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March 8, 2016

Calling Off an iPad

I call this: iOS,mac,tech,theatre — Posted by KP @ 11:58 am

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If there’s one area where I’m a real technophobe, it’s the calling script. I don’t want a script where anything can go wrong with it, short of it catching fire (and aside from one particular performance of Phantom, I’ve never actually felt that was a possibility).

Technology is great, but we make certain tradeoffs in reliability to embrace the latest capabilities. For the same reason we don’t want space ships and airplanes running Windows 10, I don’t want anything more complicated than ink and dead trees determining my access to the calling script during a show.

However, there are a lot of stage managers, some I respect very much, using computers and tablets to call their shows, even on Broadway. I’d like to spend more time shadowing these people on larger shows to see what hardware and software they’re using and study how it works and what the pros and cons are in regular use. But I felt no hurry to try it myself.

My booth on Silence! The Musical was so small and inconvenient that when I started I did experiment with using an iPad very briefly (my ASM had taken another solution, of having the script printed and bound in half-page size, so it fit on one of the few available surfaces). I don’t remember much about the iPad experience except that I didn’t like it and very quickly (like maybe within the same performance) went back to paper. I think in that case, it may have been largely because I was still becoming comfortable with the show and I didn’t like that the page is smaller than paper-sized and thus harder to read (especially since the booth layout meant the script couldn’t be right in front of me). Also, the whole idea of the page turn lagging for even a second was a huge turn-off.

Years went by, and although I’m curious how other people stand it, I’d never cared to try again.

This winter I was the PSM on Broadway and the Bard, a one-man show starring Len Cariou on which I was light board op, sound board op, A2, props, basically everything except (usually) wardrobe. It was pretty much the cleanest possible scenario in which to try something potentially stupid. The show, while beautifully designed with a good number of cues to keep me busy, was very contained, never too crazy. It was a guy on a stage with a stool, a bench, and another guy at a piano. Nothing really moved. They talked. They sang. Most important for the purposes of this experiment, I couldn’t kill anybody. And once we’d been running about a week, I was comfortable enough that I had sections of the show memorized. I started making an effort to test myself, thinking ahead to what all the cues were on the next page, checking, and then running that page without looking, all in preparation so that by the end of week 2 of our 6-week run, I could reasonably expect to be able to continue calling the show if I couldn’t access my script for, say, 30 seconds.

Once I felt confident, I charged my iPad that I never have a use for, and put the already-typed calling script on it. I used GoodReader as my PDF-reading app. I found it worked well enough, so I didn’t bother trying any others. The first time I used it for a show, I had the paper script open and was keeping it on the correct page. After that I put it off to the side closed, but someplace where I could grab it quickly. For reasons I never figured out, the later pages of the PDF got garbled where all the text boxes had rendered in the wrong place, which I didn’t discover until turning to the first of the corrupted pages. So I did get to experience the failure of the script and having to go back to paper, and on this show, it was fine. I also want to point out that the messed up formatting happened in the conversion from Word to PDF, and had nothing to do with the rendering on the iPad. But just so you know, I tried to open the Word doc directly on the iPad in a couple different apps, and as one would expect, it completely sucks at rendering text boxes with the kind of accuracy required here. If you type your cues in-line, you’d probably have better luck.

As I had thoughts about the iPad during various performances, I jotted them in my performance notes:

  • At this point I would never use the iPad on a show where not being able to see the script for a few seconds could get someone hurt. It might be very unlikely to have a problem, but it’s still not worth it. I was lucky on this show to always be able to format the script to avoid bad page turns. Any lag, or an unexpected popup taking focus when trying to turn the page, could cause a problem on a show that requires fast page turns.
  • One of my other big issues in the past is that I like to make pencil marks in my script all the way through a run. I would definitely want to be using a pencil through tech and the early part of a run where I was actively refining the call, but on a show like Bard, it did eventually slow down to the point where changes were few. Also the layout of the booth put my script binder above the light board, which made it harder to doodle in. Using the iPad actually allowed me to have the script closer, and easier to tinker with. I don’t use GoodReader all that much, but the few times I wanted to change placements or mark things I needed to pay attention to, I could, at the next gap between cues (even if it was 30 seconds), add some text or an arrow, and place and color it appropriately in the short time available. It’s actually cool in some ways to be able to have a red arrow or giant red-and-yellow text instead of a pencil mark. But I still think on a more complicated show, where there isn’t going to be time to do more than throw down a very quick pencil mark, it would not be as good. But that’s probably the same kind of show where I can kill people, so it’s moot I guess.
  • If I were spending time to actually format a script with the intention of using it in this way, I could’ve eliminated the margins so the text could be bigger and the white space around the pages wouldn’t be wasted.
  • I think part of the reason I wasn’t bothered by the size of the text or the difficulty in marking the script was that at this point I wasn’t actually reading the script to find out what the cues were. As a board op, I don’t need to say the cue numbers out loud, and as far as placement goes, it’s more of a visual thing. I’m not really reading the text like I’ve never seen it before. I can glance at the cue on the page and the only reason I need to see it is to go, “ah yes, that one.” A quick glance is all that’s needed, so a scaled-down PDF works just fine.
  • I had accidental page turns on occasion when I just brushed or tapped the screen with my finger on the sides. In at least one case I didn’t notice I did it until I looked back at the script and saw I was on the wrong page. On the other hand, the efficiency of motion needed to turn the page was great, especially on a show I was operating with both hands for much of the time. And although this particular booth was pretty isolated sound-wise, in a small house with audience close by, the fact that you can rapidly turn the page silently is a plus.
  • I hate glossy screens, in life in general. I understand why tablets need to be glossy more than laptops. Still. I had to cover some LEDs on the gear in the booth because they were reflecting off the screen.
  • I have an iPad 3. I can’t really comment on the later ones which are a bit thinner, but as a thing of limited usefulness, it’s kind of heavy. Maybe smaller and lighter than a paper script, but here’s the difference: I never bring my script home. Depending on the security of the theatre, I’d be less likely to leave my iPad overnight, which means I’m lugging it around. In this case, I did leave it at the theatre (hidden) because I refused to lug it around. But that’s not exactly smart. If you actually use your iPad for other things, and don’t carry your laptop every night, this probably isn’t a hardship.
  • Battery life was pretty good, especially when in airplane mode. And somehow it made me laugh (and shake my head) when I’d say to myself, “I should charge my script overnight.” Of course if I’d planned this from the start, I’d have the charger run to a position where it could be plugged in at the desk instead of on a table behind me, but as long as I checked the battery life every couple days it was fine. I think I only charged it two or three times in four weeks.

Overall, my opinion was that I quickly came to prefer the iPad on this show. I don’t know how much bigger a show could get before I didn’t want to use it, but I’m willing to figure that out, because it actually was very handy. My next show could be a good candidate for something more complicated but not too complicated. We’ll see.


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…


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.


May 5, 2010

My Secret iPad Weekend Revealed!

I call this: computers,mac,tech — Posted by KP @ 3:33 am

The new iPhone prototype isn’t the only secret in town. For the last several weeks, I have been part of a vast interstate conspiracy. My co-conspirator, who I will refer to by her code name, “Mom,” had enlisted my help to pull off the greatest Apple-related surprise of all time: to buy my Dad an iPad.

That may seem really simple, but I assure you, it wasn’t.

First of all, you must understand why this mission was so important. Dad had been in the hospital a few weeks back, and had to have a couple operations, and he’s been generally immobile and uncomfortable for weeks. When he first had his surgery, Mom felt bad and decided that although they otherwise wouldn’t really have the budget for an iPad, life is too short not to have one, and he really needed something to cheer him up and keep him occupied during his recovery. And honestly, my parents are the perfect audience for the iPad (I am not), and I’d been telling them this for… well, as long as we’ve known about the iPad.

First Complications

Mom called me up while he was still in the hospital because she wanted to get one right away, and wanted my advice about which one, and would need my help setting it up over the phone. I hopped over to the Apple site to check the specs and everything, and was hit with the first major roadblock that I hadn’t even thought about: it requires USB2. Both my parents’ Macs are from early 2002, just a few months before Apple began shipping computers with USB2.

Dad has an iMac that he got from his old job, which wasn’t even that great of a machine when it was new. It doesn’t even have a DVD drive, which is why it’s still running Panther. Panther. I don’t think it’s really possible to anticipate the frustration that causes when trying to work with it. Like he wants to know why he can’t open some websites. I said, “probably you’re running a really old browser, and it just needs to be updated.” Well guess what, you can’t get an updated version of Safari on it, and you can’t use Firefox 3 either. I had been planning on my next visit to try and get DVD sharing working to install Tiger, which might barely run.

But in light of this USB problem, it was obvious that something more drastic needed to be done about this whole ancient-computer problem. Mom was practically ready to go out and buy him an iPad and a Macbook. But by this time, Apple had just released the i7 Macbook Pro, and my current machine had been showing enough signs of imminent death that I knew I had to buy one the day I got home from tour. So I said, “Look, I’ll have a new computer by the time I get home, my Powerbook isn’t much newer than the ones you have, but it’s a lot more advanced, and it will be a lot better than what he’s using now, and I won’t need it.” The problem would have to wait a couple weeks until the tour was over, but we had an economical solution.

Secondary Complications

While my computer was dying for the last three weeks of the tour, I called a lot of Apple Stores. Every city we were in, I knew how close the nearest Apple Store was, and if they had 15″ 2.66GHz Hi-res anti-glare Macbook Pros in stock, just in case I needed one. While doing this, I also inquired if they had iPads, since if I ended up buying the MBP I would just buy the iPad at the same time. This revealed the second complication: you couldn’t find an iPad anywhere. Now Mom and I were getting worried that we wouldn’t be able to get one before my totally-not-suspicious visit on my birthday. I forgot to mention, we had planned that to be the day of the surprise.

When I got home, a week before the planned surprise, I began working the four Apple Stores in New York (I had been calling the flagship store on Fifth Ave. the whole time, pretty much any time I called another store, to see what my odds were like at home). I already had my Macbook Pro because the old one died completely in Philly. An employee at Fifth Ave advised me that they get surprise shipments all the time, but usually sell out in a couple hours, so my best bet was to just keep calling and if I hit a time when they were in stock, race to the store and get one.

I took this past Friday, April 30th, off from my search, because it was the day of the release of the 3G iPad, which I did not want, and I knew all Apple Stores would be a madhouse (and actually shut down for a couple hours in the middle of the day to prepare for the event).

But my hunch was that my last opportunity, Saturday, would be my best bet, as the availability of the 3G iPad would dilute the demand for the wifi one, and that stores probably received a big shipment of both for the launch of the 3G.

So when I got up on Saturday I called the closest store — the new one at Lincoln Square. They did indeed have wifi iPads, but only 16GB. I wanted 32. But it was an option. I would have to confer with Mom. But first I called Fifth Ave. The guy I spoke to said, “We have limited quantities of the 64GB.” Soho and 14th Street were plain sold out. So I called Mom (after spending a good five minutes on the phone talking to Dad while Mom finished watering the plants or something, trying not to give away my urgency in talking to her.) When we got on the phone in privacy, we conferred about our options, and decided that the 16GB would probably be too small at some point, so it was better to go for the 64, if any were still left, so that we could go ahead with the surprise.

So I raced down to the Fifth Ave store, which was absolutely insane on a Saturday afternoon. There were so many different iPad lines, and I was sent to the wrong place at least four times before I found the right line. Unlike the stores I visited on tour, or even the other ones in New York to a certain extent, which are selling their wares to the local neighborhood, the Fifth Ave store is really where the whole world comes to buy an iPad. Now I’m not just competing against the entire population of New York, but apparently also France, Japan, Latin America, and who-knows-where-else.

After a stressful time on a long line, I finally made it to the front, and was sent off to a corner register near the Genius Bar, all alone, where it was suddenly quiet and serene.

“Which one would you like?”

She reaches to the shelf behind her and selects a simple white box and places it on the table. Scans it with the fancy new iPhone checkout machine.

“Credit card?”

“ID?”

“Sign here with your finger.”

“Is an email receipt OK?”

“Here you go.”

And I put the bag into the messenger bag I had selected specifically for its iPad-sized carrying properties, and disappeared into the Central Park afternoon with my precious cargo.

Success!

When I got upstairs, I took out my phone (where my receipt had just come in — I checked it showed the correct model of iPad) and shot off a quick email to Mom simply saying “Mission successful! On my way home.” We had agreed weeks earlier not to say too much in emails just in case Dad should come by her computer. Now Mom checks her email usually a couple times a day. Clearly she had been checking it obsessively since I called her, because five minutes later she wrote back — in all caps — about what a wonderful daughter I was.

As I made my way home, I felt like I was a secret courier carrying sensitive spy materials over some border. Finally I got home, and very, very carefully did the unboxing. I really wanted to preserve as much of the unboxing experience as possible for Dad, so I cut the shrink-wrap so that only the bottom came off. I used my cable so that all of his accessories could stay wrapped up, and I found to my delight that the iPad touchscreen could be used through the plastic cover that wraps around the whole device itself. I carefully lifted the flap at the bottom so it could be plugged in.

The next 10 hours were spent preparing it in every detail possible. Part of the surprise, maybe the hardest part, was that I wanted to hand him this magical and revolutionary slab of awesomeness, and it would already be filled with all his music, his favorite movies, some TV shows, the most necessary apps, and some books he might like (we have a very similar taste in books, which is helpful).

Some CIA Stuff

The original plan would have required at least several hours at my parents’ house to transfer all his files from his old computer, and then sync everything to the iPad, while hiding the fact that anything was going on.

But when I got home with the iPad and called Mom, we got on iChat, and she helped me to set some stuff up. Dad knew I had been planning to install Tiger and do some major work on his computer on my next visit, so on that pretext, Mom turned on his computer, and while screen sharing through iChat (which is a really awesome, Apple-like, just-works implementation of VNC) I then installed a VNC server on his computer and — get this — using VNC to control my Mom’s computer, used VNC to control my Dad’s. So it was like a screen within a screen within a screen, which was kind of confusing at times. You have to remember, he’s on Panther, so I can’t just do iChat screen sharing with him.

Anyway, much to my relief, his iTunes library was only a little over 2GB (which surprises me). Through a mix of several methods, over the course of many hours, I uploaded and downloaded his entire music library onto the Powerbook. I used three methods simultaneously: iChat file transfer, uploading to my iDisk, and uploading to my website FTP. In this way I hoped to overcome the bandwidth limitations of each. It seemed to work OK, I guess.

I also took his contact file from Entourage and imported it into Address Book on the new computer. I set him up with a GMail account, because they have Optimum Online as their ISP and the email it comes with is from the dark ages, only supports POP, and only supports SMTP from your own house connection. Dear God, if you must use them as your ISP, don’t ever try to use the email, just get a free account from Google or Yahoo or something.

While all this was going on, I bought him some movies and apps with my iTunes account (thankfully Apple has finally instituted the ability to give a specific app as a gift), and then activated them on his new computer.

The most important part, I told Mom, was keeping him away from his email while all this was happening. No doubt the process of registering the iPad, being gifted apps, and downloading free apps, would trigger a series of emails from Apple, like the one that came through this morning entitled “Your New iPad.” To ward against this, I added a rule to Entourage on his current computer that if any mail came in with the sender, subject or message body containing “Apple,” “iTunes” or “iPad” it would be immediately marked as read and moved to the spam folder.

When all was said and done, both the computer and iPad were set up and ready to go. Mom said I should work for the CIA. But as I told her, I don’t think the CIA would put me to work doing something as innocuous as surprising somebody with an iPad. I should also mention that this kind of work is much easier when you know all of your quarry’s passwords — or at least have access to his computer and the administrator password to check his keychain.

OK, OK, the iPad!!

So the bonus to this exciting experience of course was getting to spend about 10 hours playing with the iPad. Some thoughts:

PROS:

  • Very pretty. It feels very solid and well-built. Typical Apple.
  • One of the movies we got for him was Avatar. We just watched a minute of it. The HD video is amazing.
  • The UI for the default apps is great. I especially wish I could have a calendar that’s so easy to read on my iPhone. Just having a week view would be wonderful. I set up accounts for my parents on my Google Apps domain so they can subscribe to my work calendars and see where in the country I am, when I have shows, etc. Seeing my schedule on the iPad was really cool. It’s the one thing I’m really jealous of.
  • The iBooks app is really nice. I like that they have brightness controls easily accessible. On the night the iPad spent with me, I will confess I read a book sample chapter in bed, just to see what it was like. It’s by far the best ebook-in-bed experience I’ve had.

CONS:

  • It is kinda heavy. At times my wrists were getting tired from holding it a certain way. But I think some of that may be because it was still in plastic and I was holding it very delicately so as not to smudge or wrinkle the plastic. When reading in bed I rested the iPad on my stomach. Holding it up for a while probably would have been annoying.
  • Doesn’t come with some of the default apps from the iPhone (weather, stocks, calculator, etc.). I don’t consider this a con so much, as a lot of people end up replacing those apps with something better anyway, and there are several free options. But the big one is no Clock app. This is more important because until third-party apps can multitask, there’s no way to set an alarm that will stay active if you leave the app. I know the iPad is not an iPhone, but this seems like a feature you’d still want no matter what. If Mom had an iPad in the kitchen she’d want to set a timer for the oven or whatever, and then hop over to the iPod app or something while waiting for it to go off. That seems like a big oversight to me. Hopefully in a few months OS4 will come out for the iPad and it will be a non-issue.
  • Summary

    Well Dad was completely surprised, and thrilled with his gift. When handed the package, he thought we had gotten him some sort of computer accessory, but he’s savvy enough to know that when he opened the wrapping and saw “64GB” on the back of the box, there were a very limited number of things that size that contain that kind of storage.

    The whole event was basically a big Apple commercial. He has learned from years of working with Macs and iPods that you don’t need an instruction manual or technical knowledge to work something, and you won’t break it by trying things out. He just started poking around exploring how to make things work, and discovered things I hadn’t found yet either. The biggest discovery was that on the iBooks app, the page-turning animation actually changes based on how you “grip” the page with your finger (i.e. if you turn from the top it shows the top corner curling over, and so forth, basically mimicking perfectly whatever motion and speed you make with your finger).

    From my perspective, I still feel that the only time I would really use an iPad would be in bed. It would be great for reading, watching videos, and light web surfing without having to drag my entire laptop into bed, or squinting at the tiny screen on my phone.

    My fears about having yet another device to keep in sync were pretty much eliminated. Most of the syncing I would care about is over-the-air, and I wouldn’t mind plugging it in to sync new apps and media with my Mac any more than I do with my phone. If money was no object, I’d probably get one (with 3G), but I can think of very few occasions where I would take it with me out of the house, in place of my MacBook Pro.

    All that being said, when the day was over and it was time to go home, I was rather sad to leave it behind, even though I have no idea what I’d really do with it. And that, my friends, is what they call the Reality Distortion Field.