May 25, 2014

On Using A Show-Specific Email Account

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

June 30, 2009

MobileMe Caution for Stage Managers

I call this: mac — Posted by KP @ 11:41 pm

If you’re like me and are a member of Apple’s MobileMe (formerly .Mac) service, and use your MobileMe email address for business (or even excessive pleasure), you may need to know about certain policies they have to discourage people from using their accounts to send spam (as if a spammer is going to pay $100/year just to get an email address).

  • There is a maximum of 200 outgoing emails a day.
  • Maximum 1,000 recipients a day
  • Maximum 100 recipients per message
  • 20MB limit per message

The policies are outlined on this page.

I haven’t had a massive problem with this, although my SMTP server did stop working this morning. It being the day of the first rehearsal, you can imagine how many emails I’ve been sending to my cast of 59, plus the production team. Thankfully I was able to immediately switch to the smtp server used by my @thegobutton.net addresses, and didn’t think anything of it until I coincidentally heard of this policy a few hours later. I’m not sure if it was related or not, but given the size of the cast and the nature of my job, especially in preproduction and the early stages of the rehearsal process, it’s definitely within the realm of possibility that I will be hitting these limits at some point.

Currently the general email list (cast, plus the people in the office, director, designers, music staff and department heads) totals 75 people, so under different circumstances hitting 100 wouldn’t be that hard.

I still think the MobileMe service is a good value, especially with recent features they’ve added like Find My iPhone, but since I just learned of this potential problem, I thought I should mention it since it’s at least something to keep in mind when sending frequent group emails.

May 29, 2009

Interesting Statistic

I call this: On the Road Again — Posted by KP @ 8:53 pm

I’m cleaning up and reorganizing all my work files and folders on my computer. After a six-month job it’s nice to be able to put some things away.

One interesting factoid: total number of emails from the Acting Company tour (not including those thrown out immediately because they consisted of the word “Thanks!” or similar sentiment):

That sounds about right, I guess.

April 29, 2009

Dear Apple

I call this: mac — Posted by KP @ 1:05 pm

Thank you for your recent emails suggesting that I get my mother an iPod Touch for Mother’s Day.  Were it not for your almost daily reminders, I would not actually have been aware that Mother’s Day was approaching, or that I needed to be planning gifts for both my parents (as I’ll be out of town by Father’s Day).  I’ve been quite busy on the road and thinking of days in terms of load ins and load outs, and completely oblivious to weekends, birthdays or national holidays.  Actually I’m turning 30 in a few days, and the most I can tell you about that date is that we have performances of The Spy at 2 and 8, with a seminar prior to the matinee.  So you can see how I greatly appreciate your reminders that I need to get a gift for my mom.

However, while my mother is a Mac user and might have an iPhone except that AT&T sucks at her house, I don’t believe that the iPod Touch is the ideal gift for her.  She’s not much of a music lover — I think she still has yet to spend all of an iTunes gift certificate I got for her several years ago — and I don’t imagine she’d enjoy watching videos or TV shows on such a small screen.  Personally, I don’t see the point of an iPod Touch for anyone who doesn’t intend to use it first as an iPod.  I would like someday to be able to get her an inexpensive Macbook, as she would truly use that, but this would be exceedingly more difficult if I now spent $300 on a gift she won’t really use.  And P.S. Mr. or Ms. Apple Marketing Person, I have a feeling you have a larger and more regular income than I do and can afford to drop $300 on a Mother’s Day gift — and then presumably match that gift a month later when Father’s Day rolls around.  Well good for you.  

In brief, I appreciate that you’re looking out for my mother, and for my own preparedness, but the next time you feel the need to send me 5 or more emails suggesting I buy a specific gift for someone, please pick something more appropriate.  Thanks!
Love, KP

September 13, 2007

Preproduction and Software

I call this: computers,mac,theatre — Posted by KP @ 10:13 pm

Ooh, great, another one of those posts where I actually cover the full span of what this blog is about — theatre and technology, and how I use them together. We’ve been in meetings all week for Frankenstein, and I’m having a great time. As the ASM, my contract doesn’t start for another day or two, but I’ve been happily attending all the meetings with the PSM, as being in the loop is much more important to me than being paid, and quite frankly I didn’t have a lick of work last week and was bored out of my mind. So sitting in formatting meetings every day has been great fun, as we work through the show with the various design elements.

Monday and Tuesday were focused mostly on the set, with the director, choreographer and set designer, and us two stage managers. Wednesday was our sound day, with our two sound designers and the musical director. This is definitely a show where the sound design will contribute a lot, and I can’t wait to hear more about that. Today and tomorrow are all about projections, which will also be a key part of the show, and then we do lights and everybody together on the weekend.

It’s been very helpful for me to see the show take shape as everyone decides together how things will go. I have been taking notes on everything (using Pages), and have been using the very attractive comments feature to mark events that will likely be cues for me on the deck. See the drawing to the right for a sample page. I’m very happy that we haven’t even started rehearsal and already I’m thinking about what I need to be doing on the deck at any moment, and can look at the groundplan and plot my backstage traffic and ask the designer questions as they come up.

Some of the more artistic stuff is something I’ll probably never need to know as part of my job, but having grown up and gone to college wanting to be a director, I still find it really interesting to be in the room as the basic vision of the show takes shape and is altered through collaboration. The creative team is really great, and the mood in meetings is very positive and fun. It’s definitely one of those moments where I have realized how lucky we are that we get to put on shows for a living. Sure it’s serious business and all our jobs and rent depend on not screwing this up, but it’s got to be more fun than the vast majority of other professions.

A Clean Slate
Since I’ve been back from Reagle and lacking any kind of seriously demanding employment for the first month, I’ve taken this time to experiment with some technological toys that I wouldn’t risk playing around with if I was in the middle of production. Getting confirmation of the Frankenstein job with a couple weeks notice before beginning rehearsal, I have seen this as something of a clean slate to try a few things I’ve been wanting to.

I think I mentioned in my review of Pages that I see this latest edition of iWork as a possible precursor to me effectively removing Microsoft Office from my life. The big thing holding me back was Entourage, which I much preferred over the combination of Mail, Address Book and iCal. I shouldn’t say I much preferred, just that I stuck with the power of it, despite the vaguely Windows-esque feel of it.

Another part of this decision, less obvious at first, but lurking in the shadows, is the iPhone. I don’t want one now. I want a smartphone, and a phone that can’t open and edit a Word document or spreadsheet, or open an image file in its native resolution, or cut and paste, is not very smart. There is a litany of things Palm devices have been doing for five years that the iPhone can’t do. Third party hacked software has been helping this, but I’m not yet at a level of comfort where the iPhone is something I want. I’m definitely not jumping on the bandwagon until the second version, and I’m not too thrilled about AT&T on top of that. But I see that especially given how embarrassingly Palm has stagnated in recent years, there will be an iPhone in my future. And when that day comes, I’ll want it integrated as nicely as possible into my Mac. And that means using Mail and Address Book and iCal to get the full effect of the Mac experience. So being able to make this transition at a convenient time will save me trouble later, if and when I get an iPhone.

I also have been depending more and more on having access to my e-mail on my Treo. For years I have used SnapperMail, which is a very mature Palm mail client, but the version I own is only for POP mail. I am something of a pack rat, in real life and in my digital life. My goal is to keep every e-mail I ever send and receive in my life (excluding spam and advertisements and the like). Somewhere along the line I lost my earlier mail, but my current archives go back to the end of 2002. For this reason, IMAP mail has always turned me off. The idea of my mail residing on a server and maybe or maybe not being saved to my desktop client scared the hell out of me. But handling POP mail on my Treo while trying to keep complete records on my main computer was somewhat frustrating. I was willing to give IMAP another try, which meant using my .Mac account, which offered a perfect opportunity to give Apple’s Mail app another try.

I have been a member of .Mac for a few years now. I think it’s a bit overpriced and underdeveloped, and their servers are usually slow, but I use it mostly for iDisk storage and the ease of use and integration into OS X. I’m fully capable of doing things the hard way, but for what amounts to $8 a month, I don’t mind having Apple take care of most of it for me. With that of course comes an @mac.com e-mail address, which I have never bothered to use because I was never sure I wanted to keep the service.

The next seemingly unrelated event in my life was that my parents moved over the summer, and on the day I returned from Reagle I went to their house and set up their wireless network. In the course of testing it, I noticed they were getting download speeds in the neighborhood of 12mbps. They have Optimum Online, on Long Island. Now I knew I was not getting anything near this from Time Warner/Earthlink. So when I got home I found I was lucky to get about 5mbps. It seems from my research this is the maximum speed of the network that people are reporting in NYC. This did not seem fair to me, and planted the seeds of discontent. However, ditching Earthlink would mean changing my e-mail address. I’m terrified of changing my phone number or e-mail, because I fear that someone I haven’t talked to in five or ten years will suddenly need to get in touch with me and will be unable to. Combine this problem with my interest in switching my e-mail to IMAP, and suddenly a plan was formed: if I used my .Mac account as my primary e-mail I could switch ISPs as often as I need to to get the best service, yet not have to worry about changing my e-mail address. Plus I’d get the cool and easy-to-type @mac.com address, which most importantly has much fewer letters than @earthlink.net.

So it all came together at once and I sent out an e-mail blast to all my friends and former coworkers advising them of the change, and created e-mail aliases for my other three addresses and updated the relevant sites and institutions about the change. And I have been using Mail ever since. The rules are definitely less flexible than Entourage’s, but overall I’m happy with it. Plus, Leopard is coming out in a month or so, and with that an update to Mail which might have some improvements.

On the Palm side, I have switched to Chatter, which is widely regarded as the best IMAP client for Palm OS. The developer has since been hired by Palm, hopefully to design something cool for their next mail client, so development on the current version has pretty much ceased. I’m not thrilled about paying for an app I know is no longer in development, but given the circumstances, I think it’s something I have to do to take advantage of IMAP. I find I’m using my Treo more for responding to e-mail because I’m not worried about it being in sync with my desktop. Just tonight on the train I wrote two e-mails that I normally would have waited until I got home to respond to.

I’m really getting to like Pages, the only dilemma I have is whether it’s appropriate in situations where I may need to share my work with others using Word. I think I’ve been pretty bold about using it for almost all my Frankenstein documents. I have been placed in charge of creating and maintaining the contact sheet, and today decided to go ahead and do it in Pages. I think first of all it will be much better for my sanity as I work with it, and I think the formatting will come out much cleaner and more legible. We have also decided to distribute it in PDF, which means I don’t have to worry about what Word decides to do with it. I will have a Word version, as some people will need to work on it occasionally, and I will keep an eye on the compatibility to make sure it’s not a disaster, but I hope that I will be able to do it in Pages without embarrassing myself. Anyway, so far Macs outnumber PCs in our production team 6-to-1 by my last count, so I doubt I’ll hear too much bashing.

I like the feel of Numbers, but so far in my experience, and from what I’ve been reading, it’s not as sufficient a replacement for Excel as Pages is to Word. I guess this is to be expected, as this is the third version of Pages and only the first for Numbers. There are some things with formulas it can’t do, but for the most part working in show business, and being largely more concerned with the “show” than the “business,” I hardly ever use spreadsheets to crunch numbers. I received Frankenstein‘s prop list in Excel, and have since been editing it in Numbers, as it’s just a list and should export back into Excel easily enough if necessary.

I’m just going to come out and say I love iCal. I always have. I have always preferred iCal to Entourage’s calendar, it was just all the other baggage involved in switching away from Entourage that kept me from it. But now I get to use it every day.

My real work on Frankenstein began last Sunday when I got together with my PSM, Joshua, for a working lunch. One of the biggest things we had to tackle was to make some sense of the very short period of time we have for production and to propose a schedule, taking into account the needs of the production team and all the various Equity rules. I had been putting a rough sketch of the show schedule into iCal for my personal use, in a separate Frankenstein calendar.

Using the very clear and intuitive week view in iCal, we started dragging around rehearsals, dragging them between days, dragging them earlier or later in the day, of longer and shorter duration. It was very easy to see what we were working with and play around with it. While my version is not the official production calendar, it’s what we’ve been using whenever we’re brainstorming schedule changes. I couldn’t be happier with the way it’s working.

Address Book
The final piece of this puzzle is Address Book, and it’s probably my least favorite part. While the layout is very simple and easy to navigate and generally Mac-like, I’ve always found it a little too simple at first glance. Syncing contacts from any platform to Palm is always scary. If they don’t quite play nice together all of a sudden you’ll find people missing, duplicated, or all their e-mail addresses listed as phone numbers and all their phone numbers listed as e-mails. I’ve been backing up both ends a lot, just in case something bad happens. One basic thing I don’t like is that the Apple apps don’t deal with “categories” per se, in the way that Palm and the Microsoft apps do. iCal has calendars, and Address Book has groups, but they’re not exactly the same, especially in Address Book. See the problem is that on the Palm side, an item can only be in one category at a time. This is kind of Palm’s fault, since they haven’t innovated anything since about 2002, but in Address Book you can put a contact into multiple groups, and it’s quite difficult to tell you’ve done so, until you notice that on the Palm it’s not where you expected to see it. This is sort of a problem in Entourage as well, where you can assign something to multiple categories, but it’s harder to do accidentally.

Also, Entourage makes a distinction between categories, which are used to organize contacts, and groups, which are lists for e-mail distribution. I can have a Frankenstein category that contains everyone involved in any way in the production, and then separate groups for cast, production team, rehearsal report list, etc. so that when I send e-mails I have various pre-made lists to choose from based on who I want to contact. In Address Book the only form of organization is groups. If I want to send a mass e-mail to a bunch of people, I need to create a separate group with that bunch of people, which is a little confusing and clutters up my categories on the Palm end. I think having an iPhone or any device that behaves more similarly to Address Book would ease my concerns with this.

Overall I’m enjoying the new toys I’ve been playing with, and I have a few more to try out soon.

July 17, 2007

42nd Street Pre-production

I call this: summer stock,theatre — Posted by KP @ 3:48 pm

It’s our second week of the run of The King and I, and I’m starting pre-production on 42nd Street. On this, our third consecutive day off (I love this schedule!) I swung by the theatre to pick up some mail, and the casting worksheet and contact info for our 42nd Street cast.

My first step is to go through the cast list and make some kind of mark next to the names of people I’ve worked with before. These will be the first to go on the contact sheet, by copying and pasting from previous contact sheets. If I have their resume in my pile, I will double-check that the info I have matches the presumably more-recent info on their resume. Since I’m in no hurry, I will take the opportunity to update my personal contact files on my computer as I go along, so that my computer and phone will have everybody’s numbers on them as early as possible, before I need to call or e-mail anyone. When I get too many of them too close to rehearsals, or on the first day of rehearsal, it can be hard to find time to properly update everything. So I’m very glad to have gotten that out of the way.

Our director, Eileen Grace, has sent me her tentative schedule for the rehearsal period. I checked it for errors regarding allowed hours under Equity rules, sent back a couple notes and questions, and then will send it out to the actors I have e-mail addresses for when it’s ready. With that I have also started my calendar (see this post for the template) based on her schedule. I will fill in the details for tech and dress rehearsals after we decide on them at our production meeting.

Putting a show together is like a puzzle… the next ball I have in the air is the production meeting. Eileen and I have decided on 11:30AM next Tuesday, so I have now reached the point where I’m ready to send out an invitation to everyone else to find out if they can attend. But in order to do that I need to know who “everyone else” is, and there were a few I thought might be changing. A few e-mails answered the questions I had about sound engineer and prop master, and finally I’m able to send out the invitation.

With that straightened out, I was also able to make my “42nd Street Reports” group in Entourage, with all the e-mail addresses of everyone who will receive the report. See this post for more details about the report. I’ve even updated my rehearsal report template to change King and I to 42nd Street, so that will be ready to go on the day of the first rehearsal. The performance report is a separate template, so I can still use the King and I version of that.

The whole thing has only taken me about three hours, so not too much of a dent in my day off, but a big help in getting things ready for the next show before things start to get crazy. In fact, for both shows on Saturday most of the off-topic discussion on headset was about 42nd Street. Things like load-out, the lighting plot for the next show and how similar it will be, and how that will affect the time needed for lighting load-out and hanging for the next show. I was mostly just listening, but for the tech director, production manager and master electrician to be able to sort stuff like that out, it’s pretty helpful.

It’s a good feeling to be ahead of the game going into the last show. It’s an even better feeling once the last show opens to not have to worry about another show after it. But then of course comes the feeling of, “Oh my God, I don’t have a job!!” and “What do you mean I’m not getting a paycheck next week?” It’s very easy to fall into a routine and forget what a blessing it is to get a regular paycheck, especially one you can live on. I have one sort-of-job on the horizon, should nothing else come up, but I would love it if I had a real show lined up by the time I leave Reagle.