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.

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.

March 7, 2012

Apple Web Store Release-Minute Experience

I call this: mac,tech — Posted by KP @ 6:26 pm

Today was my first experience buying a major Apple product online at the moment orders started being taken. I did it once for my first MacBook Pro, but it was really just a speed bump with the then-new LED backlight. I’m sure I was one of very few people on earth who were sitting in front of the computer hitting “refresh” all morning for it.

I’ve always been a fan of getting the full experience — going to the store before sunrise, waiting on line, picking up my device among a crowd of people who are as excited as I am. Placing an order on a web site and waiting at home for the FedEx guy to show up sounds pretty boring. And actually takes longer, because you have to wait for the FedEx guy all day instead of waiting for the store to open at 7AM or whatever.

Well this time I did it. I think it was probably because I’ve been reading about some suppliers having trouble meeting demand for the iPad 3 screens, and that got me worried that the number of pre-orders that actually arrive on time might be small. So I determined that I had to make my decision about whether or not I wanted this thing in real time, as it was being announced, so I could know whether to pre-order as soon as the store re-opened for business.

Well after the announcement, it was still some time before the Yellow Sticky of Anticipation gave way to the pre-order screens. While I was somewhat underwhelmed by the announcement, it had everything I needed (the retina display), and nothing that gave me pause (like eliminating the 30-pin dock connector, or changing the form factor). Siri would have been nice, but there was speculation that due to the need for an always-on internet connection, they might not want to have a half-assed implementation for wifi-only devices. Still, I think if they’d included it with the 4G models, it would work properly, and probably encourage a hell of a lot of people who were on the fence to spend more for the 4G and data plan. I myself ordered the 4G, but partially because the data plans are very flexible, and you don’t have to have a contract. I want the radio in there just to be safe, but I’m curious if I’ll frequently use it, or if tethering to my iPhone is a workable solution when I’m away from wifi. I’m really undecided about all that, but dropping like $800 on something and realizing later that you bought the wrong one would suck. This way, the worst that could happen is I realize I spent a little more than I needed to.

Just a little mathematical game. If the iPad actually gets 73Mbps on LTE, it would take approximately 30 seconds to go over your monthly data limit on a 250MB plan. I’m going to try my damnedest to stick to that, though.

Anyway, this post is about the online purchase experience.

When the yellow sticky finally went away, I got through a couple of introductory “hey there’s a new iPad!” screens, hit about a million buttons that said “pre-order” before actually being taken anywhere that asked me to choose a device and start, you know, ordering it. The site was slow, but I was making progress.

I hit my first snag when I realized I didn’t plan in advance what color smart cover I wanted. I was actually expecting a new form factor, so I hadn’t thought at all about buying existing accessories, other than the fact that I wanted a smart cover if that was still how things worked with the new device. I thought about it as quickly as I could, and settled on the dark gray. I added it to my cart for $39.99. Then I was like, “wait a minute, this is an existing product — I could get one cheaper on Amazon and get points.” Then I went to Amazon, and no, actually, the dark gray one is pretty hard to come by. Then I was like, “I could go to an Apple Store during the coming week and see them all in person, so I can make a more informed decision, and it will also give me a tiny bit of the thrill of going to the store and having a physical thing to bring home.

So I decided to remove the cover from my cart. This is where the wheels start to come off the whole ordering process.

I removed the item and continued on my way through the screens. I logged into my account, entered my shipping address, and confirmed my credit card info. Then I noticed that the purchase amount is really high, even with the $70 sales tax. Somehow the smart cover had made its way back into my cart. Now remember, this is an item I’m going to buy, I just kind of wanted to see it in the store first to be sure. In order to remove the item again, it warned me I would have to go back to my cart, undoing all the entry I’ve done on this screen. I seriously debated if I was asking for trouble, or if I should press on ahead since I miraculously seemed to have gotten my order in before the store totally crashed under the demand. Like a damn fool, I went back.

I swear to god, I lost an hour of my life for that decision. Who knows how many thousands of people — tens of thousands? — got their orders in ahead of me, and what effect that might have if supplies are low. It’s still relatively early. I suspect that when pre-orders get delayed, they don’t affect the people who ordered in the first two hours. But still, Apple has been known to sell things at unprecedented rates.

Anyway, when I went back to fix my cart the store started buckling under the strain: error screens, buttons that when clicked did nothing and generated no progress bars or indication that the site is “thinking.” It was like the early days of the web, when you could click a button and then go make a snack and come back and see if it did anything, or whether you needed to click it again. That age-old debate of, “if I click it again will it go faster, or will I just confuse it and make it start all over again?” It was kind of quaint.

After about a half hour of this, I started wondering what the hell that giant data center in North Carolina does. It certainly doesn’t make iCloud not suck. I understand that investing in the kind of capacity that would be needed to smoothly handle events like this would probably only be useful about 48 hours a year, and it’s just not realistic to expect them to plan for it.

But still, I imagined some ambitious and curious Apple engineer spending his free time designing a system that could handle hundreds of thousands of simultaneous orders, maybe even millions. Proudly, he presents his creation to the big-wigs, saying that it could revolutionize Apple’s ability to smoothly handle the throngs of release-day buyers. And I picture Steve being like, “that’s great, but if our customers can place their orders in two minutes, they won’t love their devices as much. Part of the experience is that it took you two hours to buy the damn thing.” And you know what, Steve would have been right.

People always ask, “Why is it that in [insert year here], Apple is the only company in the world that has to take down their website to add a product.” Well of course they fucking don’t! They do it because the yellow sticky is part of the purchase. It’s an extended part of the unboxing. First there’s the yellow sticky, then there’s the progress bar moving slowly before dumping you on an error page, but that lets you know that if you keep hitting command-R, you’ll soon be taken to the re-launched store that takes forever to load each page before losing your order and making you start over again. Finally, after many false alarms, your order is placed. Then after a variable period of time, you get the box. Then you open the box, and you can’t see anything but “designed by Apple in California.” Then you see a glorified paper clip, or a sync cable or something, and finally you peel away the layers to find your device. In short, the web site not working is consistent with the rest of the anticipation involved in buying an Apple product. I forgot to mention the “You’re the next person in line! AT&T’s servers just crashed, please stand here for an hour” part of the experience, but I don’t like that part so much. It’s not cute when AT&T does it.

Anyway, I was starting to get worried about having wasted my chance to beat the crowds, but eventually my order got through. As big of a hassle as it ended up being, I’m glad I can go to the Apple Store and spend time carefully choosing my smart cover.

I think they hit the right span of time between the announcement and the release. There were rumors that it would be released this Friday, which probably would have caused pandemonium with people rushing to get their orders in. They also could have had a disappointing announcement like they have with certain iPhones, where the delay was like a month — too long to sustain the excitement. A week is just right. I have time to enjoy shopping for my smart cover, read up on the new hardware and software features, and think about what apps I want (even buy them in advance so I’m ready), and before I know it I’ll be an iPad owner.

February 28, 2012

Apple’s Non-Teaser Teaser

I call this: mac,tech — Posted by KP @ 6:18 pm

When Apple sends out a teaser about an upcoming product announcement, they’re usually pretty coy, even if overwhelming evidence has already confirmed what the announcement is suspected to include.

The rumor about the current announcement goes something like this: an iPad with a retina display. Pretty much all evidence supports the idea that the iPad 2 is about to be replaced, and that software support for a higher-resolution iPad already exists.

So Apple just sends out a picture of a retina display. The photo is so clear that the team on CSI could identify the fingerprints of the model without even using their magical “enhance” button, and you still can’t see any pixels on the screen. That’s a retina display. That’s definitely not an iPhone. The only things it could be are an iPad or some other device that hasn’t previously existed — that’s constructed just like an iPad. Or a MacBook with a retina display, laying on its screen, displaying iOS upside-down. Nope, I think it’s an iPad.

I should mention that an amazing amount of analysis has gone on around the web today just on the subject of whether this photo proves the removal of the home button. It mostly has to do with the location of the water bubbles on the wallpaper, believe it or not. The conclusion is that either the home button has been removed, or they flipped the iPad upside-down to tease us. I’m ambivalent about the home button. I question what would replace its function, but confident that they wouldn’t get rid of it unless they came up with an elegant solution. There’s also been a decent amount of trouble with the button on the iPhone 4, so maybe they’ve been looking to eliminate the failures that come with having moving parts.

Anyway, we’ll see what it’s all about on March 7. I have been comfortably opposed to owning an iPad until they release one with a retina display. Now that this impediment to iPad ownership appears to be removed, I’m still not convinced it would be useful enough to justify the purchase. My other concern is this rumor about a 15″ MacBook Pro with the form factor of the Air, which if true, would eliminate some of my reasons for wanting an iPad at all. Patiently waiting…

February 26, 2012

Let Me Tell Ye: A Cautionary Tale About Calendars

I call this: computers,mac,phones,tech — Posted by KP @ 6:18 pm

Let me tell ye a story:
Last week I was very nearly late for a meeting because I completely lost track of its existence. In my defense, it was seriously the only appointment I had all week, and pertains to a job that doesn’t start until April. But I have a habit before I go to bed each night of asking myself what I have to do the next day. Sometimes it’s really obvious, like if I’m rehearsing six days a week and just sent out the next day’s schedule six hours ago, then I don’t usually need to consult a calendar to remind me. But if it’s not immediately obvious, then I check the calendar to be sure.

On the eve of this particular meeting, as I was preparing to shut down my computer and head to bed, I asked myself the usual question of whether I have something in particular to do the next day. And I consciously made the decision not to take the 5 seconds to open iCal and check. So sure was I that I had no responsibility in the foreseeable future.

Well let me tell ye, I was wrong. Thankfully, my PSM texted me a little more than an hour beforehand to double-check where the meeting was being held.

As I sat fuming on a train wondering how this all happened, I broke it down to the most essential failure:

It wasn’t that I didn’t bother to check the calendar. It’s that this appointment was likely to be lost track of in the vast expanse of free time surrounding it, and I didn’t set a reminder alarm to go off several hours beforehand.

I have these kind of alarms for lots of things — when I’m going to visit my parents, the stage managers’ networking event at Equity next month, if there’s something on TV or an event on the internet like an Apple keynote (obviously things that don’t require leaving the house don’t need a 3-hour warning, but I might include a shorter warning in case I’m out shopping and need to get home).

So the real cause of my near-missing of this meeting is why I didn’t set an alarm for something so obviously in need of one. The real reason is because I’ve stopped using them as much.

I stopped using alarms because they had become unreliable.

I had been using my Google Apps account for my calendar, which is great because Google Calendar is kind of the de facto standard in calendar sharing in the theatre industry, even if it seems nobody uses it to its full potential. The problem is, for many months I’ve been having a lot of trouble with alarms properly syncing between iCal and my phone. I had done a lot of experiments with iCal, the Google web app, and the iPhone, trying to figure out the circumstances under which an alarm wouldn’t sync. I had looked for solutions online, and had heard some suggestions that adding a sound to the alarm caused problems, but that didn’t seem to fix it for me (not that silent alarms are a great solution anyway). I was really stumped. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t, and instead of entering my appointment in whatever app I pleased, I was now having to check and double-check on multiple devices just to make sure there really, truly seemed to be an alarm set somewhere.

Let me tell ye: this should have been a huge red flag. A rather important component of my workflow (the one responsible for not forgetting to be somewhere) had essentially stopped working, and while I had spent many hours trying to fix it, I let it continue to be broken. I was smart enough to stop trusting it, but I didn’t replace its function.

Late that night after the meeting, I created a bunch of calendars in iCloud, and gave them the same names and colors as my Google calendars. Then I changed all the appointments pertaining to the upcoming show I’m doing from the Google calendars to their new iCloud equivalents.

Now let me tell ye: I don’t really have great faith in iCloud. It’s no better than MobileMe, which was not much better than dotMac. But I always felt that MobileMe’s calendar syncing was a little more reliable, which is only natural when you’re using apps designed for it, rather than relying on support between two companies’ implementations of calendar standards. The only advantage to using Google Calendar, as far as I could tell, was if I wanted to share calendars. And let me tell ye, I have hardly ever shared my calendars, and definitely won’t need to in the kind of jobs I’ll be doing in the near future. It would also be very easy to convert back. Just a checkbox to turn the account back on in iCal, and one of those blue switchy-things on the iPhone to turn calendar syncing back on for my Google Apps account.

So far things feel a little safer. I am by no means saying that iCloud is a superior platform to Google Apps. On email features alone, I declare it is not. But the most important thing in my workflow should be to prevent data loss, because it could lead to absolute disaster for me and whatever production I’m working on. Sometimes that means picking the safer solution. It’s why I’ve never used Google to sync my contacts — it adds an extra layer of syncing between Address Book and Google, and in 12 years of syncing contacts, if I’ve learned anything it’s that they love to either disappear or inexplicably get duplicated 5 times, and it’s even more fun when field names get mixed up. Since my contacts are just for my own use, I prefer to go from an app to a cloud service to an app that are all designed to work together.

Anyway, my point in posting this is not specifically to talk about which calendar syncs better. The point is that I failed to fix something that was broken in my workflow — I guess because I was stubborn, or because I was afraid of breaking something else by switching formats — and it caused me to become disorganized and nearly make a major mistake. So I present this cautionary tale to anyone who relies on computers as much as I do, or on non-computer routines, for that matter. If something is preventing you from staying organized, fix it. If your thing is that you stick post-its on your corkboard, and you run out of post-its, run to the store and buy more. If your new corkboard makes the post-its fall off, stick them on with push-pins until you figure something out. Don’t stop using the post-its!

Also, it’s a good idea to look at your calendar before you go to bed.

I think this article may elicit some FAQs, so:

Why is Google Apps better than iCloud (for you)?
What I meant about the email being superior is best expressed in this Apple knowledgebase thingy. In short, MobileMe email would not push changes in status other than the arrival of a new message. So if you got 2 emails and read them on your computer, and then deleted them, your phone would still show two new emails until you actually opened the Mail app, at which point it would connect to the server and the emails would be marked read and then disappear off to the trash. Now imagine you’re on a train, and don’t have access to the server. Even more annoying.

Google mail had no such problem — all changes get pushed instantly, so you never have false unread mail alerts, and everything is in the folder where it belongs. Thus proving it’s never been a problem with the phone, with multitasking, or anything else. It’s just that MobileMe sucked. I had hoped that iCloud, whose only selling point was basically “MobileMe, but without the suck,” would fix this behavior. It didn’t. And that knowledgebase article basically says, “yeah, we meant for it to be this way.” So I no longer use any of my old dotMac/MobileMe/iCloud email addresses because it’s so annoying, and clearly not likely to change. Also with Google Apps I can use my own domain name for my email address, and that’s nice. Plus, if I someday didn’t want to use Gmail, I can keep my address and take it somewhere else.

So why don’t you just use Google Apps for everything and forget the syncing to iCal and Address Book?
Because I hate web apps. I do not trust the web, or the cloud, at all. Its only use for PIM (which is a term that’s never used anymore, but it means personal information management, and it’s a useful phrase), is to create local copies of my data simultaneously on all my devices. If it can’t be saved, accessed, and edited offline, and then successfully synced later without fucking everything up, I don’t want it. There are a disturbing number of places where I have to do my business without any internet access, so I prefer to work in well-designed local apps that stay in sync with each other, rather than in web apps that might try to throw in offline access as some kind of afterthought.

I like to know that if my tenuous hold on 1KB of bandwidth is severed while I’m entering data, I’m not going to lose anything, I don’t need to stop working, and I won’t be prevented from accessing data I’ve already entered. Also, I like purpose-built apps that are well designed and reliable at the tasks they were built to do. Sure I could use a browser as an email client. I could also use Photoshop as a word processor.

The only time I appreciate the existence of web apps is when I need to access something from somebody else’s computer, and when I do it’s very useful, but those occasions are rare. Also, they always seem to involve something about a printer that can’t be accessed except from the office computer. So yes, a great option to have in your back pocket, but I’m not comfortable with it as my primary method of working with my data.

You’re insane, you know that?
I offer this FAQ only as an explanation of why I personally have dismissed other available options. My way is far from being the most appropriate solution for everyone.

December 20, 2011

A Small Holiday Gift

I call this: mac,tech — Posted by KP @ 6:15 pm

This is not so much a holiday gift, as it is a re-gift. It’s a gift I’m giving to myself, that thanks to the wonder of digital property, I can re-gift to you at no cost to myself, with virtually no effort.

I have been a Mac user for almost 10 years now, and there are still a couple very basic, very useful keyboard shortcuts that I can never remember. And they’re the ones that aren’t just handy, you actually need them when you need them. Like how to bring up the Force Quit screen when your app has frozen and you can’t mouse over to it in the menu. Or how to put the computer to sleep when you’ve gone and unplugged the mouse (I don’t know exactly why, but this comes up more often than you might expect in my life).

So for a while I’ve had these two shortcuts (as well as another that I can never recall: how to bring up the dictionary) written on a post-it, because I got tired of having to Google them (on another computer or my phone, because of course the computer I’m trying to use them on is out of commission). But a post-it is rather ugly for something on long-term display, so I decided to print out a nicer-looking cheat sheet that I could tape to the shelf over my monitor with a little more dignity. I’m still embarrassed that I need them at all, but perhaps within the next decade I can actually learn them.


*Results would be even better if you don’t use a crappy printer!

If you’d like to have one of these of your very own, just steal the image up at the top of this post and print it out at 100%. It will be ever-so-slightly smaller than a business card (which is largely unintentional, but hey — you can bring it in your wallet if you’re really afraid of being caught without these shortcuts).


October 13, 2011

iOS 5 and iCloud Day

I call this: mac,phones,tech — Posted by KP @ 2:06 pm

I’m a little behind the curve because I spent all day yesterday in a theatre with slow wifi, so I just got around to doing the iOS 5 upgrade last night between 1 and 2AM, which I napped through, and then went straight to bed when it was done. The good news is, I appear to have missed the rush on the servers.

This morning I awoke intending to learn about all things iCloud, but after an easy and successful upgrade to Lion 10.7.2, I hit the wall of server meltdown that is no doubt occurring at Apple’s state-of-the-art, size-of-the-state-of-North-Carolina data center.

So here I sit, periodically clicking through the dozen or so screens of the iCloud sign-up process, only to meet rejection. It reminds me very much of the process of applying one’s Google+ invitation when it first came out.

The reason there are so many screens to click through is that Apple has done a nice job of making sure you understand the consequences of changing your MobileMe account to iCloud: stuff is going to go away. Mostly shared calendars are going to break unless the people you’re sharing with are also on iCloud. I, for one, have never used shared calendars on MobileMe or .Mac, but that’s mostly because not everyone wanted to pay $100 a year for a service that barely worked, and so I had few people to share with. Now that it’s free, maybe it will be a more attractive competitor for Google Calendar.

Also, some of the more obscure things that MobileMe synced (like dashboard widgets, keychain info, and mail accounts) are not synced with iCloud.

There are two other caveats to the upgrade that were cause for some slight concern:

1. All the Macs you sync with must be running Lion I have my old MacBook Pro on Snow Leopard as a contingency for needing to use something that doesn’t work in Lion. So right now I’m creating a Lion partition for that computer, so I can sync it with iCloud (which should be cool), but still boot into Snow Leopard in emergencies.

2. The iCloud sync app for Windows requires Vista or newer Sue me, I don’t think a Mac user should pay for two copies of Windows 7. So my Boot Camp partition is on 7, and my gaming rig still runs XP. As you might gather, I don’t do a whole lot of fancy modern gaming on it anymore. As a matter of fact, I’m currently not playing anything at the moment. You might wonder what the point of even turning it on is. There’s not one, really. But when I do I like to have my bookmarks synced to Safari. So now apparently I won’t be able to do that.

Let me tell ye: I’m not paying like $200 to sync my bookmarks to a computer I rarely use. And frankly, I’m not putting another dime into that computer unless I receive another windfall from whence it came: an overwhelming amount of disposable income from a Broadway show.

I still haven’t quite figured out how iCloud is going to impact my life. I like the idea that my stay-at-home Mac will share more of the same files. I’m hoping that somehow this means I can carry less of my music library on my iPhone, but still be able to quickly download a song or group of songs from the cloud if I find I need them (and yes, I mean need, professionally, not just feel like listening to). The 32GB capacity of the iPhone 4 was pretty sad when it came out over a year ago, and for me is the biggest incentive to get a 4S. I would like to be able to fit a few movies (and about 60 episodes of West Wing, if we’re dreaming big — even 64GB isn’t gonna cut it) on my phone in a quality that will look good on the retina display, and right now I can fit like 1 or 2 at a time. So I’m curious to see how much iCloud can do to reduce the importance of having a large amount of local storage.

But for now, I will have to keep trying again, as the screen suggests. And somehow I don’t expect the experience is going to be any better, with millions of people uploading their entire media libraries at once, until things have a chance to settle down a bit.

October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs

I call this: mac — Posted by KP @ 10:28 am

Last night I didn’t know what to say about Steve Jobs. My morning commute provided the answer.

In my corner of the A train, there were sitting eight people. Let Me Tell Ye about these eight people:
1. (me) iPhone 4
2. iPod Classic
3. Unknown device with Apple earbuds
4. iPod Touch
5. iPod Classic
6. iPhone4
7. iPod nano
8. iPhone 4

When I got off 5 and 8 had been replaced by White iPhone 3GS and Yellow nano, and another White 3GS and Lady with Earbuds were standing between us.

In the interests of full disclosure, at some point a lady sat down between 7 and 8 who seemed to be entertained solely by something called a newspaper, but she left, probably out of boredom, or to go wash the ink off her hands. Actually I think she got off at 59th, so maybe she gave up and decided to go buy an iPad.

This observation reminds me of a day probably around 2003 when I was on an N train, back when MacWorld was still held in New York. There were three guys in Apple polos, looking very much like the sightseeing sailors in On the Town, enjoying their liberty from the convention and studying their maps and obviously a little lost.

They looked around the car and landed on me. Seeing my white earbuds, one guy says, “let’s ask her, she’s got an iPod,” like that was a really exciting and fortuitous discovery. So I gave them directions, took pictures for them, and for the rest of the ride they asked me about my Apple products and what I was using them for. The point of this story is they approached me because I was the only person on the train with Apple earbuds.

The world has changed. RIP Steve.

Sent from my iPhone

September 17, 2011

How I’m Using Evernote Today

I call this: mac,pc,tech,theatre — Posted by KP @ 6:51 pm

Just a quick use case for Evernote in rehearsal.

Right now we’re still focusing on music, so one of the few things to track in rehearsal is what songs we’ve covered. That’s the biggest challenge on this show — there are 31 of them.

When I’m PSM, I have a ridiculous database that tracks things like this, but this is a pretty simply-structured show, being basically a revue, with minimal blocking, sets and props, and most of what the database does is either not needed, or not needed when I’m the ASM.

Back when I was doing pre-production I made myself an Evernote note with the names of all the songs, because I wasn’t familiar with the show and knew I’d need to be referring to it often. If I were really on top of things I’d have the names of the characters who sing them on there. Maybe that’s my next project.

I didn’t really plan this, but I had nothing to do in rehearsal, and when I have free time when assisting, I do one of two things: create more paperwork than I probably need, and monitor things that the PSM is already doing, just in case it becomes helpful to have that redundancy — for instance if the PSM needs to be out of the room for an extended period he will miss some of what we were working on, and my paperwork can be used to double-check his list for the report.

So I started using my note to not just list the songs, but to check them off as we learn them. I love checkboxes in Evernote. On the Mac you can make them quickly with shift-command-T. I have a suspicion it’s shift-ctl-T on Windows. The system I came up with is that when we start a song, it gets a checkbox. When the song is completely taught it gets a checkmark.

Nothing fancy, but sometimes Evernote is so open-ended that I don’t quite know what to do with it. So here’s an example.

I only wish the iOS client didn’t crash so much. I would keep my run sheet on it. But I can’t have a run sheet that crashes just before a scene change, or loses its most recent changes, and I feel like that would happen at least five times a day, which is five times more per run than I can accept. Currently I’m writing the run sheet in Word. I’m not sure yet what method I’ll use during tech. It will very likely be paper.

September 13, 2011

The Evolution of Recording Music Rehearsals

I call this: mac,phones,tech,theatre — Posted by KP @ 9:19 pm

Today we started rehearsal for Ain’t Misbehavin’. After a very complex and inspiring opening speech from Andr√© De Shields, we spent the rest of the day on music.

While watching the actors rehearse, I noticed something I had not seen before: one of our actors was using her iPad to record her music. There’s really nothing surprising about this, but I made a mental note that it’s another small step in the evolution of technology in the rehearsal process. In addition to its capability for recording, she also uses one of the many piano simulators available for iOS to find her notes when reviewing music.

A History Lesson as Taught By A Largely Inattentive Observer

Most singers in musical theatre bring some kind of recording device with them to music rehearsals. They use it to capture their individual vocal parts as they’re being taught, the song as it is sung with everyone, and often they will use time on breaks or after rehearsal to have the musical director play through a whole song with the piano part only, creating essentially a karaoke track that they can then sing along with at will. The recordings allow them to continue to review the music at home, on the train, or anywhere else that they don’t have access to an accompanist. Naturally the recording device that allows this is an important tool.

When I started out, tape recorders — either full-size or mini cassettes — were what everybody used. Sometimes an actor would run out of tapes and would be lucky to be able to borrow a spare from a colleague. Batteries would die, and a stage manager who could immediately produce two AAs was a hero.

Around 2005 it seemed that many younger or more tech-savvy actors had switched over to purchasing a mic attachment for their iPods, allowing them to record huge amounts of music and sort through their recordings in an organized manner.

Naturally the plain ol’ iPod gave way to the iPhone and iPod Touch, which have built-in microphones and offer an even easier user interface for making and organizing recordings. The iPad is basically the same thing with a giant screen, so it’s no less useful. Maybe what struck me most about it was not so much what the iPad was doing for music rehearsals, but what its presence signifies in terms of how common the device has become since the iPad 2 came out. It definitely seems more mainstream, and no longer just an expensive experiment for early adopters and Apple enthusiasts. I actually feel like a little bit of a luddite for not having one, or thinking I need one.

I consider myself lucky that my stage management career has spanned a very interesting 10 years. I was around to see the end of a different way of doing things, but thankfully not for too long before the internet age took hold of most aspects of production. I imagine it’s something like what took place when computers began to operate lights, sound and automation in terms of the way the business has changed.

Today in rehearsal the actors were waiting to have their measurements taken, and engaging in a lively discussion about the ups and downs of the business. One of the women somehow got on the subject of the answering service, which made me laugh because it’s been so long since I’ve heard anybody bring up the idea of a service. The rest of the actors in the cast had never used one, having never worked professionally in the time before ubiquitous cell phones, email and texting. I added the stage managers’ perspective — how if, for instance, a call time changed, you had to call every actor at their home, their service, and their cell or pager number — because you never knew which phone they would be near, and cell phones were expensive and had short battery life, so were often turned off when not needed. And you certainly couldn’t rely on actors or production people to a) have an email address, or b) check it more than once a week. Nowadays you can send a single email or text to a mailing list and be confident everybody will get it in a timely manner, and with accurate information — imagine having to leave the same phone message 75 times in a row, and hoping you didn’t accidentally say the wrong time or day on one of them! And that is by far the best thing that’s happened to stage management in the last 10 years.

One last tip on the subject of recording vocal rehearsals: if by some chance your actor forgets to bring their recording device, whatever it may be, a handy way for the generous stage manager to help them out is to use your computer (or iPhone) to record their song and then email it to them immediately — a relatively painless way to keep their process moving, and have the song(s) waiting for them when they get home. The duration of said rehearsal would determine how time-intensive this favor is, but on the occasions that I’ve done it, the very grateful actor and musical director were economical and specific about when they were ready to record, which makes it pretty easy.

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