July 10, 2011

“The Mac is Kicking Ass” Music Video

I call this: computers,mac,tech — Posted by KP @ 1:36 pm

OK, I’m not a huge fan of autotune, or stupid YouTube videos, and I clicked on this one with very low expectations, but it won me over with its charming tune and visuals.

It’s Phil Schiller at Apple’s recent WWDC, auto-tuned and set to music.*

In other news, I am impatiently awaiting the release of Mac OS X Lion, rumored for July 14, which is 4 days from now, and entirely too far away. I think perhaps I should watch the WWDC keynote again to refresh my memory about how some of the new features work so I can get down to business once it’s installed.

*one note: for some reason the video uses a clip of the $129 price tag. That was part of Phil showing what OS upgrades used to cost. Lion, like Snow Leopard before it, is $29. Much more kick-ass.

July 2, 2011

Let Me Tell Ye: That’s Not a Broken Caps Lock Key, That’s a Feature!

I call this: mac,tech — Posted by KP @ 1:29 pm

I learned something today. I don’t know when it happened, but I feel like I don’t take the time to have my finger on the pulse of the computing world anymore. This one slipped by me at least a year ago, probably much longer.

If you own a Mac, you may be familiar with how the eject key requires a longer keypress than a normal key to eject your media. When this feature was introduced, it was disturbing at first, but I quickly grew to be OK with it, since ejecting media isn’t that common compared to pressing other keys, and is kind of a big commitment that will take at least several seconds to rectify if you do it without meaning to. A slightly more purposeful press of the key isn’t that hard.

When I upgraded from a 2007 to 2010 MacBook Pro, I thought there was something wrong with my caps lock key. Sometimes it just wouldn’t activate until after several presses. It happened often enough that I knew it wasn’t just my imagination, so I got this nagging feeling that there’s something wrong with my computer. Not something big enough to be worth fixing, but I started thinking, “What if my keyboard is defective? What if the problem starts to affect other keys? I can deal with having to hit caps lock more than once and make sure the green light comes on, but what if it happens to the ‘A’ key? Is it serious enough that I should get it repaired rather than suffer with a defective keyboard for years?”

Well today, as I said, I learned something.

Let me tell ye: this is a feature.

Yes, your caps lock key is designed not to activate when you press it. I don’t know exactly how many milliseconds you’re supposed to press it for. Based on my non-scientific method of pressing it for different periods of time, I’d say that if you tap it the way you would tap a normal key in the process of typing, it won’t activate, but if you give it a determined press (less than a second, for sure), it will work.

I’m not so much angry about this design choice (which might actually be a good one) as I am annoyed that I’ve spent over a year with this machine thinking it’s broken. I don’t know how I was supposed to know about this unusual feature, but if I knew about it, I might have saved myself a lot of time by learning to press the caps lock key more firmly rather than failing to activate it, having to delete what I’ve typed, then spending a good 30 seconds testing the key to make sure it works, and wondering whether the computer needs to be repaired.

I don’t know when this feature was introduced, obviously sometime between my last two laptops, and I don’t know if the current desktop keyboards support it, but I’ll bet they do. Anyway, I’m mostly blogging this not to rant, but as a public service announcement, if anybody else is as perplexed by their caps lock key as I was. Had I not read a blog comment that mentioned it in passing, I’d have never known.

May 17, 2011

Evernote Use Cases

I call this: computers,mac,pc,phones,tech,web — Posted by KP @ 9:44 pm

I made my first post about Evernote back in August, as I was preparing for the last Acting Company tour. If you’re not familiar with Evernote, I suggest reading that first, as it will give you a basic idea of what the app does. In very brief, it stores and categorizes any text, document, photos, or other media you want, and makes them searchable and available on the cloud (and as a result can also sync with your phone and between your computers).

I had just begun using Evernote when I made my first post, and since then have mentioned it in passing on occasion. My assistant, Meaghan, and I had been sharing Evernote notes during the tour, as well as keeping our own individual notes about various things related to the show. Now that the tour is complete and I’ve been using Evernote for about nine months, I finally feel prepared to really write about how I use it, not how I thought I would use it. So I went through all my notes to sum up which ones are/were most useful.

Like most things in my life, I find I can divide it into three categories: work, personal, and technology. So that’s how I’m going to break it up. Behold!


  • Cast checklist This is by far the most useful single note in my Evernote. All it is is a list of the full names of the cast, with a checkbox by each one. Initially this can be used as a reference for remembering people’s first and last names, and checking spelling. Once you get to the point where you know everybody’s name, it’s basically used for taking a headcount, or marking off when things have been completed for each actor (such as if you were making labels for their valuables bags). I think it’s fair to say that Meaghan and I used this note nearly every day, very often multiple times per day.
  • Other checklists Some other uses of the handy checklist features of Evernote are for prop presets, pre- or post-show checklists, and one of my favorites, the list of things needing to be run at fight call, and the actors and weapons needed for each one.
  • Rule books and contracts I tend to also have these files on my DropBox, but this is something that is worth the redundancy, I think. I keep the PDFs of all applicable Equity rule books, contracts, riders, letters of agreement, etc.
  • Codes On the TAC tour we had a note filled with all the codes we’d accumulated over the tour: copier codes, combination locks for our road boxes, door unlock codes, bus door codes, computer usernames and passwords, etc.
  • Procedures How to do things you might otherwise forget how to do. An example of this would be on The Comedy of Errors, we used the house’s main curtain in our show. In theatres where that wasn’t possible or desirable we had an alternate set of lighting cues. In theory they were written into the show file. But I kept a note with the designer’s original notes of all the changes made to the original show file to create the curtainless cues, as well as a breakdown of the steps that needed to be taken to make the routine switch between the curtain show and the non-curtain show.
  • “People Who Have Gotten Screwed” I have a note with this title, which is simply a list of names (there were three by the end of the tour). The gist is that when somebody gets arbitrarily screwed (like there’s no way to make the schedule without somebody having a four-hour break in the middle of their day), the person who gets screwed gets their name on this list. The next time that kind of decision has to be made, if there are multiple people who could potentially be screwed, a person with their name on this list will be passed over for screwing.
  • Interview or initial hiring notes When somebody first calls me about a job, I use Evernote to take down quick notes about the name of the show, who’s involved, where it’s being done, the dates, and salary if known.
  • Quotes I kept a list of all the funny quotes that came up during the tour.
  • Directions and maps I’ve got some notes with maps and written directions for how to get to various venues and rehearsal studios.
  • Truck pack info I didn’t end up using this as much as I intended to (probably due to not being able to type on my iPhone with my gloves on), but I had a note for documenting our truck pack, which could be lists of the order items come on in, as well as pictures of various sections of the pack to show how the items fit together.
  • Travel info / itineraries Any time I got a flight itinerary (which sometimes was way in advance), I threw it in Evernote and didn’t worry about it again, knowing I would always know where to find it when I needed it.
  • Notes for reports On more informal shows, I take my notes for the rehearsal / performance report on my phone if it’s not convenient to have my computer out. It’s also handy for making lists of questions to ask the director, or for topics to bring up at a production meeting. Then when I get home or back to my computer, I can process them more appropriately.
  • Exit interview notes While on tour, I knew that at the end of the season I would be brought in for a meeting with the general manager to discuss what was good and bad, what had improved or not since last year, and so forth. I’m pretty terrible at remembering these kind of things six months after they happen, so from the start of the tour I kept a note with all these thoughts.


  • Shopping lists Definitely my favorite in this category. Great for quick, disposable lists like groceries, and also for long-term shopping that I might not get to for a while, like things I want to get for my apartment.
  • Movie and book recommendations Any time I hear about a book or movie I might like, I go to my “Books” or “Movies” notes and jot down the title and maybe a reminder of what it’s about, or the author. This helps me not to forget things that I’m interested in, because when I’m in need of some new entertainment, I can just go down the list and head over to Netflix or to bn.com to see if any are available.
  • Insurance information I have a note with various information about my health insurance plan, and another covering my eye doctor visits last year. I haven’t needed to reference them yet, but it will be very handy over time to have documented when my last check-up was, the doctor’s name, etc.


  • All useful infomation My most prized note in this category sums up everything there is to know about my Mom and Dad’s technological lives. I did a total revamp of their house quite a few years back, and do periodic upgrades and maintenance on their computers and network. Naturally I don’t always remember all the details, so I have a file that has all their various usernames and passwords, router names and passwords, wi-fi network name and password, and computer names. I use this all the time when I’m over at their house.
  • Ink cartridge information This could be as simple as a line of text with the cartridge numbers, but I prefer to take a snapshot of the printers’ ink cartdrige, mostly because it’s faster to take the picture than to transcribe the information. Also it gives you visual confirmation of what the cartridge should look like, which is sometimes helpful.
  • Troubleshooting procedures When something goes wrong with my stuff and I find the directions to solve it online, I generally make a note with that information, if I feel like it’s something I won’t remember if it ever happens again.
  • Terminal commands and other shortcuts Ever find something online like “just type ____________ in the terminal to get this really useful option”? That’s great. Until you reinstall your OS or get a new computer, and then you forget all about that thing you cut-and-pasted two years ago. So I have a single note (which used to be a Word document I dragged around from computer to computer) that holds all of these.
  • Specs of my computer I have one that’s just a screenshot of the item description of the last batch of RAM I bought. I’m pretty bad at remembering my computers’ specs over time, so I keep them in various notes. This also includes serial numbers and MAC addresses.
  • Product keys I really keep all my product keys in 1Password, but when I first get something I often snap a photo of the product key if it’s on the box or the CD or whatever. That way I can be sure I don’t lose it or accidentally throw it out before putting it into 1Password.
  • Configuration info The one that saves me the most time is the settings for Coda, which is the web development software I use. There’s a configuration screen that allows the app to access the local and remote versions of this site, and every time I have to re-enter that information I screw it all up. So now I have it in a note, with a screenshot of how everything should be filled in.


These are the notes I’ve found most useful. Evernote can really be used for whatever you want. For instance, I don’t make any attempt to make it a task manager, as I have the much more powerful and dedicated OmniFocus for that. I wouldn’t say that I’m a power user of Evernote. I do have the $5/month Premium subscription, which allows me gazillions of gaziggabytes of uploads (I believe that’s the technical term) per month (which is more necessary when you’re uploading photos), but I rarely have really needed that subscription. I think about bumping back to the free version (Evernote is fantastic about not making you lose any of your stored data if you decide to go back to free), but I keep thinking “it’s just $5” and I like the app so much. And I really don’t want to lose the 150×150 pixels or whatever it is that the ads take up. But if you were on a budget, you could easily survive the workflow that I normally use on the free account.

December 23, 2010

Dropbox is the Shiznit

I call this: computers,mac,pc,phones,tech,theatre — Posted by KP @ 10:57 pm

Over the past six months or so, I’ve written a couple posts which mentioned my interests in incorporating cloud computing into my stage management life a little more. I talked about the wonders and terrors of cloud computing in general, and mentioned in passing about the software Meaghan and I are using on this tour.

Over the summer — I don’t think I talked much about it — over the course of three productions, I quietly and tentatively began using Dropbox to store my folder of show files on the cloud. I used to use MobileMe’s iDisk for this purpose, but being slow as all hell, and just as likely to corrupt and delete your data as to save your bacon when you need remote access to a file, I would periodically back up to MobileMe, but never actually trust it with the primary copy of the show files.

At the urging of several of my colleagues (and readers), I tried out Dropbox. As I said in one of my other posts, “It’s just like MobileMe, except it works.” So while it’s redundant, it’s also completely life-changing. Over the summer I went from cautiously putting my show files on it while keeping backups elsewhere on my hard drive, to using it as the primary storage point. I also back up to a Time Machine drive, of course, so in theory there is an isolated copy that’s at most several days old, even if Dropbox totally fails and deletes an important file both from the server and from my local copy.

The Acting Company tour this year is the first production I’ve done where every file related to the show (except the backup of our SFX files, which is over 2GB) is kept on the Dropbox, and is shared with my ASM. The files are also stored locally, so we also have offline access to the most updated files on our hard drives, for those times when we’re in a basement theatre or the bus has driven into a patch of wilderness, without ever having to think about making manual backups or syncing.

For all intents and purposes, as far as the show is concerned, it’s like both our computers share a single hard drive. And our iPhones can access that drive if they need to, as well. It’s like the most exciting thing to happen to stage management since the headset. Only once have I seen a situation where we both tried to edit the same file at once, and it seemed to have been handled safely, if a little clumsily, with a copy being saved in each of our names. For the most part, Meaghan has things she keeps paperwork on, and I have others, so the odds of us needing to edit the same file at the same time are surprisingly low. We tend to reference each other’s paperwork a lot, but not necessarily collaborate heavily on the same thing. In a different situation the limitations of this system might get more annoying.

Also, here in Minneapolis, Meaghan has been using the Guthrie-provided laptop. She can’t install Dropbox on it, sadly, but can still access and upload files through a web browser, which is not nearly as convenient, but still a great option to have when you’re using somebody else’s computer that’s locked down.

My favorite story comes from the New York rehearsal process of R&J: we made a change to the script, and some hours or days later, I went to add the new text to our Word file of the script. When I got to the appropriate page there was a happy purple bubble pointing to the already changed text telling me that Meaghan had made such-and-such an edit on such-and-such a date. After last year’s extensive re-writes, which Nick and I took turns updating by emailing the file back and forth to each other (and having to be very meticulous about who had the absolute most current file), I was actually stumped for a moment at how this had happened. But it’s so simple. There is really only one copy of every file, so there’s virtually never an issue of “my copy”/”her copy.” We’ve been working this way for three months now, and I can’t imagine how stages were ever managed before this!

So I just want to say to any stage management team: Dropbox. Do it. It will change your life. In the good way!

November 8, 2010

RAM and Virtualization

I call this: computers,mac,pc,tech — Posted by KP @ 6:09 pm

For as long as I’ve had a Mac, I’ve had an install of Windows on it. Back in the day it was VirtualPC, then when Intel Macs came out it was Boot Camp and Parallels. I’ve had some trouble with Parallels over the years, but overall I’ve preferred it to the competing VMWare Fusion every time I’ve tried Fusion out. There’s just one problem: Parallels charges like $50/year for upgrades. And there’s always the same features touted: “faster, and you can play 3D games! No seriously, this time you can play 3D games. Not like last year when we said that and none of the games you play would actually work. This time we really mean it.” Anyway, working or not, for an $80 app, $50 for a yearly upgrade feels like a lot relative to the cost of the initial purchase, when the functionality doesn’t really increase in the same proportion. It’s not like 5/8ths of the app is new features.

This year, right around the time Parallels 6 came out, demanding $50 for what sounds like pretty much exactly the features I have now, VMWare sent out an email advertising a deal whereby a person owning a license for Parallels could buy Fusion for ten bucks. Think about that for a moment. You could spend $50 to upgrade an app you’ve already paid for three times before, or you could buy an entirely new app that does essentially the same thing for TEN BUCKS.

First of all, I haven’t been very happy with the performance of Parallels lately. I had 4GB of RAM in my Macbook Pro, and Parallels was running like crap. I’d tried all sorts of configurations, some worked better than others, but just opening the start menu took like 10 seconds sometimes. I wanted to upgrade to 8GB, but it was still pretty expensive, and I was broke.

When the VMWare deal came out, I jumped on that, of course, cause I’d pay $10 just to have someone find the person who decided on Parallels’ pricing model and kick them in the face. To get an app with it as well would be awesome. So I installed Fusion and it felt basically the same. It’s hard to say since I don’t have too much cause to use either, especially with the obvious RAM shortage I’m having.

Finally, I decided it would be really nice to be able to actually use these apps, and I once again researched the cost of RAM. I always buy my RAM from Crucial, at least for my Macs, because I just trust them. RAM is a hard thing to shop for. You really can’t tell what you’re getting ahead of time, and it can even be hard to tell after the fact if your RAM sucks. So all you really have to go by is the reputation of the company. Crucial was still a little out of my desired price range, but then I realized that Amazon actually sells Crucial RAM. Their price was better than buying it direct, and I had some gift certificate money to spend as well, which brought it down to a reasonable cost. So as we were going on the road in a week, I rushed to make my purchase.

The RAM arrived when we were in tech for Romeo and Juliet. I had it delivered to the office because I knew I’d be at the theatre 18 hours a day from then until we went on tour, so our company manager dropped by with it at some point during our day. I was going to wait until lunch to install it, but decided on a 10 that I had to try it. At the start of the 10 I shut down my computer and began taking it apart. When I was finished and had rebooted we still had four-and-a-half minutes remaining on the break. I was pretty impressed with myself.

Honestly I don’t notice the speed all that much when going about my normal OS X activities. 4GB is still plenty for day-to-day work. However, there is a HUGE improvement in running Windows simultaneously. It almost feels as smooth as if it’s running natively. I have 3GB allotted to the virtual machine.

Gaming-wise, I don’t ever expect it to compete with running in Boot Camp, but you can actually get things done in games. Especially if you’re playing MMOs or something that doesn’t require instant reflexes all the time, it would be perfectly serviceable for doing more leisurely tasks.

As far as Parallels vs. Fusion, I don’t really have enough evidence to do a side-by-side comparison. I was also running last year’s Parallels and upgraded to this year’s Fusion, so that’s not really fair. I would have to buy Parallels 6 to really say anything. I will say that the one thing I miss from Parallels is Modality mode, in which you can have a tiny, semi-transparent window showing your Windows screen floating over your Mac stuff, and actually click in it and do stuff. If you’re doing background tasks, such as installing software, in Windows, you can keep an eye on its progress without it taking up your screen. There doesn’t seem to really be an equivalent to that feature in Fusion, which is a shame. Honestly, as software, I’ve always liked Parallels better and would never have been inclined to switch, except for the exorbitant cost of keeping up with the latest versions. The only reason I have v. 5 is that it was offered as part of a bundle, where for $50 I got Parallels plus like 10 other apps. If that happens again I’ll probably end up with a v. 6 license at some point, but I feel the official upgrade cost is pretty insulting.

It’s not really my intent to make this post a comparison of the two apps. The point is equally valid for both: if you’re struggling running virtualization because of RAM issues and are considering investing in more RAM, do it! It’s totally worth it! It will change the way you use your virtual machine.

November 5, 2010

Office 2011 and the Ways in Which Outlook Sucks

I call this: mac,tech — Posted by KP @ 4:21 pm

This week I purchased Office 2011 for Mac. I had been wavering on whether I really wanted it, but I’ve been using Word and Excel a lot more than Pages and Numbers recently, for compatibility purposes, and figured for that reason alone I probably deserved the latest and greatest.

I was also very excited to try Outlook. I had used Entourage, which was “the Mac version of Outlook” for many years, and loved it up until the point that it started to fall behind in compatibility with more recent advancements in PIM standards. When I had Palm devices which had to be plugged into a computer to sync, Entourage worked reasonably well. But these days everything is on the cloud. I use both MobileMe and Google Apps, and for several years I have expected that when I make a change on my desktop, in a web app, or on my phone, it will be synced everywhere instantly.

Entourage was not really caught up to this trend, but to be fair, 2008 was the last major release, and a lot has changed since then in the mobile computing world. It was unfortunate that Microsoft didn’t see fit to fully get with the times, but that’s what makes people buy the next edition, right? It seemed fair enough.

The fact that in Office 2011, MS has ditched Entourage and started calling its email client Outlook was seen as a sign by many in the Mac community that we would be treated more like equals, with a greater interoperability between our apps and their Windows counterparts.

I really am not too much of a heavy user of Word and Excel, and far prefer Keynote and won’t even touch Powerpoint, but so far all those apps seem fine to me. I’m happy about all the changes I’ve observed thus far.

Outlook, however, is a huge disappointment.

Calendar BS

First of all, let me get this out of the way. If you’re not an Exchange user (which if you’re an average stage manager at a place that’s someplace other than the Guthrie, you’re probably not), there is no way to sync Outlook’s calendar to anything. That’s right: anything. And they know this, and put it in a box with a $199 price tag, and sold it. I guess it’s sort of like a wall calendar or something. You’re supposed to write stuff on it, and when you want to know what’s on your calendar, you go back to the same place and look at it. While that has a lovely 19th century charm, I don’t think it’s what people were expecting from an app like Outlook in 2011.

Microsoft has stated that the sync features for the calendar were not performing up to standards, so they released without it, and will patch it later. How much later, nobody is willing to say. Also, what they’re talking about is Apple’s sync services, which means syncing with iCal, not with any other devices or cloud servers. So your calendar syncs with iCal and iCal syncs with other stuff. Currently the Address Book has this feature, and it’s not as much of a disaster as it sounds like, but it seems like asking for trouble to me.

There has been no mention of CalDAV support (primarily useful for Google calendars, which everybody and their mother who’s not on Exchange uses to share calendars). Entourage had Sync Services support, but not CalDAV, so there’s a history there of ignoring this very popular standard. I’m not actually sure what would happen with Sync Services, if my iCal is syncing with my Google Calendars and Outlook is syncing with iCal — will all my calendars appear properly and be fully functional, even though they’re not native to iCal? I have no idea, and if they don’t I will have a shitfit.

It should also be noted that Exchange users are also up in arms because Outlook discontinued support for Exchange 2003. I don’t know much about this, but I guess it’s hard on a lot of smaller businesses that can’t afford to upgrade all their systems just to accommodate some Mac users.

Other BS

So I thought, “OK, the calendar is useless, but it might be interesting to try using Outlook just as a mail / contacts client in the meantime.” In some ways this has been fine, although it feels a little more rickety in sucky-internet situations common on the road. I’m never quite sure where my emails will go if I lose connection in the middle of a process.

However, many of my attempts to set up and use email have been thwarted by pretty obvious bugs (which have been confirmed by users of the MacBU’s forums). BTW the best thing about the Office for Mac forums is that the fancy log-in form is incompatible with Safari. I don’t have independent confirmation of that, but I had to use Chrome.

Anyway, let us examine some bugs:

  • Say you have an app that wants to create an email. Generally you hit “send email” and it opens your default email client, creates a new message, and populates it in some way with your data as appropriate. For instance, I write my show reports in a FileMaker database, and when I’m done I hit the email button and it generates a mailing list and creates a mail message to that list with an appropriate subject line, and a plain-text version of the report, and attaches a PDF of the full report. The first time I tried this with Outlook as the default client, it failed. It brought Outlook to the foreground, and then nothing happened. Five seconds of Googling identified this as a common bug. Apparently it can’t handle requests from other apps to create mail. So, back to using Apple’s Mail.app as my default client.
  • I tried to reply to an email and it wouldn’t copy the body of the original email into my reply, just the headers. It’s only happened with one message so far, but I couldn’t figure out why. Mail.app had no problem with it.
  • Outlook happily imported my messages from Mail. I keep my old emails in local folders, organized by year. I was pleased the import went so well, until I discovered all the messages were duplicated. So I went back to Mail, used a script to make sure all dupes were eliminated, and then tried again. Same thing. FAIL.
  • To avoid this duplicate problem, I tried to save all my yearly folders, and then import them one at a time in mbox format. Saving them was no problem, nor was finding the Outlook option for “Import messages from an MBOX-format text file.” It seemed like everything would be grand. Except when you go to select the file you want, it won’t let you select a .mbox file! It’s greyed out! Some folks online have solved this by importing into Outlook for Windows, and then creating an Outlook-native file and importing it. But not all of us have access to a Windows Office install.

I would like to point out that the last situation is a great example of how epic the fail is here. People might say, essentially, “it’s a feature, not a bug” and suggest that maybe there’s something wrong with the way Apple has implemented the mbox standard, and that’s why Outlook can’t read it. Well then how do you explain that Outlook for Windows could open those mbox files? The only explanation is that Outlook 2011 is just not as good as the Windows app of the same name.

Given that Office is the undisputed king of “productivity” software, which basically means “stuff people need constantly throughout the day to do their jobs,” it seems to me that these kind of flaws are things that people need to be working in hours or days, as opposed to weeks or months, but I fear that it may be the latter. With this kind of uncertainty, I don’t recommend that anybody switch to Outlook right now.

September 5, 2010

Let Me Tell Ye: Windows 7 Upgrade

I call this: computers,mac,pc,tech — Posted by KP @ 11:20 pm

It’s been a while since I’ve done a “Let Me Tell Ye” post, so just a reminder / warning that in addition to some useful computer tips, you’re going to get some snark.

I’ve been using Windows XP since late 2001, shortly before I switched to Mac (basically WindowsME was what made me switch, and by the time XP came out, my mind was made up, but I bought it just to get me through the last couple months before I could afford a Mac). Since then I’ve always had an install of Windows on my Mac, which until this week has always been XP. I also have a gaming rig, which also runs XP. I recently hit a point where I felt that Windows 7 had been around long enough that I trust it will be compatible with my games and peripherals, and will provide better performance with modern hardware (such as my 4GB of RAM). Over the summer it made it to the top of my short list of things to buy when I get a little money.

As part of preproduction for my upcoming tour, I’ve been focusing on Windows a little more than usual because I have a PC-using assistant. So I thought it might be a good idea to take the opportunity to buy Windows 7 now, so that if we ever need to do something Windows-based, there won’t be a chance of it not working because I’m using an obsolete OS.

So let me tell ye, without further ado, my experience installing Windows 7 on my MacBook Pro, over an install of XP. I wrote this throughout the process:


So here’s what I’m working with:

  • mid-2010 15″ 2.66GHz i7 MacBook Pro
  • 4GB RAM
  • Mac partition with Snow Leopard 10.6.4
  • Windows partition with XP SP3 32-bit
  • Windows 7 upgrade disk (which comes with 32-bit and 64-bit install disks, I will be attempting 64-bit)

The Begininng

I made sure I had the latest Boot Camp update (3.1) for Windows 32 bit, which gets run on XP before the update. Honestly I’ve never been quite clear how Boot Camp works, but I know it’s necessary for driver support, so I need to make sure that’s done first, and everything I’ve read says this is necessary before installing Windows 7 in Boot Camp.

Step 1: Open the Box

When I had recovered from the optical spectacular that is the hologrammed install disc, I found a loose piece of paper in the box making it sound like if I’m going from XP to Win 7 my life is going to be miserable. So I grabbed one of my spare hard drives, reformatted as NTFS, and got ready for an ordeal.

The instructions sent me to a website to download a helper. I carefully typed in the address (in IE, cause I figured they’d do something stupid like make that important). But because I was using IE, it didn’t send me to the page because I didn’t put “http://”. Sorry. I must have been looking for that other internet, so it’s a good thing you sent me to Windows Live Search instead, where the only result happened to be the page I was looking for.

The first instruction cautions me that when I start the installation I need to select the “custom” option if installing from XP. Well, I know the OS is old. To me it feels like just yesterday because I switched to Mac just a few months after it came out. But let’s not pretend that the only OS in between didn’t suck. Plenty of smart people, and lucky ones who didn’t need to buy new computers, skipped over Vista. So stop acting like those of us still on XP are some kind of technology-shunning aberrations. Thanks.

So it checked that my computer is compatible with both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows 7. Then I was instructed to download the optimistically-named Windows Easy Transfer. Now this “easy” transfer doesn’t actually transfer all your stuff intact, it takes your files, but you need to reinstall your programs. That seems like a pretty smart idea when changing OSes anyway, but I’d call it more like, “We’ll Kinda Help You Transfer.” Like if a friend offers to help you move and all they do is hold the door open for you while you carry the stuff out, and then leave you at the door to your new place with a list to help you remember all the stuff you have to unpack.

While Windows analyzed my computer for ease of transfer, I heard my Mac reboot. Apparently spontaneously and unintentionally, because when I restarted it said the bit about “Windows has recovered from a serious error,” and actually used the word “blue screen” somewhere in there. I wish I had been looking, it would have been a great photo op.

With this comforting sign before I’ve even begun my major upgrade, I started over with the “Easy Transfer” program. That time, it alleged it was able to back up all my files. Then while doing absolutely nothing, my computer initiated a shutdown. It wasn’t a blue screen or anything, just a very calm “windows is shutting down now,” like any other shutdown, except that I hadn’t asked for it. Now I’m hoping that this install will wipe everything, cause obviously it’s F’ed up.

Side note: Dropbox is being real slow. I wonder if Evernote might actually be faster for transferring single large files. I’ve been researching and downloading the files I need from my other computers and then just putting them in my DropBox so I can get them from the machine I’m updating.

So finally I put in my install disc. Because I’m going from a 32-bit OS to a 64-bit one, I have to boot directly from the CD, it can’t be done with the OS loaded. Check out this futuristic loading screen. I’m so excited to be computing in the 21st century!

Of course the progress bar has no bearing on actual progress and freezes at 100% for an uncomfortable period of time. Maybe I should just play a game of Civ 4 or something while I wait so I’m not tempted to mess with it. I’m not kidding, that’s what I’m doing. Let’s see how many millennia I can get through while it loads files.

…I started in 10,000BC, by the year 435AD I gave up.

I came to discover through more googling that apparently while you can upgrade from XP to 7, on a Mac it’s not so easy. Something about how it boots off the CD, and the differences in how Macs and PCs boot. The only path seemed to be to do a clean install. Which is more or less what it was going to end up being anyway, as I understood it, so I didn’t find that to be a problem. Back to the same “loading files” screen… This time I got beyond it. There were even some greater-than-1-bit graphics.

Finally the whole thing installs beautifully. Then I go to put in my product key and it says it’s invalid. I come to find out that you can’t do a clean install from the upgrade disk, despite the fact I had read that you could. It doesn’t bother to ask you for a valid XP product key or install disk. So now I’m back to square one of reformatting and installing XP (which also means an upgrade to SP3 and all other updates since then) before I’m ready to try the upgrade to 7 again.

Total elapsed time so far: 3 hours.

5 hours in, I am now back where I started. I got interrupted when The ’70s called, asking for its progress bar back. I said it was still frozen on my screen and I’d return it when I got it unstuck. I even tried using the 32-bit install disc, thinking that would be an OK solution temporarily until I can figure out how to fix this. But that still told me it needed to boot from the disc, and still froze in the same place.

I googled some more, and found that getting stuck on “Windows is loading files” is very common, for Mac users and regular PC users alike. One lucky fellow I read about said he found the solution to his problem in that after randomly restarting about 10 times, all of them resulting in the process freezing at “loading files,” he was rebooting again, giving up and trying to boot in OS X and suddenly it worked. Mine had only failed about 3 times, so I decided this ridiculous “solution” was worth trying. And on the fourth time, suddenly it loaded fine. So far so good. Back in the 21st century.

If I EVER have to go through this process again I will not be happy. I would just like to point out that this is one of those situations where legitimate users get punished. I can only imagine how many people have installed pirated copies and had none of these troubles because they could have done the clean install and avoided the incompatibilities with XP.

6 hours and counting — it accepted my product key and I’m using the OS. Haven’t installed Boot Camp drivers yet, but it’s run its first software updates.

Boot Camp installed, so I can now see it in full resolution. This is the ugliest OS I’ve ever seen. I don’t think it’s supposed to be. When I start tinkering with settings I’m sure I’ll figure it out. Right, Microsoft?

Well I found the personalization settings. Yeah it does get a little more attractive with all the Aero effects turned on.

The default wallpaper is hideous. I’ve always thought Microsoft was pretty good about that in the past. I don’t like any of the built-in wallpapers. I decided to start with an orange theme, and found a wallpaper I liked online. I’m not sure I like it, but I would have died of boredom with the default theme on. My buttons still turn blue when I mouse over them, and I don’t see a way to change that.

Overall performance seems good. I like that I finally have an OS for gaming that can see all my RAM. I haven’t done a lot of gaming yet, but what I have done feels very good. Sorry, I don’t have any before-and-after FPS comparisons.

So to summarize, if you run into this problem that a lot of people face with the install freezing at “loading files,” the highly sophisticated solution is to just keep doing it over and over and one time it might work. Which, incidentally, is also the definition of insanity.


After getting everything up and running in Boot Camp, I checked it in Parallels. I had to go through a bit of a reinstall, but Parallels handled that pretty well. There was a point where Windows tried to do a repair on itself and failed, but I used the tried-and-true method of “just try it again” and it worked. I wasn’t given any grief about activation. With virtualization you can have problems because the OS sees your machine as having different hardware in Boot Camp and Parallels, and thinks you’re a filthy pirate trying to install it on two different computers. I actually don’t know how they check it, but I’ve never had it reject me since 2007, when I had to call a number and explain to them what I was doing. The nice woman I spoke to in India cleared it without giving me any argument, so it wasn’t a terrible experience. I’m just amazed that as many times as I’ve messed around with that install, it’s never happened again.

Performance in Parallels is something I’ve been struggling with for quite a while. I had finally gotten it to a level I was happy with, which involved devoting less than half my RAM to the virtual machine. Unfortunately Windows 7 requires 2GB of RAM, so I have not tried giving it less than that. I’m still experimenting. I really would like 8GB of RAM, but it’s still pretty expensive.

I wish the install hadn’t sent me on a wild goose chase, but when it was all done, I was able to get the OS I wanted installed, and so far I like it. Of course I won’t really be spending much time in it, but I like what I see so far.

September 4, 2010

Cross-Platform Stage Management

I call this: mac,On the Road Again,pc,theatre — Posted by KP @ 7:16 pm

This tour is going to be something of an experiment, and an opportunity for new stage management technical discoveries, as I have an ASM who uses Windows — I know!

Contrary to popular belief, I will actually choose ASMs who use Windows. And the people I most often assist use Windows, so I’m used to the cross-platform thing, although it’s been a while since I’ve been the PSM in that case and had to decide what software to use for the show. So I had no reservations about Meaghan not being a Mac user. I knew she was a PC user when we worked together two years ago, but I couldn’t remember if she had since switched, and I didn’t ask until this week when I was trying to nail down what software I’m going to use for the tour. Well she has a PC, but she assures me she has an iPhone, which is comforting somehow, and is an advantage I never had with Nick and his cursed-trackball Blackberry.

In day-to-day life I don’t find the OS to make that much of a difference. There were a couple events over the course of two years on tour where I remember saying to Nick, “thank God you have a Mac, or we’d be screwed!” but those were situations where we were already screwed and managed to avoid further screwing. Which is good. But those situations are rare, and if you are lucky enough not to be screwed in the first place, then you have nothing to worry about. The big one I remember was when my computer just up-and-died one day, an hour before the show. I was able to install all the software I needed on Nick’s and carry on. It was great, but in reality if that happened again, especially in the more cloud-based world we have now two years later, most things would be fine on a PC, and if I really needed a Mac, there will be like 15 more of them on tour and I could borrow somebody else’s to get what I need converted into PC-friendly form. But those kind of contingency plans will be part of the decisions I make when setting up our digital world.

The first of which is that there needs to be a backup of all our critical files on a drive formatted for FAT32. My backup drive, which uses Time Machine, is formatted for HFS+, which is the format required for Mac-bootable drives. I think I may keep all our files and installers on an 8GB thumb drive that I just purchased. Our show files are on DropBox so we both have access to them, so that’s a pretty good backup right there, but it might be smart to have an offline copy as well. I’ll probably keep that backed up every day or two.

I also have Windows running on my Mac (both natively, and alongside Mac OS using Parallels), which might come in handy if we need to share something in a Windows-only way. I was still using XP for compatibility with older games, and out of cheapness, but when I had the money, wanted to buy Windows 7. I would hate to find us in a situation where we can’t share something because I was still on XP, so I started to think of it as a business necessity to invest in the upgrade at this point. So I just installed Windows 7, and it seems to run well on my machine so far. Maybe this whole collaboration will help me to educate myself on changes in the Windows world that I’ve glossed over since I switched to Mac in 2002. That would be helpful, cause I sell myself as a computer geek stage manager, and if you sat me down in front of a machine with Vista or Windows 7 I don’t think I’d be much of a geek, and at this point it’s starting to feel like false advertising.

Meaghan and I are now pretty much caught up as far as being set up with all the software we’ll be using. Here’s what we’ve got:

  • FileMaker Most of the actual paperwork for the show will go in my database. Thankfully FileMaker is cross-platform, so we should have no problem with that. When at work, we will work off the master copy served from my computer, but I have recently added a feature to upload a copy of it to DropBox, so if she needs to reference the information inside when away from the theatre it will be in the cloud. Plus we could both access it from our iPhones if we wanted. If she was going to do some homework of her own, she would have a copy to work in, as long as I know not to be making changes at the same time on my copy, and to make the Dropbox file the master after she’s done. Nick and I sent the file back and forth over email sometimes, but this way should be a little cleaner.
  • DropBox This summer I started using DropBox as an alternative to MobileMe’s iDisk. The main difference between the two is that DropBox works. It works well enough that I could put my folder for each show on my DropBox and trust it not to get corrupted or out of sync. After three shows using that method, I’m now taking it a step further: I’m sharing that folder with Meaghan, so we will both be able to work off the same files.
  • Evernote For more on Evernote, you can see my first impressions post. I’m storing a bunch of stuff on Evernote, everything from the show logos to essential emails from office staff, to my shopping list for Staples. Meaghan can then check it to see all the information I have, and when we’re actually working she can add notes to my notebook for the tour with information and paperwork that she generates. I’m hoping between this and DropBox, we’ll never have to worry about me forgetting to pass on a file to her.
  • Microsoft Office Obviously. I don’t create all that many Office files, but it’s always necessary at some point. Our script will be the biggest one, and changes will be tracked throughout the rehearsal process.
  • Skype It may come in handy from time-to-time, but what I really intend to use it for is to teach the database before we start rehearsal. Meaghan only arrives in New York the day before we start, so using screen sharing will have to do.

In addition to getting us set up for rehearsal, I’ve been trying to make Windows a little more hospitable for my own use. The problem I have when gaming is that I become completely useless for anything else, because in order to access, well, anything, I have to reboot into OSX. The use of all these cloud-based, cross-platform tools has made it much easier to spend hours and hours in Windows without being prevented from doing anything else. The one major element I’m missing is OmniFocus, which is cloud-based, but only compatible with Mac and iPhone. However, the act of creating or checking off a task is so quick and simple that doing it on my phone is almost as fast as doing it on the desktop. Overall I’m excited to play with some new ways to organize.

August 26, 2010

Things I’m Trying Out: Evernote

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cloud

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

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

A frequent situation for me on the road:

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

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


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

Related Products

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


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

iPhone Client

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

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


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


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

Premium Subscription

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

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

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

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

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


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

August 16, 2010

Stop Using Your New Macbook Pro Adapter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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