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March 30, 2012

iPad 3 Review

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

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

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

Choosing the Model

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

Choosing the Carrier

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s my speed test result:

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

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

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

The Hardware

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

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

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

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

So, the retina display.

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

Charging

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

This heat issue

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

Software

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

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

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

The internet look like ass.

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

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

No stocks and weather in the notification screen.

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

Wallpaper

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

Apps I Love So Far:

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

TweetBot – Possibly the best Twitter client

Skitch – easy illustration app recently acquired by Evernote

Alien Blue – truly awesome Reddit client

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

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

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

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

Use Cases and Other Thoughts

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


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…


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 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.


January 1, 2011

Let Me Tell Ye: iPhone Alarms

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

Dear Steve,
Let me tell ye: I understand you had some problems with the iPhone alarm app a few months back when we switched over from daylight savings. That was pretty well publicized, so I think most people were prepared for some strangeness. I wasn’t, because I was in a place (Arizona) which does not switch over from daylight savings, but I took all the precautions, and I was a little surprised (and woke up late) because my phone fell back for no reason, which had nothing to do with the publicized alarm app. That was weird. It also happened to at least one of my actors, so I’m not crazy.

Cut to this morning, New Year’s Day. I got up around 6AM to go to the bathroom, and decided I didn’t want to get up at 7:30, so I re-set my alarms for 8:30 and 9:30 instead of 7:30 and 8:30. I crawled back into bed, and the next thing I know it’s nearly noon.

Now my first thought is that maybe a diet of vodka, beer, champagne and popcorn could cause a person to sleep through their alarms. I tried really, really hard to think about whether my alarms went off at any point, or whether I recalled snoozing them. Didn’t sound familiar. So I looked at my alarm app, and both alarms were still set. The only way I could sleep through four hours of alarms would be if I actually turned them off early on, and they never went off again. I didn’t remember the alarms going off once, much less snoozing them every nine minutes for 3 or 4 hours.

So I got out of bed (feeling pretty well-rested, thank you), and got on the computer to visit TUAW and see if they knew anything about this. TUAW has been annoying me in recent months, and I no longer read it unless I’m specifically looking for something, so I missed their post last night warning of this problem.

Apparently if you use non-recurring alarms between Jan 1 and 3rd 2011, your alarms won’t go off. Just great, let me tell ye. And I never use recurring alarms because I usually have to go to work at a different time every day.

Steve. Seriously. It’s an alarm app. How hard is it to get it to work? I’m not much of a programmer, but I’m pretty sure the gist of it is, “Is it this time? If yes, set off the alarm. If no, do nothing.” It’s also pretty much the simplest, most feature-deprived alarm app I’ve ever seen in my life. It doesn’t do anything, how complicated could it be?

I have two requests:
#1: fix this shit
#2: if you know about it (and once the Australians try to wake up, you will), send out a text message or push notification and warn people. I wouldn’t have been upset if I had a chance to prevent it.

Gotta go, I need to email my cast and tell them about this so they come to rehearsal tomorrow. I don’t know how many iPhones we have on this tour, but to say half the people on the tour have one is probably a good estimate. Why does it seem like it’s become part of my job to manage the phone alarm bugs of my actors, in the same way that one would say “just a reminder, the A train isn’t running this weekend”?

Get it together.
Love, Karen


August 11, 2009

15″ Macbook Pro Now Available with Matte Screen Again!

I call this: computers,gaming,mac — Posted by KP @ 12:43 pm

A followup to this post, in which I debate whether I can handle buying a 17″ Macbook Pro, partially as a result of the fact that it was (until today) the only Mac laptop still offered with a matte screen.

Well today I read on TUAW that the 15″ is now being sold with a matte option again.

This is good, since if I decide the 17″ is just too big, I have options. On the other hand, if you look at the other post you will see that although the screen was the dealbreaker, there were other reasons I was still considering the 17″, mostly related to the idea of having a more desktop-like experience while living on the road.

That being said, I have lived my entire professional life with a 15″ Mac laptop, and have rarely used a larger computer or external monitor for work purposes, even when living at home. Of course a larger screen would be nice, but it has never been necessary, and the balance of the 15’s size being large enough to work on for long periods, but small enough to walk around with makes it possibly the ideal form factor.

I could use a larger screen and higher resolution for seeing more of a spreadsheet on one page, coding my website with code on one side and a larger preview on the other, those are legitimate purposes, but the main reason I felt I needed a larger screen was for gaming on the road. I was starting to get a bit of cabin fever gaming in 15 inches for a year on end, and getting ready to go back for at least six months more of that.

Gaming isn’t necessary, but it also is part of my life that I enjoy and I think it is a professional concern, as there have been times when circumstances have prevented me from enjoying certain activities that are normally part of my lifestyle, such as listening to music on my commute, having alone time in the car at Reagle, and when these things are taken away they start to affect the delicate balance that keeps me sane and calm. Somehow I have found a way to enjoy doing a job that most people refuse to do because it’s too stressful, and my continued ability to do my job well requires that I take care of my mental health and give myself opportunities to unwind so that I can go to work happy and with a positive attitude that will filter down to the rest of the people on the production.

I don’t know if an inch-and-a-half of additional screen real estate will make the difference, but if so, the ultimate benefit is that I would not resent my job for taking me away from things that I enjoy, and on a day-to-day basis, I think that’s a huge deal.

On the other hand, I have to consider how much the size of the laptop will negatively affect my work and free time. On the road I find myself actually using it on my lap — or balanced precariously on something else — a lot more often, since I’m often in improvised situations where I have to make a desk out of what’s available, and I will probably be writing the show report from a couch, either at the venue or on the bus.

I looked into how much Tekserve charges for Macbook Pro rentals, and it’s $100 per day, or $200 per week (and upwards from there). As much as I’d love to have an opportunity to run around with a 17″ for a while before dropping $2,500 on it, I don’t think it’s worth nearly 10% of the total cost to have just a week to decide if I like it.

Anyway, the decision is still far away (I hope), but I need to keep paying attention to all the ways I use my computer during the day, and how many of them would be impractical with a larger machine.


July 31, 2009

Entertaining Notions of the 17″ Macbook Pro

I call this: computers,mac — Posted by KP @ 1:01 pm

First, an astronomy lesson.

Our Solar System

mbpsize

As you can see, with the new unibody design, the 17″ Macbook Pro is now slightly smaller than Jupiter. ¬†If you count Saturn’s rings (which also do not fit on airline tray tables), you could even say it’s smaller than Saturn. ¬†Which brings me to the point of this post. ¬†For the first time in my life, I’m letting myself even entertain the notion of maybe for some reason in the future considering one.

I love love love my current 15″ Macbook Pro (I forget it’s official designation, I guess it’s 2nd gen, 2.4gHz Core 2 Duo). ¬†I bought it the day they released the model with the LED backlight. ¬†June 2007. ¬†First of all, when it died on the road this past spring, I had to face the possibility of needing to replace it. ¬†I was not happy about this, in that “oops! my computer’s broken, I guess I need a new one!” kind of way. ¬†The problem is that ¬†Apple in their infinite catering to the non-Pro users of their Pro lineup, have done away with the option of getting the 15″ with a matte screen. ¬†Apparently, despite the fact that the Macbook Pro now comes in three sizes, only the 17″ is now Pro enough to include the features professionals need like a matte screen or Expresscard slot. ¬†The nomenclature is all screwed up now. ¬†It used to be if you wanted an OK laptop you got a Macbook (or an iBook). ¬†If you were a professional, and needed more power or options (which you were willing to pay for), you got a Macbook Pro (or Powerbook). ¬† Now the division between those two things has nothing to do with where the word “Pro” appears in the lineup, it’s inexplicably between the 15″ and 17″, as if all the professionals of the world are giants who only fly first class. ¬†OK, rant done about that. ¬†But it’s the first step in understanding why we’re even having this discussion.

First of all, the timeline. ¬†I’m not shopping for a new computer. ¬†As I said, I love the one I have. ¬†Aside from the fact it completely up-and-died on me an hour before a performance in Phoenix, it’s been otherwise rock solid, and with its new logic board and battery, it’s in many ways only a few months old. ¬†The only feature it’s lacking is the new touchpad that can do zoom gestures, and it still has a separate physical button, which I find just fine. ¬† It’s just over two years old, but lately I’ve started to think long-term about its life. ¬†It just love it so much. ¬†I do not love the current model, so an upgrade essentially would be a downgrade. ¬†But someday, there will be a feature much better than the glass touchpad, that will start to make an upgrade a must-have. ¬†Maybe it will be processing or graphics power. ¬†Maybe built-in GPS (after a year with an iPhone, I go to Google Maps on my laptop and I’m like, “‘Enter starting location.’ ¬†Oh that’s easy — here. ¬†What do you mean, you don’t know where here is?! ¬†Do I have to do everything for you!?”) . ¬†Maybe Blu-Ray will become useful for something and Apple will start including it. ¬†Anyway, although I see no reason to upgrade now, my average satisfaction with any computer I’ve ever owned is about three years. ¬†After four years I become willing to sell my body or carry out hits for the mob in order to raise the money necessary for an upgrade. ¬†There’s also the unfortunate possibility my current computer will have another catastrophic failure, get run over by the tour bus, or be stolen, and I will have no choice but to upgrade.

But since in all likelihood its desired retirement is about a year away, I have (quite responsibly, in my opinion) begun to make plans to ensure that whenever that time comes, I will be ready for it.  Mostly that involves having a large pile of cash saved up over a long period of time, rather than having to scrounge it together and go into debt when out of the blue I realize I need to upgrade.  This includes decisions about which jobs I take, what I buy at the supermarket (no Pom juice this week), ways to pocket more of my per diem on the road, and careful consideration of any expenses that are not rent and food.   So I am very proud of myself that hopefully I will be able to afford an upgrade before I even know I want one.

So as I said, this upgrade is still a ways away, I hope, and the current lineup of Macbook Pros is not necessarily a reflection of what my options will be when the time comes. ¬†But instead of looking at the current lineup and praying it changes because I don’t want any of them, I have recently begun to think if I had to make the decision today, maybe the 17″ is an acceptable choice.

Some thoughts:

  • Matte screen. I covered this in my rant. If I go with anything other than the 17″, I will have to settle for the glossy screen. Not cool. I’m not always trying to fit my computer on a tray table. Percentage of the time I spend looking at the screen… hmm, maybe 100%.
  • Screen size Speaking of gaming. The biggest reason I’m thinking about this is because of a discussion I had with someone who also plays Battleground Europe, and happens to be a lighting designer who travels a lot, and also plays on a Macbook Pro, except on a 17″. The thing that makes me miss being at home the most is the screen size — it’s just not the same gaming experience playing on a laptop, largely because everything is so small and it’s hard to aim effectively when everything is compressed to just a couple pixels. A 17″ is not going to compare to a desktop monitor, but that extra 1.6″ and 1920×1200 resolution (which is the same I play at home) would help a lot in easing my frustration with being on the road so much. The larger screen and resolution would also help with the graphics work I do, and make for a more comfortable user experience in general.
  • OK, the size So the thing is big. My primary bag (see review) is designed to accommodate up to a 17″ MBP, so no problem there. The sleeve I bought to go with it would have to go (even if I replaced it, I don’t think sleeve+Macbook would fit in the slot). Some of my other bags are designed for 15″, but at least one of them was really designed for the Powerbook and never quite fit the extra millimeters of the MBP anyway. The 17″ would be more inconvenient to carry around casually (and my casual laptop-and-little-else bag is custom fit for the 15″ and would need to be replaced), but it depends on what the circumstances of my life are. There is no “casual” mode when I’m on tour or doing summer stock anyway. There’s one bag. It has all the stuff in it all the time.
  • A lot of the sacrifices I’m talking about making are adjustments to the idea of never being home. Of course as soon as I invest a lot of money in making that lifestyle more comfortable, then I’ll book a Broadway show and never need to leave New York again. But should I be so unfortunate as to have that happen, at least I could afford to buy a different Macbook Pro every month!
  • 8-hour battery life This is kind of inconceivable to me. I refuse to believe it’s even remotely possible. If the thing lasts for five hours for more than a year, I will still consider it a miracle of science. But at any rate, the 17″ reportedly gets an hour more battery than the 15″ due to the extra room.
  • Extra USB port Not a huge deal, but I could do my gaming without needing a USB hub, which is one less thing to unpack and plug in every day. I would also imagine it would provide slightly better performance than my $5 Radio Shack hub.

So these are the considerations currently floating around in my head. Of course whenever the decision needs to be made the current Apple product lineup will need to be compared, as well as what my job prospects are looking like at the time. I wish I could borrow somebody’s 17″ for like a month. If I had no dignity I should tape blocks of wood to the sides of mine and count how many times a day they piss me off.

UPDATE: I had to go to the Apple Store today, so while there, I took a look at the 17″ which was conveniently next to the 15″. It’s huuuuuge! In both the good way and the bad way. I picked it up a few inches off the table, and it’s noticeably heavier than my current machine. I actually sometimes get nervous that I’ve left my MBP behind when I’m carrying it because I can’t tell it’s in my bag. I don’t expect that would ever happen with the 17″. It’s definitely not small, but I’m not opposed to the idea of getting one.

UPDATE: New Post


July 30, 2009

Apple Releases 2TB Time Capsule. Karen wishes for 320GB hard drive.

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

Today I read this article on TUAW about Apple’s release of a new Time Capsule (router with included hard drive for wireless backups) with a 2TB capacity. Suddenly I feel like a Luddite because the scale of everyday storage capacity is starting to exceed the amount I work with exponentially.

The largest hard drive I own is 160GB. I have three of them. One in my laptop. One that was the backup drive for my laptop and once got knocked on the floor. And the one I bought to replace the one that got knocked on the floor, even though to this day it appears not to have been damaged. One can never be too safe. Of course one could also back up to multiple locations, but one doesn’t have the time for that, or a 2nd enclosure for the other drive, and one is too cheap to get a nice one, and too techno-elitist to get a crappy one.

Anyway. All this to say, I would love to upgrade my laptop drive to a 320GB 7200RPM drive, but I must admit to being a little bit wary of doing the installation myself (my Macbook Pro is out of warranty and Apple Care, so that’s not really a factor, I’m just trying to keep this machine happy for another year or so). However, my computer is now just over two years old. The logic board was replaced four months ago, the battery three months ago. At this point it feels in many ways like a spring chicken again. Which makes the hard drive even more likely to be the thing that fails, though I must say it has always inspired confidence, and doesn’t even make any kind of noise, as one that’s as old as it is, and moves around as much as it does could be expected to make. I check its SMART status every now and then, and it just keeps chugging along. Except it doesn’t chug. As I said, it’s silent. Fujitsu. Damn fine little machine in there. Western Digital tends to be the HD maker I trust, but I think that may need to change for these future drives. I’m impressed.

Yes I said “drives.” In order to back up said drive, I would then need to purchase a second drive at the same time, of 320GB or bigger. So there’s a bit of cash involved beyond just the cost of a single drive at Newegg. The plan currently is that I would only do the installation at home, where I have all my stuff, tools, spare parts, etc. in case I ran into unforeseen complications (I did bring my precision screwdriver kit to Reagle just in case I got inspired).

I’ll see how I feel both technologically and financially when it’s almost time to head home in about three weeks. I also have a phone interview in a few hours for what could potentially be a rent-paying job for the fall, so if I book that I think I can handle a couple hard drives. I actually have been entertaining a number of potential jobs, but hadn’t really thought about it so specifically. It needs to be this one. Momma needs a bigger hard drive!

My concern about the upgrade also is that while I can see that my hard drive is creating the bottleneck in speed, I worry that 7200RPMs will damage my battery life. Which it might. But although I like the freedom at work to sit at different places without having to find an outlet, I do spend most of my time plugged in. Paul has been Super Electricity Assistant this year. Wherever we sit, he’s right on it with a power strip and extension cord. Usually with the power strip gaff taped to the table too, and the cables nicely dressed.

For the external drive I would need more space. Originally when I bought my backup drives it was back in the days B.T.M. (Before Time Machine). Back then you just cloned your drive and that was it. I specifically wanted a drive that was an exact duplicate of the one in my machine, so that in the event of a complete hard drive failure, I could physically swap them and carry on like nothing happened. The way Time Machine works, by keeping multiple backups as far back as your hard drive capacity allows, encourages that your HD be many times the size of the drive it’s backing up for maximum effectiveness. Not to mention it would be nice, since Time Machine does not store its files in a way that’s bootable, to have room for another partition that could be an actual clone. Or even a third partition for storing stuff totally unrelated to backups (like large video files, movies, anything big that doesn’t need to actually be stored on the computer).

The only problem with all of this is that going bigger than 500GB wrecks my whole backup system, because that’s currently the biggest any 2.5″ hard drives come. I like using a laptop drive for my backups. It’s small, light, runs without external power, and serves not only as a backup of my files, but as a backup for the hardware itself. Being on the road all the time, the ability to have a spare hard drive in my computer bag that travels with my laptop 24/7 is a great security blanket.

If I lived at home most of the time, a Time Capsule would be a nice idea for a second, non-portable nightly backup (either an actual Time Capsule hardware, or a hard drive plugged into an Airport Express). I don’t have a Time Capsule, because as is just my luck, I upgraded to the Airport Express “wireless n” router just before the Time Capsule came out. In fact I think I missed the cutoff date to turn it in for an exchange by like 2 days. So needless to say, I really won’t need a new router for some time. And as you can see, I have no idea what I would do with 2TB of storage if I did.


July 22, 2009

Quick Tip for Traveling Mac Users

I call this: mac — Posted by KP @ 12:25 am

I just discovered this little gem, and I’m rather ashamed I never thought of it.

If you’re traveling you may very well need to charge some of your small electronic devices over USB. It’s certainly easier than bringing a separate AC charging cable, if you even have that option. One of the things that’s kind of annoying about the Macbook family of laptops is that their USB ports are non-powered when the computer is in sleep mode. So if you want to charge, say, your iPod overnight, you either have to leave the computer on, or find another outlet and use the AC adapter. The other annoyance is that if you plug the device into your computer, then the computer will get all fancy and want to mount it, and sync with it or something. Then you need to be mindful of ejecting it before you unplug it.

However, if you have an Airport Express (or really any Airport), you can plug your device into the USB port there and use it strictly for charging. This doesn’t solve all the world’s problems (in fact, I had stopped touring with my Express after the first leg because I found that I rarely found an opportunity to use it, and never needed it). But this little added functionality might make it worth bringing again. You’re still carrying another device, and still using another outlet, but if you’d be bringing an Airport Express with you anyway, this allows some flexibility in how you set up your little mobile home-away-from-home. It might also be useful at home depending on how you have things arranged.

I do use the Airport Express when doing summer stock, as I am now, to create my own wireless network in my apartment, which is equipped with ethernet, and occasionally to set up a little network at rehearsal so I can keep my printer outside the room and send things wirelessly to it, but this is generally more trouble than it’s worth so I haven’t done that this year. In fact my printer should be plugged into it at the apartment but for some reason it doesn’t want to detect the printer, and I just haven’t cared enough to further explore it. That’s OK though, because at this very moment I have my wireless mouse plugged into it so that it can charge in peace without getting un-powered when I go to bed.


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