (like this USB NES game controller), so of course I occasionally like to decorate my Powerbook’s desktop the same way. So this one time, I decided that I would go all out. The result was this:

What you can’t see from the image is that all of the “?” blocks are clickable buttons (using DragThing) that are actually hovering over the image on the wallpaper. They launched various apps, the pipes opened commonly-used folders, and the picture of Mario in mid-air launched a NES emulator, so I could play all those classic games on my Mac, with my original NES controller, of course.

The Details
The wallpaper itself I adapted from this one, resized and rearranged to fit my needs. The dock being squished over to the left side can be done with any number of utilities that can access those sorts of hidden OS X features. If I were doing it now I would use Cocktail, but I’m sure there are free apps that do it as well. I changed a number of icons to look more Mario-like. Unfortunately, I have acquired them over years and some may no longer be available, I don’t know. But I like InterfaceLIFT for a lot of my desktop customization needs now. For changing some of the system icons like the Finder, you need a separate app, Candybar. In brief, the green mushroom is the Finder, the red shell is SpamSieve, the flower is Photoshop, although I really wanted it to be a Fire Flower, I couldn’t find a decent Aqua-like icon of one, so I made do. The music note block, as you might have guessed, is iTunes. I made that one myself in Photoshop. If you’ve always wanted one, here it is. The piranah plant is the trash of course, and when empty it’s just the pipe. I made the pipe and added the plant from a very nice icon I found somewhere. The clock is a regular ol’ dashboard widget. And if you’re curious, the instant messaging app showing is Adium, which I highly recommend. I also designed the icon you see, of the Adium mascot as a stage manager, which you can download here.

The whole thing was a lot of fun, but eventually I just got tired of it, and it wasn’t as useful as you might think. I felt really bad changing it because of all the work I had put into it, but it was time to move on. I kept it a lot longer than I keep most of my desktop looks, and I still have some pieces of it, like the mushroom Finder icon. I’m still intrigued by the idea of having a desktop picture with clickable elements that do things. This was my first attempt at that. Maybe if I think of a good way I’ll try it again someday.

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