May 20, 2012

Rehearsal Software

I call this: tech,theatre — Posted by KP @ 3:36 pm

At the end of our first week of rehearsal, I’d like to take a moment to talk about the technology in use on this production.


By far the star of the show is Dropbox, which is used both internally by the stage management team, and by the production manager to coordinate paperwork across the entire production (except for the cast, who get things from me by email, which is so late-20th-century, but it’s good practice to keep tentative information and schedules that concern other departments from confusing them).

This is the first production I’ve done where I had my Dropbox, and subscribed to another one for the wider team. It’s a little confusing, but I think the dual Dropbox is necessary to keep stage management documents accessible for us to collaborate on, without becoming public before we’re ready to share them. The system I’ve come up with (so far) is that when a document is shared, the PDF ends up on the production Dropbox, and the files used to make it stay on ours (unless it’s a document meant for others to edit).

We also keep our master script on our Dropbox, but place a copy of it on the production Dropbox at the end of every rehearsal, so if the writers need to edit it, they always have a current copy they can build from, and anyone else can see the current script, while at the same time we have control of our copy and how the changes go into it. As it turns out, so far all the script changes have happened in the rehearsal room, and they’ve been tiny. I had a real industrial-strength policy to handle script changes, which to this point has been total overkill.

Which brings me to a piece of paper-and-plastic technology I call the “Triassic Parq Post Office.” It’s a box of file folders which function as mailboxes for everyone in the room. When we have new paperwork, it’s put in the mailbox and each person can check their folder to receive new pages, calendars, whatever. This is something I always want on every show ever, and never get to do, for various reasons. But part of my industrial-strength script update policy was, “screw it, we’re doing mailboxes.” So far they’re very popular, and so far we haven’t had a single script update that modified more than four words per day, so the advantages of the mailbox haven’t had a chance to shine.

Near the mailboxes, on a table that is designed to attract actors and creatives like flies to honey, is the food table. On it we have various snacks, and seven labeled water bottles that we provided for the cast, to cut down on the amount of wasted water and containers that results when using cups or unlabeled bottles. There’s a gallon jug that we continually refill and leave on the table, so water is always available without leaving the room (the water fountain is on another floor). My two interns keep the bottles filled at the start of the day, and as the day progresses. It’s kind of like magic. It also encourages me to drink more water, because I really don’t have to do anything to make it appear on my desk.

Here’s the food table.


We’re using Evernote more on this show than I have in the past, which is partly a testament to the improvements they’ve made in sharing support in the past year.

A sample of what’s in our notebook:

  • A note where we indicate the page numbers that have changed that day. This makes it easier at the end of the day to quickly make a PDF of the day’s changed pages for printing.
  • A note for each of our production meetings (we’re up to #4, which is our next and last one) where I jot down questions that I want to bring up. During the meeting this is also the note where I take down the meeting minutes, which later get cleaned up and emailed to everyone. This note is pretty much only edited by me, but everyone can reference what I plan to ask about, and what the results of previous meetings were.
  • The rehearsal day checklist, which is kind of obvious, but I like having it just to remind us of the really basic things we need to get done, which I feel is perhaps even more important when you have a lot of people on your team and it’s easier to lose track of what hasn’t been done. The list includes things like lowering the shades on the windows (to keep the temperature down), checking the spike tape on the floor hasn’t been damaged, schedules are printed and distributed, water is refilled, the room is set correctly for the day’s work, etc.
  • A couple of cut-and-pastes from emails that have useful information we might want to reference in the future: our company manager’s summary of ticket policies, the description of a set piece that the designer sent me in response to an inquiry about how it works.
  • Cast checklist. Easy way to take attendance, or track the completion of something in which the names of cast members need to be checked off.
  • Music teaching checklist. Lists all the songs, and we check them off as they’re taught. You can also do the same thing with staging or choreography.
  • List of cast birthdays. One of Ashley’s first tasks during pre-production was to find out everyone’s birthday so we could have spectacular celebrations of the birth of our collaborators… only to find out that only one person has a birthday through the end of our currently-scheduled run in August (which is only one more reason we need to extend).


We considered more extensive use of this app, but the fact that multiple iPads can’t access the same file makes it a $200 waste of money for more than one person to own it. Marshall (our director) bought it, and uses it to plan blocking before we started staging. In rehearsal, he also sometimes uses it to help the cast understand the big picture, by showing them the overhead view of the stage picture, so they can better understand where he’s asking them to be. StageWrite exports to PDF, which the rest of us have access to. Ashley found this very useful when creating breakdowns during pre-production. Of course we expect things to change as we’re staging, but having all of the director’s initial ideas clearly mapped out in a single PDF is a great head start. I have great hopes for this app, but they really need to make it possible to share the file so multiple people can edit it (I wrote to the developers about this when Marshall and I first discussed using it, and this is something they plan to add in the future). Sharing and syncing is becoming such an important part of how software works, that paying $200 for something that keeps your data stuck on a single device seems kind of old-fashioned. I look forward to it becoming more flexible.

May 17, 2011

Evernote Use Cases

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

January 1, 2011

Let Me Tell Ye: iPhone Alarms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get it together.
Love, Karen

December 23, 2010

Dropbox is the Shiznit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 20, 2010

Mac RSS Reader Reviews – Gruml and Socialite

I call this: mac,tech — Posted by KP @ 8:07 pm

I like reading a lot of tech blogs and keeping up with the happenings in the world in general. One way that I try to save time, while at the same time being as close as possible to knowing things the moment they happen, is to subscribe to a lot of RSS feeds.

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, and is a standard format for compressing web articles into simple text and pictures which can be downloaded and read in other formats besides the site they are on. Some mail clients, like Apple’s Mail.app have RSS readers built in, so you can see articles from your favorite sites in a similar way to how you read your email. Most browsers can display RSS feeds, and then there are a number of separate applications dedicated to more robust management of feeds. That’s what I’m going to talk about today.

My first criteria in choosing an RSS app is that it must be compatible with Google Reader. Reader is Google’s web-based RSS aggregator that is popular mostly because of its syncing features. You can subscribe and read feeds from its rather busy web interface, or use an app on your mobile device or computer that supports Reader. If you read an article in one place, mark it as a favorite, etc. those changes will be synced and carried over when you access your feeds again, no matter what device you’re using.

My choice for an iPhone RSS app is Byline, which was the first (probably no longer the only) app to support offline caching of photos. The offline feature is really important to me when I’m home because I like to read my feeds on the train, and the ability to display photos offline is very helpful as a lot of tech blogs are really boring and pointless when you can’t see the pictures. Imagine reading Engadget, of which 90% of their posts are like, “Look at this cool secret phone somebody snapped a picture of.” “Here’s a picture of Motorolla’s latest thingamajiggy.” Not being able to see the pictures totally ruins it. Byline is $4.99, but there is now a free version that’s ad-supported as well.

On the Mac side, I’ve spent the last few months searching for the perfect RSS reader. Especially when I’m not working, or when working from home, I like to have my RSS reader running in the background all the time, and check on it all day long when it displays a badge showing unread articles.

I tried at least a half-dozen apps, but very quickly narrowed my search to two possible candidates: Gruml and Socialite.


Gruml is free, and open-source. It’s also in beta (maybe one of those perpeturally-in-beta things), so it doesn’t always work perfectly.

What I love about Gruml is that it tries very hard to support every feature of Google Reader. You can set favorites, likes, comments, share articles, write notes on articles, and see the list of recommended feeds generated based on the articles you’re reading. So far as I can tell, it’s not missing any of the available features. It has an optional built-in tabbed browser, if you want to visit the web page for an article without leaving the Gruml window or cluttering up your main browser. It also has a very attractive, Mac-like interface. It offers several simple styles for displaying content (I like graphite, myself), and you can create your own if you know CSS.

However, I find it to be slow. Unread counts are very unreliable. If you enlarge this screenshot you can see I have drawn attention to a slight discrepancy in the unread count of the Lifehacker feed. On the sidebar it says 252, but in the list it shows only 1 (which is correct). More importantly, the number in the dock icon’s unread badge is 295, which includes the phantom 251 articles. It’s really annoying to see the unread badge in the dock when in fact all the articles are read. I’m constantly clicking on things that I shouldn’t be because it’s mis-reporting read and unread feeds. A recent update has improved the speed a bit, but I always feel like it doesn’t try to retrieve feeds until I click on them, which causes a bit of a lag, and is absolutely unacceptable when on a slow or intermittent internet connection.

The bottom line is, I want to like Gruml so badly, but the performance issues make it unpleasant to use. But as it’s beta and being developed for free, I can’t complain, and I have high hopes that someday it could be perfect.


Socialite approaches the concept of an RSS reader a bit differently than most. It’s not just about RSS. The concept is that it’s a place to keep up on all your social networks: blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Flickr, and lots of other stuff, all in one place. Socialite is a paid app, which sells for $29.00, but never fear, there is a free version which is ad-supported, and just recently was improved to unlock all the paid features. Also, the developer, Realmac Software, very often participates in bundles like MacHeist, and I’m hoping that it will be included in the next bundle that comes out.

The two ways I use Socialite most are for RSS feeds and Twitter. It’s not the most feature-rich in either — basically it tries to access many different services using a somewhat unified interface, so it’s not particularly designed to use any of them in the most ideal way, but it still manages to support the most common features. It’s definitely handy not to have to check a separate Twitter client, and it does a decent job at presenting Facebook content in a less annoying way than the actual Facebook site. You can also individually select which types of content you want to display in the unread count on the dock icon. I like this because I want to be alerted of all new Twitter and RSS news as soon as they come in, but I don’t care so much about checking Digg or Facebook every time.

Speaking of timely alerts, one of the simplest but most important differences between Socialite and Gruml is that Socialite can refresh feeds every minute, while the most frequently Gruml will automatically update is every five minutes.

One con of Socialite is that it doesn’t have a built-in browser, but it will open links in Safari either in the background or foreground, depending on your preference, which is probably a better, more stable way of doing it anyway. Also, if you have one of the new Macbook Pros that can switch between on-board graphics and the Nvidia graphics card to save power, Socialite for some reason triggers the more power-hungry card, and Gruml does not. No idea what that’s about, and it’s not a dealbreaker for me, but if you’re obsessed with battery life, it would make a difference if you had it running all day.

The Winner, for Now

After spending the last few months bouncing back and forth, through many updates to both apps, I am currently using Socialite. It feels more stable and polished, and although it’s not as pretty, and lacks some of the advanced Google Reader support that Gruml has, the many features it does have work very reliably, and on top of that it also offers access to other services.

When I set out on this quest months ago, I intended to within a week be able to write a review of the RSS app I liked best, but I found it too hard to pick a clear winner, so I submit both for your consideration. There are reasons to love either one, so take your pick!


If you’re looking for some feeds to subscribe to, these are some I recommend. Most browsers and RSS readers work happily together and you should just be able to click on the links, but I’ve included the URLs for them as well in case you need to copy and paste them.

HeadsetChatter Blog (well I read this so I can check on how my articles are looking in RSS, you should read it to keep up on all the latest posts!) http://headsetchatter.com/blog/feed/

TUAW – the Unofficial Apple Weblog http://www.tuaw.com/rss.xml

The iPhone Blog http://feeds.feedburner.com/TheiPhoneBlog

App Advice Awesome for finding out about iPhone apps that are put on sale or free for a limited time. http://feeds2.feedburner.com/AppAdvice

TechCrunch http://feedproxy.google.com/TechCrunch

Gizmodo http://feeds.gawker.com/gizmodo/vip

Kotaku (video game news) http://feeds.gawker.com/kotaku/vip

Boy Genius Report http://www.boygeniusreport.com/feed/

Lifehacker http://feeds.gawker.com/lifehacker/vip

The Bowery Boys (NYC history) http://theboweryboys.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default?alt=rss

Strange Maps http://strangemaps.wordpress.com/feed/

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.

June 6, 2007


I call this: computers,mac — Posted by KP @ 9:54 pm

I’m having fun playing with the new (to me) software on the Macbook Pro. Front Row is pretty, although I’ve only really used it for music so far. I’m more excited about the remote’s ability to run Keynote presentations, but I don’t think I’d trust it to run a show. I will have to test it from distances longer than the walls of my apartment and see if it could be useful for rehearsals.

I was really hoping to get a new Mac with iLife 07 or whatever they plan to call it, but since I never shelled out for iLife 06, I was looking forward to those small improvements. I can’t believe iPhoto still doesn’t have subfolders or sub-albums, or sub-something (then again, I’ve been saying that about iTunes for so long I gave up years ago). Like for instance, I’d love an album of “Reagle Players” photos, which would contain thousands of pics, which could then be broken up by show. I swear I must have literally a thousand photos from the photo call of The Sound of Music and not enough time in my life to sort through them with that interface. I just watched a nice podcast from TUAW about Aperture, Apple’s pro photo managing app, which looked like an overpowered version of what I would like. And then I said, three hundred dollars, are you f%#$&*#)@ kidding me?!? If it was $100, I’d consider it expensive, but worth the convenience. I’m not a professional photographer, it’s not a business expense that will be subsidized by the income I’ll make off of it. While I do occasionally use iPhoto to organize photos for work, I will never need a tool like Aperture. It’s bad enough that I actually pay for legitimate copies of Photoshop, and I even sometimes use that in my job (not in ways that fall into my job description, but I sometimes do side work designing logos, paper props, etc.) And hey, I occasionally dabble in the Photoshop contests at Fark. I’ve actually won three of em. I’m still using Photoshop 7, but I just ordered the upgrade to CS3 to go with my new Intel Mac. After paying a little less than a month’s rent (I live in Manhattan, remember), I plan to be sticking with this version for an equally long period of time.

I’ve downloaded the trial of Parallels to play with, using my disk image from Microsoft’s Virtual PC. The key here if you’re going to try to do this is to first go into VPC on your old computer and remove the Virtual Machine Additions if you have them installed, as they can cause conflicts with Parallels. Then shut down your VPC and transfer its disk image to your new Intel computer. After that the transition was completely painless, as Parallels can recognize VPC images and convert them quite quickly. I haven’t spent that much time with it, but it definitely runs Windows as well as a real computer. It’s nothing at all like the slow-motion experience of VPC. It looks great (if Windows can be said to look great) in full screen mode. Coherence mode, where you get a floating Start button and taskbar and Windows windows appear intermingled with OS X windows, is somewhat nauseating as a concept, but it’s really incredible that it can be done. It also works like VPC where you can have a single window in OSX showing your entire Windows screen. When I get some time in the next couple days maybe I’ll try some games and see how they do, though I guess any serious gaming still has to be done with Boot Camp, which I haven’t looked into at all yet.

One app I found in my Applications folder that I was confused by is called ComicLife. I don’t know how long this has been bundled, but I’d never heard of it. When I said, “What the hell is this?” and opened it, I was surprised and amused to see it’s a comic book maker, with an insanely intuitive interface, direct access to the iPhoto library, and the most hysterical sound effects for clicking and dragging any app has ever had. You can see I threw this together in about 2 minutes without ever using the app before.

I can’t think of anything particularly brilliant to do with it at the moment, but having done this kind of thing the very long way in Photoshop, I’m sure it will come in handy.

March 23, 2007

Adobe CS3 Live Webcast

I call this: computers,mac,pc — Posted by KP @ 3:06 pm

OK, I can’t even believe I’ve put this in my calendar (with an alarm, no less), but Adobe is doing a live webcast of the launch of Creative Suite 3 on Tuesday, March 27, at 3:30PM EST. It will be hosted at this link.

I for one will be purchasing some version of CS3, as I’m still using Photoshop 7. I’m curious to see what the upgrade pricing will be for that.