January 17, 2010

Review: Altec Lansing Orbit MP3 Speaker

I call this: computers,tech — Posted by KP @ 6:08 pm

This week we had a Skype conference scheduled between our cast and the NY office.  Nick and my reaction to this was kind of like, “um… uh… OK,” cause we’re not really set up to have video conferences with 14 people on our end.  But being the technological type, we set our computers up, and reserved a good room to have the call in.  But we knew our laptop speakers would not be loud enough to let a room full of people hear well.  I travel with a cheap external speaker, but it’s barely louder than the laptop’s own, and I’ve been looking for a while for other options that are small enough to tour with.

I came across the Altec Lansing Orbit MP3 speaker at the Apple Store, and took a chance on it.

It’s about the size of a doughnut, and comes in a cute carrying case with a carabiner, so easy to travel with.  The short cord curls up under the bottom and the 1/8″ stereo mini plug snaps into place to hold it in.  The bottom also has little rubbery feet, which is nice.  The overall build quality feels very good.  It’s not lightweight for its size, but it’s also not made of cheap materials.

It’s an omnidirectional speaker, so you can place it on your desktop with the speaker pointing up, and the sound will fill the room.  The speaker takes 3 AAA batteries (included), and only works when powered.  My old speaker would produce a tiny bit of sound when unpowered, which was handy for listening without batteries to devices that don’t have their own speakers, such as older iPods and CD players.  But that’s really not something that has been an issue for me too often, so I don’t really mind losing it.  I haven’t had it long enough to get an idea of the battery life, but the power button supposedly also indicates when the battery is low.  There is no volume control on the speaker, so you must use the built-in volume on your computer or music device.

For basic tasks of making computer sound audible to a larger room, or having better sound while watching video or listening to music, I find it works very well.  I think at $40 it’s a fair price for the features, and the accessories are of surprisingly good quality.

There’s also a USB version, which is good because it doesn’t need batteries, but it’s not as flexible because it can only be used with a computer. It’s also $10 more.

May 30, 2009

Razer Mamba Review

I call this: computers,gaming,pc — Posted by KP @ 3:50 pm

side1My birthday present to myself was the brand new Razer Mamba wireless mouse.  How new?  Well actually I don’t know, because last I heard it was supposed to come out on May 18, and then on like May 3rd I went to the website to see about preordering it, and there it was, “in stock.”  I feel like Razer sends me a promotional email on pretty much a daily basis about some headphones or keyboard or some crap, and yet they never actually bothered to advertise via email or on the front page of their website that pretty much their biggest product release ever was now available for purchase?  Razer mice aren’t always carried in stores, but I did find it on Amazon, which is where I purchased it, since I have an Amazon credit card and some gift certificates to spend on it.

First of all it should be said that the mouse costs $129.  If you can’t see the value of spending that much on a mouse, you can stop reading now if you like, or continue reading for fun if you want, but I understand there are only a certain percentage of people for whom this product is intended.  Those are probably the same people who have a keyboard worth $129, a joystick worth $129, and a set of rudder pedals worth $129.  At that point, why should the mouse — the primary way to interact with most games — be given any less attention?

The big deal about this mouse is that it’s the first time that Razer has released a wireless mouse.  Being the dedicated gaming hardware company that they are, they didn’t believe any wireless mouse could stand up to the needs of serious gaming, so they simply chose not to make one until they thought they could do it right.  So it was with much fanfare that they announced some months back that they thought they had finally come up with something worth doing.

Despite the enormous potential for it to be a disaster, I decided that my lifestyle which will have kept me away from all the comforts of home gaming (big monitor, joystick, pedals, TrackIR, surround sound) for basically a full year deserves to be treated to the finest of the one peripheral I actually get to bring with me — the mouse.  My current mouse of choice was the Razer Deathadder, which is a wired mouse in basically the same shape as the Mamba.  In addition to being wireless, the Mamba also offers two additional buttons, placed kind of strangely in the upper-left corner of the left mouse button.  They’re primarily intended to adjust sensitivity on the fly, but can be configured for anything.

One of the coolest things about the Mamba is that it can convert pretty much instantly from wireless to wired mode and back.  The transmitter has a dock built into it that the mouse can rest on when it’s not being used, and it charges over USB.   If you’re using the mouse and start to run low on the battery, or simply want the reliable performance of a wired mouse, you can pop the cable out of the transmitter and plug it directly into the mouse, and voila! you have a wired mouse.  The delay is only the time it takes for Windows to recognize a mouse being unplugged and then plugged in.  I have found that sometimes it seems to take a little longer for the connection to become stable when switching to wireless, but it’s still about 30 seconds.  I wouldn’t recommend doing it in the middle of a firefight, but it’s easy to do during a quick break from action.

Here are a couple shots that illustrate how the cable is removed:

On the underside of the mouse are a few buttons. The latch on the upper-right is the release for the USB cable. On the lower right is the pairing button. I don’t find it generally necessary, but there’s one on the mouse, and one on the transmitter — I guess for when they get confused, or perhaps on a new install. And on the left side is the power switch for the mouse — it’s turned on for wireless mode, and off when charging or when wired.

The two little gold dots are the charging connectors.  The mouse docks on the transmitter, kind of like a pedestal, like so:

charging1Of course if you’d rather play than stare at your beautiful mouse, you can just use it wired, and it will charge as you continue playing.

Mamba vs. Deathadder
As you can see in the photos, they are really pretty much the same size. The changes are very subtle, and from what I can tell, all seem to be good adjustments.

I’ve found the adjustment from the Deathadder to be pretty seamless.  The Mamba is a bit heavier because of the battery, but the teflon feet are much smoother, so I don’t notice the weight.  I’m also not the kind of gamer who really has to lift the mouse that often, so it’s not a big thing for me.  Another small difference is in the area of the side buttons.  The buttons themselves have a thin layer of rubber on them, which feels nice, and there is a more generous rubber area below the buttons, which makes it a nice comfortable place to rest your thumb when you don’t want to hit the buttons accidentally.  There’s also a very slight lip towards the back of the mouse which gives a little more grip and control in the thumb area, especially if you need to lift the mouse a lot.  The cord, should you choose to use it, is woven, not rubber like the Deathadder.  A lot of people prefer that because it moves a little more freely.

Any gaming gear strives to be both functional and sexy.  The Mamba has the standard blue LED style going.  Some people think blue is too cliché, but I don’t mind since it happens to match the lighting on my keyboard and joystick.  The Mamba has less lighting than the Deathadder — just two narrow strips of blue on the mousewheel.  However, the charger/transmitter has blue lighting on the bottom, and around the button on the front of it.

Another good thing is that like most of Razer’s mice, the settings are saved on the mouse itself so when you plug it in on another computer your keymapping and sensitivity settings travel with you.  I believe that requires the drivers to be installed on each machine.  That’s fine with me, since I primarily need it when switching between my home computer and laptop, it’s nice to know that any changes I make to the settings will be up to date when I switch machines.

Rant On
One thing I absolutely hate about Razer is their driver software.  They packaged this thing like it came right out of the dark side of Cupertino (the packaging would take up a post more complex than this one — feel free to google, I’m sure you’ll find lots of unboxing videos and photos).  I swear, I have never seen a product packaged this well from Apple.  And yet their software is absolute crap.  Look at this mess:

mambaNot only is it ugly, I don’t know what shenanigans they have to do to make the edges do that, but whatever it is is totally non-standard and refuses to pop up when I alt-tab out of a game.  Like it can’t overlay against a 3D game or something.  If they had just made it a regular damn window it would be fine!   There’s a lot of shenanigans going on in their software.  Like why is it when I plug in my Deathadder on my Mac, before choosing an OS, it goes backwards? The X axis is reversed! See most fancy mice, when you plug them in to an unknown computer, the computer’s like, “Oh, that’s a mouse.”  And then you install the driver and the computer’s like, “Wow, that’s a really fancy mouse!”  Well with most Razer mice I’ve owned, you plug it in, and the computer’s like “WTF is that?”  And then it does the hardware detection thing, and slowly gets the idea, and the mouse starts working, and then you install the drivers and it starts working well.   But right out of the box, it’s not actually a mouse.  And that pisses me off.  Every time they release a new product I hope they’ll change all this crap and stop acting like, “Hey look at this cool interface we coded in our dorm room — it has jagged edges,” and act like the professional purveyors of pwnage they otherwise present themselves to be.  Whoever designed the packaging for the Mamba needs to bitchslap whoever designs their GUI, and get them on the same page.  Rant off.

Overall I’m very happy with it. It hasn’t changed my life, but even as a wired mouse it’s a step up from the Deathadder. When gaming I like to have the mouse directly in front of the keyboard, but the wire usually gets in the way when I need to type. This is the biggest change I’ve noticed in usability from being wireless –I only need to worry about where the mouse is, not what the cord is dragging over.

April 13, 2009

iPhone Case Review: iSkin Solo FX

I call this: phones — Posted by KP @ 9:46 pm

I’m not a big fan of iPhone cases. I prefer to install the Zagg InvisibleShield, which is like a millimeter thin skin with a somewhat grippy surface, and be done with it. It adds almost no thickness to the phone, and is pretty much invisible.

However, my InvisibleShield has started to peel in a couple places, and that, combined with the fact that we have 5 iPhones on our crew bus, and all but mine are in cases of varying coolness, somehow got me researching iPhone cases again.

The only one I liked was the Solo from iSkin, which is pretty much only available online. There’s the regular Solo, and the Solo FX. I will let their graphic explain:

They are basically the same case, except the solo is a solid primary color, and the FX comes in more funky colors, with a circular pattern.  I went with the orange one.

The other difference you can’t see is in the screen protector it comes with.  The regular solo is a plain clear protector.  The FX comes with a mirrored screen protector.  This inherently sounds like a bad idea to me, and when I received the case this was proven.  The mirrored finish looks cool, and would be pretty handy as a mirror, but it creates a pinkish cast to the screen, and similar to a glossy screen on a computer, picks up reflections which make it harder to read the screen.  Most of all, though, I don’t know why anyone would want a protector that affects the tint of the screen.  I’ve never felt it necessary to use a screen protector on the iPhone due to its glass surface which is very resistant to everyday scratches, so trying the protector on was more of a curiosity.

As someone not a fan of cases in general, I really like this one.  The material is somewhere halfway between a hard plastic case and the more rubbery ones.  It’s kind of a jelly-like plastic, which is very flexible, but doesn’t have the extreme grippy powers that make other cases hard to get in and out of a pocket.  It has enough tack to it that it easily keeps the phone still on a tabletop or in your hand.

All the buttons are covered by the case except the silencer switch, which has a cutout.  There is also a cutout for the camera and headphone port.  I’m not sure how it would do with more chunky headphone connectors than the one the iPhone comes with, but if you really had to I don’t think it would be hard to cut the hole out bigger.  There is also a long cutout at the bottom for the dock connector and mic and speaker openings.  The case does not fit in the standard Apple dock (like pretty much any case I’ve ever heard of, except for the InvisibleShield and similar products), which is a bit of a compromise for me, since I like having the dock at my bedside.  I also found that my old-style iPod cable (with a larger connector and the two tabs you have to push in to disconnect the cable) is a teeny bit wider and took a little forcing to get through the gap in the case, so I recommend using a newer cable like the one that comes with the phone.

One other minor complaint is that the power button is a little tough to press through the case.  Personally I find that button harder to press than it should be under any circumstances, so I don’t think it’s really the fault of the case.  It just requires a firmer press than usual, and gives little feedback that you’ve actually depressed the button, until you see the screen react.

Overall I think the case looks cool.  It’s semi-transparent, so you can still see the Apple logo on the back, if that matters to you.  I’m sure it looks even better on a white iPhone where the color will really come out, but it adds some color and personalization to the black phone as well.  It also does a cool thing when it’s under a strong light, it almost seems to glow, and the color becomes brighter.

Here are some pics of mine. I purposely left the flash off because it was making the color seem a little brighter than it is under normal light.

UPDATE: Because the iPhone 3GS has the same dimensions as the 3G, it works just as well.

Update – Jan 2010

Last time I was in the Apple Store (Mall of America), they had some of these in stock. Nice to see they’re being carried in stores now.

Bag Review: Booq Python Pack

I call this: bag reviews,computers,mac — Posted by KP @ 4:13 pm

It all started under the truck. This is me, in St. Louis, being cute and acting like I’m pulling the truck. Oh, so funny! What a great Facebook picture! But this fun Facebook picture did not come without sacrifices. As we had just left the bus, I had my usual computer backpack on my back, and I specifically left it on for this picture, hoping it would sort of look like I had some kind of harness on helping me to pull the truck. Well what ended up happening was that all the grease under the trailer (which I assume is what makes it able to slide onto the tractor so easily) got all over my bag. I mean all over. If you have not crawled around under a truck, I don’t think you can conceive of this much grease. At first I thought my bag might be a total loss, but over the two or three days in St. Louis, I decided to clean it, with a variety of products suggested by my colleagues. I had some success with dishwashing detergent, but the bag was still stained and vaguely slimey. I bought a cute Jansport sling-style bag in the college bookstore to use until my bag either dried out or was given up on, and while I’m glad I have that bag for other uses, it was never big enough to replace my primary computer bag (which was a Victorinox laptop backpack that I can’t even find a picture of anymore.) My bag had these kind of cool rotatable straps that were connected to a flexible plastic plate inside the bag. The plate had started cracking, and I was growing concerned that one day the whole thing might crack off and the bag would become a useless pile of jello. So I was starting to keep my eyes open for a suitable replacement. You may know, I’m a bag whore — I’ll buy a bag for any specific purpose or situation, but my computer bag almost never satisfies me, because it must be able to do everything. So I stick with the same one for a long time, not because I’m being frugal or rational, but because I rarely find one I find acceptable for such an important job.

All this to say, this is not just any bag review of some bag I saw that I thought might be cool to try. This is the decision to replace the bag, the one that in a few cubic inches allows me to bring my stage managementy goodness wherever I go — safely, comfortably, and with the ability to fit and organize every item that I deem must be with my person at all times.

Needless to say, I did a lot of research. One major factor that immediately excluded a lot of bags is that I refuse to buy a bag with a dark or black interior. There is no good reason that the interior fabric of a bag should make it difficult to find things inside. There aren’t that many companies that take this seriously, and Booq stood out as one of the few that had an obvious understanding of the benefit of a brightly-colored interior.

Booq is a small company that seems to aim their products at Mac users without exactly excluding others. I’m guessing the reason for this is that their M.O. seems to be that they make really really expensive bags. Really nice, really thought out, really expensive bags. And the mentality of the average Mac user is probably more in line with that philosophy of “Yeah I spent a whole lot of money on it, but look, it’s awesome!”

They seem to have a lot of cool bags for different purposes. What I wanted most in mine was capacity and organization for lots of small accessories, while not being too huge for my small body. I found the Python Pack most to my liking. It’s designed for photographers, and comes with a matching camera case that has dividers which can be arranged to fit camera, lenses, and other accessories, and then the whole case slips into the bottom of the main compartment. The idea as best I can tell is that you have your laptop, accessories, memory cards, and camera gear, and then a little room for some extra stuff. I wasn’t so interested in the camera bag, but the size of the spacious compartment, and the many pockets and slots for storage appealed to me, so I gave it a try. Because it doesn’t seem to be carried in stores, I had to make something of a leap of faith. Thankfully, I ordered it from ebags.com, who I’ve always had good luck with, and who happen to have a generous return policy, so if I decided that this bag I paid $300 for, sight unseen, was not the perfect bag for all my needs, I could return it.

Due to my laptop dying on me, it’s taken me longer to finish this review than I had intended, which is good because I have had more time to truly live with the bag. I am still completely happy with my purchase, and this is definitely going to be my main bag for a while. Now on to the details.

List of Pockets and Compartments
I’m a little too happy to have Photoshop back, so I made a fancy list. Do you hate me? I hate me a little. Click for full size.

I didn’t get so fancy for this one. There’s just a pocket on each shoulder strap. Because the straps get bent around your body, I wouldn’t really advise putting anything in them that might not like getting bent. I usually keep gum in them. It would be good for an iPod smaller than an iPhone.

The right-side flap has a lot more little pockets than the other side. I keep things like my computer’s remote, a few thumb drives, my camera (not shown unfortunately because I was taking the picture with it), and some assorted cables. There are two pen slots, but neither is big enough for a chunky pen or pencil, and one of the slots is really only appropriate for a standard #2 pencil. As a stage manager and fan of mechanical pencils, this is pretty useless.

Basic exterior view. Henry V luggage tag not included!


  • Very nice quality construction. The fabric, zippers, seams and pockets feel sturdy. They’re also kind of sexy. The spandex-like material on some of the pockets, which is also functional for its elastic effect, and the magnetic closure on the flaps inside the main compartment, are just pleasant to use.
  • Rubbery base, which wraps around onto the back. It not only protects the bag from whatever may be on the ground, it provides a little traction on the back to keep the bag from sliding around.
  • Orange interior — easy to find things. Unfortunately the large side pockets have a partially black interior, which sucks a lot, but I suppose due to the construction of the bag it probably couldn’t be avoided.
  • It has waist and sternum straps — and just as important, they are removable. I use the sternum strap a lot. I originally took it out on the road with the waist straps stowed in a pocket. But since I never used them, I now travel without them altogether.
  • Comfortable straps
  • CONS:

  • Overall most of the pockets are too tight. What I mean is there are tons of pockets, but it doesn’t feel like much thought went into what happens when there are contents in them. Suddenly they are very small and many of the little pockets overlap, so when one is filled, the one in front of it becomes almost impossible to get anything into. This is helped a bit by the fact that many of the pockets are made of a spandex-like material, so they expand when things are in them. The ones that are not made of this material have very little give.
  • The two slash pockets on the front are so thin, small, and strangely shaped, I’m not sure what is intended to go in them. Right now I have my business cards, a pack of gum, and my Advil/Tylenol box.
  • The camera case is too big to get in and out of the bag easily.
  • Camera Case
    The camera case is really too big for the bag. Even with all the interior pockets empty, the case has to be forced just to get through the opening of the bag. Also, it’s too tall to have it sitting in the bottom of the bag and still be able to get a binder upright above it (you can kind of fit one diagonally, but it’s awkward.) I try to travel with my script in my bag as little as possible, but to be unable to makes me uneasy. While experimenting with this, I discovered that my printer (Canon i70) does indeed fit sideways in the bag, just barely, which helps justify using the camera case in certain situations. Case, printer, script and laptop is never going to happen, though.

    I’m not a photographer, so I really had no use for the case, but I thought it might be fun to play with the provided partitions and use it to hold other goodies of an electronic nature. It holds most of the gaming peripherals I travel with on the road: mouse, USB hub, and gamepad, as well as my backup hard drive. I brought the case on this leg of the tour, and it was a stupid idea. It takes up way too much space for its usefulness. Keeping it in the bag on a daily basis is not a good use of space, and the important stuff, like my mouse and backup drive, live perfectly well in the pockets within the main compartment of the bag itself — pockets which ironically can’t be filled when the camera case is in the bag.

    At any rate, the case would definitely be useful to bring along in more casual situations where I would not need to carry a binder. For an overnight trip, for instance, there would be just enough room left in the bag for some clothes and other small items.
    Here’s how I set up the dividers for my HD and gaming stuff (that’s mouse on the left, HD top center, USB hub upper right, and gamepad at the bottom.)

    Below is a picture of the bag with the camera case in it, and my printer on top.

    Commuter Report:
    My first commute with the bag went surprisingly well. All I had in it was my laptop and the accessories I permanently carry (which is a lot of stuff). The bag was very well balanced, and as a result felt much lighter than it was. My morning train was pretty packed — I got a seat, but I was crammed in, so it was a good opportunity to check how well the bag can be contained on one’s lap without spilling over into someone else’s personal space. While it is much more rigid than a normal backpack, it can still be squeezed into a smaller footprint if need be. The sturdy handle on the top is also nice. It’s big, padded, and strong enough to really be used to drag the bag around with a lot of heavy stuff in it.

    World Traveler Report:
    The bag has been nice to fly with. Again I was nervous about the fact that it’s kind of rigid, but I have found it fits beneath the seats of every plane I’ve been on, including some tiny puddle jumpers. On a couple it has been really tight, though. It does fit in the overhead compartments well, too, if you can tame the straps from going everywhere. When I fly I tend to take the little tiny electronic crap out of my bag as much as possible so the TSA people don’t freak out and have to look at all of it. On my first flight with this bag, I didn’t really do that, and sure enough it had to be hand searched. But because there are enough pockets for everything to have its proper place, that didn’t take long.

    Work Report:
    I really love the fact that the bag naturally stands upright. It just makes getting into it easier. The rigidity is also nice since you don’t have to dig around, everything is exposed. I keep my laptop charging cable in the inner pocket on the flap, which makes it very heavy. When the bag is largely empty and the charger is still in the pocket, it does have a tendency to fall over, but that probably serves me right for packing it that way. The handle on the top is very sturdy for wrestling with the bag and dragging it under my desk, into the junk bunk on the bus, or anywhere I need it to go.

    In Conclusion:
    I have no regrets about buying this bag. It’s very expensive, but so far it’s been worth it, as I haven’t seen another bag that meets my needs so well.

    And finally, here’s a view of the bag carrying a theoretical load of two large scripts, my printer, and computer (for those who really care about the distinction, that was my 15″ Powerbook standing in for the picture, my Macbook Pro was busy doing something — it’s a little bit longer and thinner than the PB.) You can also see one of the padded inserts that comes with the bag, so that it can fit Macbooks from 13″ (where you would use both pads) to 15″ (with one pad) to 17″ (no pads needed).

    You can see in some of the other pictures that I have an inner sleeve in the laptop slot. That is one I just bought, also made by Booq, although it’s not particularly marketed as an accessory for this bag. It’s their Taipan Skin sleeve, which comes in a couple colors. The black one pretty much matches this bag. It has three little rubbery stripes sewn on it, which give it a little more protection and grip. The zipper wraps around two sides of the bag, so you can take the computer out horizontally or vertically. There are also two zippers. I have the medium model, designed for the 15″ MacbookPro. If you’re curious, Booq makes it clear that it fits both current (unibody) and previous-gen MBPs. Mine is previous-gen, and the fit is very snug, but not too snug. I don’t have a current-gen model to test it with, so I can’t say for sure how it would fit, but I’d guess it wouldn’t be swimming in it. It’s a little tight to just slip the computer in when it’s inside the laptop slot in the bag, but I like traveling with a sleeve because it allows me to carry the laptop around by itself with some protection, when it’s overkill to take my whole bag, such as running into the theatre for a minute from the bus, or going up to the booth during a show.

    February 14, 2009

    Another Bag Review: Ricardo Beverly Hills Essentials 30″ Rolling Duffle

    I call this: bag reviews,On the Road Again,random,theatre — Posted by KP @ 11:36 am

    According to my statistics, probably the most popular post ever on my blog is the review I did of my BBP bag (which I decided I kind of hate, and never use, incidentally). It seems people are always searching for reviews of it, and I hope my rather lengthy post on it has helped them make a decision. So since I’m an admitted Bag Whore, and recently purchased a new bag that I’m very excited about, I will give another review.

    For this tour I’m now on, I decided I needed a snazzy new piece of luggage that I could lug around for six months, that would be bigger than the small suitcase I use for summer stock, but small enough that I can still get around with it easily. I haven’t selected a piece of luggage for myself since I was about 12, so I really didn’t know what my options were. After looking for ideas in some luggage stores in New York, I decided to try the rolling duffle format, as it seemed the most expandable while still being lightweight and compact when the contents allowed. I think they actually may not make this model anymore, but you can still find it for sale online (at about half of the original MSRP). Here’s the Amazon link.

    This is the Ricardo Beverly Hills Essentials 30″ Rolling Duffle. It’s MSRP is $180, but most places I’ve seen it online have been around $100. It comes in blue, shown above (which is the one I have), and brown. The wheels (which are Razer-scooter-style) match the color of the bag, which is a completely useless but cool feature. It has some little accents that are yellow (such as the zipper pulls, and the button you push to make the handle pop out).

    As this handy image shows, it has two main compartments: there is a lower compartment that’s kind of box-shaped and somewhat rigid, but not completely. The zipper that you see partially opened on top leads to the main compartment which takes up pretty much all the rest of the space. There is also a nice mesh section on the bottom of the top compartment, so you can see into the bottom compartment and air can get in there. It even zips open so you can get in the bottom compartment without opening it from the outside (my bag is always packed too tightly to make that very useful, but I’m sure it could be).

    The upper compartment has two pouches on the back edge, like many suitcases have, to stick whatever it is you stick in those (toiletries mostly, I guess, though I travel with a separate toiletries bag since we don’t stay in a hotel every night). These don’t close, and when the bag is flipped open, due to its flexible nature, I find the pouches sometimes bend over and the contents spill out into the rest of the bag. I keep things like my little swiss army knife, apartment keys, coins for laundry, stamps, and a roll of scotch tape in there. I don’t mind it too much, but they’re not the most useful for keeping things separate that you really need to keep separate. Unfortunately, I’d say the one fault of the bag is there really aren’t any small compartments, but I think that’s true of most traditional suitcases as well.

    Attached at either end of the upper part of the bag are rather large side pockets. The one on the left is kind of normal, the one on the right has a little trick. It’s mostly designed to be a place to keep dirty laundry, wet clothes, shoes, or other things you might not want getting shoved in with all your nice clean clothes. The pocket actually goes much deeper than it appears — it has a sort of sock-like shape to it that extends into the main compartment. This has advantages and disadvantages: if you don’t need to fill that pocket with much, then it just compresses and doesn’t take away valuable space in the main compartment. If you do try to cram it with stuff, it will expand into the main compartment, giving you less room in there. I think this is the best possible solution, but when I’ve got close to a week of dirty laundry, it can be tricky to shove it all in the side pouch, and then rearrange the rest of my bag to compensate for the fact that the center compartment is now reduced in capacity for clean clothes. In theory it should all work out because it’s the same total volume, but I find I always have to start rearranging things as the proportion of dirty vs. clean clothes changes throughout the week. If you stay somewhere more than a day or two and actually fully unpack your bag in the hotel, it might not matter at all. Anyway, the idea of having a separate place for dirty laundry was a huge selling point for this bag. The fact that it doesn’t waste space when empty is also highly awesome.
    UPDATE: After a recent string of nights spent sleeping on the bus, I had gotten to the point where most of my clothes were dirty. I’m happy to report the dirty laundry pocket was able to expand to about 2/3 the size of the total upper part of the bag, successfully keeping all my yucky clothes away from the nice ones until we were able to spend the night in a hotel.

    These are really the only four compartments. There is a zipper at the bottom of the bottom compartment which leads into the lining of the bag. I really don’t know what it’s for, but you could shove stuff in there if you really want, maybe for extra security. I keep my mail in there so 3 months of bills and bank statements aren’t rolling around in my way every day. On the exterior there are a few loops, and some elastic straps, which if I’m careful, I can get my toiletries bag to fit in — by complete accident, the bags even match!

    The final zippered area is on the bottom of the bag. A panel pulls down revealing some (rather thin and cheap-feeling) backpack straps. I like this feature because if I have to carry the bag up a flight of stairs, it’s much easier as a backpack than as a suitcase. However, when there’s 30-40lbs in the bag, the straps are not particularly comfortable, so I don’t personally see this as an alternative to rolling the bag, except for a quick 30-second jaunt up stairs or the like. I also suspect with any serious use they would start to break.

    The bag has a standard pull-out locking luggage handle for wheeling it. It’s very sturdy, the only complaint I have about it is that it’s short. This works fine given the height of the bag, but if you have any carry-on bags that have a slot intended to be passed over the luggage handle of another bag, you will probably find this handle too short to come out the other end of your carry-on.

    On the back side of the bag is a little window for your name and address, with a cover that velcros down over it.

    The handles are nicely designed. There are duffel-style handles with a velcro strap to keep them together. The top of the bag has a soft handle, and the bottom has a hard rubberish one, which I think is also intended to help the bag stand on end. This doesn’t always work, but it’s a start. No matter how you want to carry the bag, or if you want to carry it with another person, you’ll find a handle for it. I find that especially useful when yanking the bag around in the luggage bays under our bus.

    The wheels, as I said, match the color of the bag and are similar to the narrow variety used in Razer Scooters and inline skates. I’m sure you could find a suitcase with more rugged wheels, but I found these satisfactory even through the snow and ice in Minneapolis.

    Finally, here’s an action shot of my bag in the Minneapolis airport. This gives some indication that the colors are a little darker and more subtle than the Smurftacular blue that the manufacturer’s photos make it seem to be.

    One final observation: when I was shopping for this bag I read some reviews saying that it started to fall apart quickly. I was a little concerned, but I must say so far I don’t see any signs of wear at all. If that changes over the tour I will update this, but we are traveling every day or two now, so it should be going through a lot of use.

    Separate pocket for dirty laundry, collapses when not needed.
    Hidden backpack straps
    Handles every place you could think to carry it from.
    Wheels roll nicely

    No small closable pockets or compartments.
    Doesn’t stand up on end all that well, depending on how it’s packed.
    Handle is too short to attach a carry-on around it.

    TEASER: Just this morning, while acting a fool underneath our truck trailer, I got copious amounts of grease on my main backpack, which I fear will be coming off on my hands and anything else it touches from now until the end of time. So I am now in the market to replace my beloved Victorinox bag ASAP. This is one of the most essential objects in my life, so I will be sure to do a thorough review of whatever I get.

    April 4, 2008

    Flashlight Discoveries

    I call this: theatre — Posted by KP @ 4:01 pm

    This is a recap of some stuff I discovered, mainly while working on Frankenstein.
    Being a stage manager, I’m naturally somewhat obsessed with flashlights, and at some point earlier in my career when searching for new toys, stumbled on the site photonlight.com. I had purchased a Photon Microlight II much earlier, at Eastern Mountain Sports or one of those places, and wore it on a chain around my neck as an all-purpose last-resort flashlight that would always be on my person. I considered it a step up from a bite light, as it had a pushbutton for momentary use, and a tiny switch so it could be left on. Thus, you could hold it in your teeth or in your hand, but without the need to actually bite on it or squeeze it to make it work. This was all well and good until I discovered the rich variety of small LED lights they sell online.

    Specifically, the Photon Freedom Micro. It’s insane. It does all sorts of complicated things with only one button, I don’t even remember how to use them all.

    The ones that I use:
    1. Press the button, the light comes on. Press again to turn it off. Simple enough.

    2. If you’re like me, and reading Howard McGillin’s crossword puzzle while stuck for 10 minutes on a bridge over the stage of the Majestic Theatre, you might not want to turn the light on to its full power, even when using a colored LED. If the light is off, simply hold down the button. This will slowly increase the brightness from nothing, and when you let go it stops at that level. So if you want only a teeny-tiny amount of light, let go as soon as it starts to light up. It’s awesome. It also works in reverse, if the light is on and you hold down the button, it dims until you let go. Once you turn it off it will return to full brightness next time you press the button.

    3. It can also do crazy things like flash at different rates, or even automatically flash SOS over and over.

    Next comes the ability to customize your light. For the housing there are obvious colors like black and various camo shades, but you can also get it in more funky colors. The one I use for the stage is the black covert housing, which has a little plastic hood that covers the sides of the LED, so you can only see the light when it’s pointed right at you, and the beam doesn’t spill all over the place. I have a second light with a white LED, which I keep on my keychain for general illumination, and that’s in the “fashion blue” color, just because it looks cool.

    Then you get to choose the color of the LED, which offers a wide variety of choices. It should be noted that not all the colors are available with all body styles. You may have to get black or camo to get the color LED you want. The full list of colors are: white, red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, purple, and for a few dollars more, you can even get IR or UV light. I went with turquoise for mine, because it has night vision properties, but it’s not as dark as blue, so it gives more natural illumination. I am completely opposed to using red-gelled flashlights onstage. Unless perhaps you’re doing Sweeney Todd, if the red spills anywhere that the audience can see it, it will stick out like a sore thumb, whereas shades of blue will probably blend in with your lighting better. So I’ve been really happy with the turquoise color.

    Finally, you get some accessories in the box. I didn’t think much of these, since I was accustomed to using the small keychain ring on the old one to wear it on a chain around my neck. The Freedom comes with two clip accessories that the light can pop into. The first has a simple loop on it to be used on a lanyard or anywhere else you might want to tie a string through it. I still use this through the chain around my neck, but now with the advantage that I can pop it off at a moment’s notice to point it at something far away from my neck, or (gasp!) let someone else borrow it. And despite my initial fears, I have never had it pop out of the clip unexpectedly.

    The other accessory is this amazing device that has an alligator clip with a magnetic base, so you can either clip it or magnetically attach it to something, and the light is held on a swivel so you can aim it wherever you want. As you can see the guy in the picture is wearing it on his hat. This summer I didn’t have a bedside lamp at the apartment I was staying at, so I stuck mine to the metal bedpost and used it as a reading light. But the moment that changed my life was when we started tech for Frankenstein and I attempted to clip it to my headset, on the side of the not-covered ear. I had one of the really lightweight Clearcom headsets, and the clip jiggled around on the thin metal band. I rolled a thin strip of gaff tape around the band until it was just thick enough for the clip to hold firmly, and there it remained until the show closed. Words cannot express how helpful that clip was. I was wearing way too many hats on that show, and the ability to turn on the light with one press and then be able to work handsfree was amazing. Thanks to the ability to turn the light at any angle, I could give it a quick twist and have it point exactly where I was looking, or at a different angle, so my head could be looking down at the cue light while the light was aimed up at the tape marks on the ropes I was pulling. The other cool thing was that because of the clip-in holders, at the end of the show I was able to easily pop the light out of the holder on my headset and place it back in the holder around my neck, so I didn’t have to leave it at the theatre.


    Because I’m obsessed with flashlights, I often use two during a performance — one for when a small amount of light is needed, and one for when I need a lot of light. My light of choice for the “a lot of light” category has always been the Surefire 6P. It’s reeeeeaaaalllly bright. With a Xenon bulb the battery life is pretty terrible (something like 1 hour), and the camera batteries it takes can be expensive, even when purchased in bulk. I noticed on Frankenstein that my batteries for both flashlights were running out too quickly for my tastes. I was getting less than two weeks out of the Surefire, and this distressed me, especially since I wasn’t even using it for the vast majority of my cues. I was bitching about it one night on headset, when our electrician mentioned that she had an LED Surefire, and it got much better battery life. I wasn’t even aware that Surefire had made an LED equivalent of the 6P, and I doubted it could come anywhere near the brightness of the Xenon bulb. She assured me that it was at least bright enough to see into a grid, and offered to let me play with it. A few days later I stood on the stage with my 6P and hers (which is called the G2), and shone both of them around the theatre — up to the balcony, into dark corners, etc. What I found when comparing them against a spot in the back of the balcony was that the G2 exhibits that weird murky gray-blue quality that all white LEDs have, and that the 6P was more naturally picking up the vibrant colors of the walls and doors, etc. But while the 6P was more pleasing to the eyes, the G2 was illuminating the same area well enough, and the tradeoff for better battery life seemed worth it. I ordered a G2 the next day.

    The other fun thing about having a Surefire is that we had a little bit of a shadow play at one point in the show, and during understudy rehearsals I would stand behind our “Creature” and hold the Surefire next to the instrument that would be illuminating him, and the beam was strong enough even under worklight to allow him, the PSM and dance captain sitting in the house to see the shadows and work on his performance of them. You can’t do that with a maglite.

    I should also mention that I also have the flip-off blue filter for the Surefire. Mine is the older style, from my 6P, but I found with some elbow grease it fit on the G2 as well. Most of the time when I use the flashlight during performance, it’s with the filter on.

    Since all my batteries had been sucked up by the show, I placed a bulk battery order at the same time as I ordered the G2. When my Photon light would die, it was a tragedy. Radio shack charged something like $6 for each watch battery, of which I needed two. Twelve dollars in batteries for that tiny little light, it was almost as expensive as buying the batteries for the Surefire at retail. So I ordered a bunch of the lithium batteries for the Surefire, and also found that I could get the same watch batteries for the Photon that I bought for $6 at Radio Shack, for 51 cents!!! Needless to say I ordered a ton of them. I found the G2, and the batteries at Brightguy.com.

    I hope you’ll find these products as useful as I did. I was so excited the day the order from Brightguy arrived at the theatre, I stabbed myself with my Leatherman while trying to pry off the battery door on the Photon light. I recommend the small screwdriver tip for that now, not the point of the huge freakin’ razor-sharp blade.

    And finally, frequent readers will know I hate posting pictures of myself, but I feel this really requires an illustration of the headset mounting trick for the Photon light, and it so happens the only pictures of it I have include my head within the headset, so here you go:

    August 30, 2007

    BBP Hamptons Bag Review

    I call this: bag reviews,computers,mac — Posted by KP @ 11:00 pm

    While browsing the online Apple Store for something new, I came across a new bag. It needs to be said that I am a major bag whore. I own lots of bags, each one appropriate for a slightly different situation, most of them with lots of fun pockets and compartments. Since the last year and a half has been devoted to the purchase of a Macbook Pro, which I finally now have, I haven’t been buying new bags because I was saving every penny for the new computer. I also hadn’t seen anything to catch my eye lately. Until I stumbled across this bag.

    The company’s website is here. I ended up not purchasing it from the Apple Store. If I had been able to find one in an Apple Store, I would have, but online I found it much cheaper on Amazon (retail price is $95, but I got it for $50), and I have been putting ridiculous amounts on my Amazon credit card, so my gift certificates covered it. It comes in other colors, but I liked this titanium and orange one best. They come in three sizes: small, medium and large, which hold different sized laptops. I got the medium as they claim it perfectly fits the 15″ Macbook Pro, which it does. It also comes with some velcro-in padded inserts that you can use to customize the shape for your particular laptop. I actually used all of them in the bottom of the laptop compartment to provide a little extra cushioning.

    The straps

    The thing that makes this bag unique (and maybe a little frightening) is that you can wear it like a messenger bag over one shoulder, or like a backpack by converting the strap so that it attaches to the middle of the bag and over both shoulders. You may ask yourself, “Won’t I look like an idiot with a messenger bag dangling down on my lower back?” I asked myself the same thing. Maybe? Probably? But I decided it might be worth a try, and if it was really humiliating, at least I would still have a new messenger bag to wear in the regular style.

    My first reaction to trying the straps is that it is indeed quite comfortable to wear the bag backpack-style. It also works well over one shoulder with the strap in backpack configuration, so it’s sort of a cross between backpack and messenger. It takes a little re-rigging to really switch modes, so I have been finding this the best way to be able to swap back and forth quickly.

    Once I started using it on a day-to-day basis, I discovered a system that seemed to work well. I wear it backpack style as I walk to and from the train and my apartment, where it’s not crowded. While on the train, I switch it to messenger style, which works better in the tight confines of midtown streets where I can put it in front of me, to the side, or slung around to the back depending on the size of space I need to squeeze through. The bag definitely feels much heavier in messenger style, but it’s rather wide when worn on the back, and has been getting caught on things.

    The other annoyance I have about wearing it backpack style begins with something BBP has on their site:

    I was very comforted to hear this before purchasing, as I’m 5’0″ and often find that no matter how high on your back a bag is supposed to ride, it always winds up hanging down on my butt and distorting all the intended weight-distributing design. I thought maybe I was in the clear with this one. No such luck. I have read a review claiming that despite the low-hanging design, the bag does not bounce on your butt. Let me tell you, if you’re 5’0″ you can hike up all the straps to their shortest length, and the bag will still bounce on your butt. Hard. With every step. That’s thousands of bounces every time you go somewhere, and I don’t appreciate my laptop being bounced on anything thousands of times a day, even though the padding on the back of the bag is quite thick.

    Brightly lined interior… or not

    One of the things I found appealing about this bag that I now look for in all my bags is that the interior should be a bright color so you can find stuff in it. My bags, especially my computer bags, hold lots of tiny little cables and adapters, and generally I find them by sticking my hand way down into the pockets and finding stuff by touch. This is not really ideal. I was a bit disappointed when the bag arrived to discover that only two of the compartments have the fun yellow interior, and even that is a stretch. The big giant compartment is yellow, which is less helpful to me because I tend to put big giant things in the big giant compartment, and big giant things are usually easier to find anyway. The wide compartment in the front has yellow on the back side, adjoining the big giant compartment, but the pockets and the outer side are black. So you can sort of see things in the pockets, but anything sitting in the space in front of the pockets (which happens to be the natural place for all my cables and adapters) is lost in the blackness. Every other compartment in the bag is all black. Considering they tout this as one of the features of the bag, it feels a little half-assed when only one of the bag’s eight compartments is fully lined in a bright color.

    The shower test

    About once a year it seems I find myself walking 20 blocks or more in a torrential downpour. The kind of downpour where it feels like there’s more water than air in the air. For this reason when I buy a bag capable of holding my computer the first thing I do before ever letting it carry my computer is put it in the shower. I stick pieces of paper in the various pockets where sensitive items might be, and after letting my shower rain down on it for a while, I check to see if the papers got wet.

    I’m sorry to say this bag did not entirely pass. The manufacturer clearly states on the website that it’s water resistant, not waterproof, but I was especially worried by the fact that the laptop compartment is conveniently located behind the main flap so that you can take your computer out without opening the flap. It has a water-resistant zipper, but it’s not protected from water like it would be if the flap covered it.

    After ten minutes under the shower (suspended, not sitting in the water at the bottom), here are the results:
    Inside flap: surprisingly dry. You can see that the lighter-colored silver area is where the interior pockets pretty much survived.

    Inside the big compartment: wet! As you can see the paper was pretty soaked at the bottom, and there was also a large pool of water in the bottom of the bag. I attribute this to the fact that I sometimes spun the bag under the shower head which probably let a bunch of water in through the sides under the flap. Probably more severe than anything that would happen in an actual rainstorm. The large black seam at the top of the photo also showed a little wetness seeping through. The wide front compartment which I can best describe as “where I would put my power adapter” came out wetter than I would like at the bottom. I attribute this to the fact that the bottom of this compartment adjoins the bottom of the main compartment, which was filled with water. The pouch in the front came out almost completely dry.

    The cute magnetically-sealed iPod compartment: soaked. I expected this, especially because this is the one pouch that doesn’t have a zipper, and it’s exposed on the outside of the flap. In the rain I would never have my iPod in the external pouch of any bag, but this illustrates why. I didn’t bother putting paper inside any of the other outer pouches.

    And finally, how has my laptop been faring during this downpour? A bit wet. There is also a little water pooled at the bottom of the compartment. I’m not sure whether it came in from the adjoining compartment or from the seams at the top.

    My overall verdict is that while my test was probably more severe than I would encounter in the real world, if I were ever caught in a real rainstorm with this bag and anything water-sensitive in it, my first priority would be to get the hell out of the rain.

    The designers did add something helpful that I’ve never had in a bag before: an umbrella holder on the inside of the flap. I can’t demonstrate it because I kind of hate umbrellas and didn’t bring one with me this summer. They also give me this cool thing up here called a “car” which means I never have to walk 20 blocks in the rain. But when I get home this will be a nice incentive to carry an umbrella.


    I think it will almost completely replace my usual messenger bag, the Timbuk2 Commute, which is also a great bag (and waterproof), and it should fix the main complaint I have about the Timbuk2, that it’s too small to hold much besides my laptop and script and a few accessories. This bag holds enough stuff to actually be usable for rehearsals when I have to bring everything, and the different carrying options will allow me to distribute the weight better than I would be able to with a normal messenger bag, on those days when it’s just too heavy for one shoulder.

    Some little details I like:

    Extra D-rings on the outside of the flap and on the straps for clipping… whatever onto them. I wasn’t sure what I was going to use these for, but figured I would find a use eventually. After the final performance of my summer stock season, I had crammed my belongings from the theatre into every possible pocket (see photo for an idea of how wide the bag gets), but I had nowhere safe to put my headset. So I tied the strings of its drawstring bag around one of the D-rings and let it hang on the outside. I wouldn’t call that a “safe” way to carry a headset, but for the trip from the booth to the trunk of my car it worked fine.

    The open pocket on the back has a zipper at the bottom which opens it up to be put over the handle on a rolling suitcase. I love those things. Here’s a picture of it in action on my trip home from Reagle.

    The magnetic clip on what is presumably the iPod pouch is classy. A special softer lining on the inside would have been a great touch, but no luck.

    One other oddity is the center mesh pocket on the outside of the flap. I’m not a big fan of mesh in general, as I think it will result in the contents falling out, either accidentally, or because a potential pickpocket can see exactly what’s in it, limiting it to holding nothing more expensive than a roll of BreathSavers. This particular mesh pocket doesn’t even have a piece of elastic at the top. Now think about this: you put something in this pocket, then later you need to get something out of your bag and lift the flap. The outer pocket is now upside down! Something that is designed to be turned upside down as part of its normal operation should probably be closed at the top. Odd.

    All in all, this bag has some really bold and smart design choices, but I don’t think it’s going to fully replace any of the bags I already own.

    August 17, 2007

    iWork 08 Review – Pages

    I call this: computers,mac — Posted by KP @ 10:25 am

    While in the five years since I switched to Mac I have grown to love Apple’s style of hardware and software that “just works,” I still like to know that I have control over the way things work and can customize them to my liking. For the most part I haven’t felt that being a Mac user has taken away my ability to customize, but sometimes that means replacing Apple’s built-in apps with 3rd party replacements. Missing Sync instead of iSync, Firefox instead of Safari, and the biggest of all, Office.

    I have tried. I have no love for Microsoft, and their Office apps are buggy and slow, especially because they just don’t seem to have gotten around to updating their software for Intel processors like, oh, I don’t know, pretty much every other Mac developer on earth. But still, I don’t seem to be able to tear myself away from Office. But with each release of iWork, I try again.

    When Apple first released Pages, I was excited to see what it could do. I became frustrated very quickly. With Word, even when I don’t know exactly where to find a certain function, I usually instinctively look in the right general direction. Every time I try to use Pages I find myself searching the whole app, in menus, preferences, the Inspector, contextual menus, all the while wondering if I’m even going to recognize the name of the option when I find it. And when I do find it, it’s usually somewhere that makes no sense to me and took way too many clicks to get to. I just don’t like the layout of these kind of Apple apps with the Inspector, and the giant Font menu that pops up and gets all in the way just to make a simple change. Having this in an app as important as a word processor was driving me crazy. I never realized how much I’m tied to the Microsoft way of doing things, although it makes perfect sense since I’ve been using MS word processors exclusively pretty much every day since the age of nine. There are certain things I just expect in the UI and the menus, and can’t conceive of doing any other way. Knowing that Apple is often right about these things, I keep trying to get used to their way, but every previous attempt has sent me quickly back to Word.

    I worked with a director last year who did everything in Pages 2, and his stuff looked great, and I made another effort to force myself to use it, but when I couldn’t get things to look exactly as I wanted, again I had to give up and do it in Word where I knew exactly what to do.

    When 42nd Street started rehearsals last month, there were a lot of changes in the schedule every day, and I needed to produce new and easy-to-read schedules pretty much on the spot. Taking time to format them and make them look pretty was time we didn’t have. And they had to be easy to read as they were being made, so that we could see problems, like time overlaps or too many rehearsals scheduled in one room. Despite being in full anti-Pages mode at the time, I knew that this particular job was perfectly matched for Pages. It can look pretty, and it can look pretty immediately. I made a table, created the right number of columns, and began dragging things around to form our schedule, merging and dividing cells as needed. At right you can see an example. Stuff is just typed in without any thought to formatting, and it looks clean and legible. I would save a copy every day as a PDF to be e-mailed to the cast. Pages can also save in .doc format, but I prefer PDFs more and more as different versions of Office can screw up margins and formatting, and if the document won’t need to be edited by the recipient, I prefer the safety of knowing it will look exactly as I intended.

    As the weeks went on, I came to appreciate the ease of Pages more and more, and sometimes would play around a little with settings, and got used to where to look for various options. So I was already in the right frame of mind when Steve Jobs announced the new version of iWork last week (yeah, I’m totally one of those people who sits at home following IRC chats and liveblog updates any time Jobs gives a keynote, and then watches the video of it once it’s available for download). A new version of Pages, plus a brand new (but not at all unexpected) spreadsheet app called Numbers, had me very excited. I use Keynote quite a bit in my career (as discussed here), but nothing in the new version has particularly caught my attention, it’s all been about Pages and Numbers.

    The Pros

    The big thing that got me all excited while watching the Stevenote was when he mentioned a contextual formatting bar. The best thing possible — all the easy-to-reach formatting goodness I miss from Word (you know, drop-down font menus, font size, alignment buttons), and contextual, to make space for only the options I need at a given moment. So exciting!

    One other thing that seems to be improved is that Pages appears to be remembering my preferred settings for default documents. By default it has this maddening setting to add 12 points of blank space every time you press the enter key. It’s some sort of “paragraph break” or whatever, but I’m fully capable of hitting enter twice when I want such a thing, thank you very much. It’s nice to have a style option like that, but it drove me nuts that it was enabled by default and when I finally figured out where the hell to change it, I had to do it every time I opened a blank document. It doesn’t seem to be doing it to me anymore now, so either it’s teasing me, or it has learned that I don’t like it and will remember that from now on.

    Pages has always been better than Word at page layout, and one of the new features is a separate page layout mode, which lets you start a document which is totally blank and waiting for you to add text boxes, images, etc. and you don’t have to worry about the regular typing area. It also has a feature I have long loved in Keynote: a line that shows up when you get close to aligning objects to sensible things like horizontal or vertical center of the document, or aligned with an adjacent object. It makes it really easy to arrange things perfectly. I’m not 100% sure this is new to Pages 3, but I think it is, and regardless, it’s something SO much better than Word. Have you ever tried to perfectly align an image or text box in Word? Enough said.

    Office 2007 for Windows was released at the beginning of this year and it features new document formats which are supposedly smaller and better. I have been living in 2007 for eight-and-a-half months now, and have never crossed paths with one of these documents. I guess they’re slow to be adopted as many people and businesses haven’t upgraded to the new version of Office, or are using the old formats for the sake of their non-’07-using colleagues. For Mac users who need to open these documents, MS has recently made available a beta version of their conversion tool, which supposedly will be built into a future Office update… someday. In the meantime, while Office cannot presently open documents in the current Office format, there are some other apps that can. Such as Pages and Numbers. (In fairness, so can the open-source office suite OpenOffice, but it’s more fun to point out the irony that Apple’s apps are more Office-compatible than Office.)

    The Cons

    Two of my favorite things in word processing are tables and comments. I use tables a lot as you can see in my schedule example above. Now imagine I’m making that schedule. As I’m typing I say to myself, “do we need Julian to come to the ‘Go Into Your Dance’ rehearsal?” So now I want to put one of Pages’ oh-so-sexy comments pointing to the cell for that rehearsal and say something like “Julian?” Problem. A comment attached to a table attaches to the entire table, it can’t be used to indicate a particular cell. Bummer. It was a bummer last year when I was trying to get into Pages, and it’s a bummer in this version. In fact, in trying to test this, I find I can’t even get a comment onto a table at all in word processing mode, only in page layout. Not sure what’s up with that.

    In Summary

    I think the new version of Pages includes enough of the features I want to finally get me over my Word withdrawal so that I might actually be able to make the switch. When I’m old and gray and Office 2008 eventually comes out, I may have to still buy it just in case, but that’s still a long time away. If I can get Word and Excel out of my life, I will look again at getting rid of Entourage, but e-mail and PIM functions are the most important data I work with, and I find Mail + iCal + Address Book very weak in comparison to the power of Entourage. Thankfully, Entourage can be purchased separately if it comes to that. I look forward to seeing what happens to those three built-in apps in Leopard, maybe they will come closer to what I want, and I won’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on Office anymore.

    A review of Numbers will be coming soon!

    July 12, 2007

    New Discoveries

    I call this: computers,mac — Posted by KP @ 9:11 pm

    Have you heard the news that the new Macbook Pros have a 1.3MP camera in them? Very exciting to get something you didn’t know you were getting. Doesn’t look like any apps can take advantage of that yet, but surely it’s a sign of better things to come. The test app mentioned in the link is now available for download to be played with by all. You can see the video is quite slow, so some work will have to be done to make real-time video at this resolution practical. But if you just want to take a better snapshot with your camera, you can use this little app and have it saved to the desktop.

    All this talk about the camera drew my attention to an app called iGlasses. I hadn’t yet gotten around to digging up the best apps for camera-having Macs, and I think this one is a keeper. And at only $8, the improvement in picture quality is more than worth it to me. The terrible single-source florescent lighting in my summer apartment has made for some very dark video chats, and iGlasses’ “enhanced” setting immediately improved the brightness to a normal level. It also features some funky options to entertain or annoy your chatting partner, depending on their perspective.

    Using Protection
    My assistant at Reagle has, as long as he’s had his iBook, sworn by using a protective sheet over his keyboard to prevent finger oils from getting rubbed on the screen, and to keep the keys from pressing into the screen and leaving permanent marks. Personally I’ve always felt I was too busy to deal with such a thing, but this probably stems from the fact that my Powerbook had the “white spots” flaw, which began to show itself after two or three weeks of ownership, and I figured there was nothing the keys could do to the screen that would make it look any worse. Four years later, the screen has a full representation of the keyboard imprinted on it, which I can really only see when it’s off. One day during rehearsal I was sitting in the lobby with the MBP, bathed in sunlight from the courtyard, and saw the faint outline of the very edges of my keys on the screen. It’s one thing to let a defective screen go to hell, but this machine is being very good to me, and I was not treating it with the respect and care it deserves. I stopped at Staples on the dinner break to get some screen cleaner spray, and vowed to get to the Apple store as soon as I could to buy a proper cover for the keyboard.

    You know every Apple laptop comes with a thin piece of foam that covers the keyboard during shipping. Some people keep this and continue to use it. But really, part of the experience of being a Mac owner is spending a bunch of money on a piece of cloth, secure in the knowledge that this is the only piece of cloth ever professionally manufactured specifically for the purpose of covering the keyboard of your machine.

    This miracle device is included in the Marware Protection Pack. It’s a piece of cloth. It’s the size of the keyboard, except it’s actually not. It would need to be a millimeter or two wider to be perfectly sized. But it’s made of microfiber, which means it can also be used to clean the screen. While it’s bigger than the microfiber cloth I normally carry for this purpose, at least it means I no longer have to carry that and keep it clean.

    Also in the Protection Pack is a leathery protective sticker that covers the whole wrist rest area. I worry about my wrist rest because I have a metal clasp on the bottom of my watch (which I’m generally careful to keep elevated off the keyboard), and my PB has pitting on the aluminum where my right hand sits when using the trackpad (over the CD slot), and on the trackpad button. While I see this more as a testament to the hard work this machine has done, it’s definitely not pretty. Based on my research, I decided the only thing uglier than the pitting was the Marware wrist rest cover. On a Macbook, especially a black one, the color of the laptop and the wrist rest might blend in. But there is a big difference between bare aluminum and a gray leathery thing. How could I make my MBP so ugly for its whole lifespan in the name of preventing it possibly becoming ugly years down the road? Unfortunately while Marware does sell the keyboard cover separately, the Apple Store only had them in the combo pack for $20. I decided since I was worried about the wrist rest it might be worth having the protective sticker just in case. I put the thing on just for kicks, and this was the result:

    It looks as professional as it can under the circumstances, although again it’s not quite cut right to fit the trackpad perfectly. I played with it for a few minutes, took some pictures, and then closed the screen. It wouldn’t latch. Maybe because of the four teeny-tiny bumpers around the top of the screen, maybe that made it just a little too thick. I don’t care why. After several attempts to press the lid down, I pulled the sticker up and stuck it back on its backing and put it away. This to me was final confirmation that it’s simply unnatural to cover up a MBP like that, and I will take my chances without it.

    I was also interested in this trackpad protector. I’ve never had a problem with a trackpad, but as I said my PB’s trackpad button is all messed up. It was reported to be basically invisible (it’s on in that picture above), and it is. However, I did have a lot of trouble with the trackpad response. I have seen reviews saying it’s fine, and some saying it’s less responsive. I had trouble adjusting, but then again I had a lot of trouble with the MBP’s trackpad when I first got it and now have gotten used to it. I didn’t give it much time, not even a full day, before removing it. But I kept the button cover on, and saved the trackpad cover. The box actually comes with two of each, which is nice of them.

    So after all that I am still using the keyboard cover and the protective sticker on the trackpad button, and I feel like I’m doing my part to keep my MBP in good condition.

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