February 14, 2011

Eyewear and Touring

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 3:13 pm

Sometime over the summer, probably while it was sunny, I had a revelation: I was sick and tired of wearing glasses. They make it really inconvenient to wear sunglasses, they get tangled up in your hair, if you wear a headset for many hours a day, the headset can squeeze the ear hook on the glasses between your ear and head, which gets really annoying after 10 or 12 hours. If you’re really unlucky and have long hair, every time you remove your headset you’ll pull your glasses off, as well as yanking part of your hair out of place.

Not to mention you have clear vision through part of your field of view, but if you need to move your eyes but not your head, you have something blocking your view, and then blurriness on the edges. If I have my head down looking at my script and glance up, my script is clear but the stage is blurry, which is totally bass-ackwards for someone who is nearsighted. After wearing glasses with varying degrees of necessity since 3rd grade, I was fed up.

I was like, that’s it, when I get home I’m getting contacts! Then I was like, “that sounds expensive.” But then I was like, “wait a minute, my insurance gives me a free eye exam and glasses or contacts every 2 years!” And it had been 3 years since my last pair of glasses. So that was it.

I researched this the way anyone should: just before I returned home I posted a message on Facebook saying I was looking for a good eye doctor in Manhattan (preferably west side) who took the Equity insurance. I got 2 recommendations within a day. A well-known Broadway actress with a family, who lives in a classy neighborhood on the Upper West Side seemed like the most reliable source for a good doctor, so I started there. I was able to get an appointment with her doctor within a week, and got myself a new prescription for contacts. My last one was when I was 18, so I hadn’t worn contacts at all in years, because my prescription was so out of date.

I talked to the doctor a bit about touring to get his advice about sleeping with them, and how long I could safely leave them in. Since he’s a doctor, it was basically his job to say that some people leave them in a really long time with no problems, but if I sleep with them in or shower with them, I might be fine, or I might go blind. So… I’ve been pretty cautious.

Touring with Contacts

I’ve really enjoyed the switch to contacts in general. I’ve forgotten how much extra stuff you end up carrying around in your bag in exchange for not carrying glasses on your face. It’s not a problem if you’re living at home and put them in in the morning and take them out when you come home, but for touring (especially for someone like me who’s obsessive about carrying unnecessary things) it adds a couple extra items to the toiletries bag, and you will have to have access to drug stores to replenish your cleaning solution before it runs out. Plus, you still need to carry a pair of glasses as a backup (unless your job doesn’t require good vision — unfortunately mine does).


For the fall tour (which was all in California and Arizona) I brought along an old pair of sunglasses that I rarely get to wear, and had a great time being able to slip them on and off at will, without losing clarity of vision. I was so excited that during the hiatus I bought myself a nice pair of Ray-Bans. Unfortunately, sunny days have been few and far between since November — generally the only thing they’ve been useful for is preventing snow blindness when walking to the Guthrie, but I trust by the time we end the tour in Florida, they will be awesome.

Contacts When Sleeping on a Bus

The main challenge I’ve faced with the contacts is what to do when sleeping on the bus. Being in a hotel every night is a pretty straightforward process. You take them out when you go to sleep, leave them on the bathroom counter, wake up, shower, and then put them in. Then you leave the hotel with all your stuff.

Living on the bus means you either take out your contacts before load-out is over, or take them out in the tiny bus bathroom, or take them out in the tiny bus bathroom while the bus is moving, which is an extra-fun time to stick your finger in your eye. Then you need a place to put your contacts case. I use the ClearCare case which holds the lenses vertically, and needs to be kept standing up. So I need a place where the case won’t fall over when the bus takes a turn during the night. Our wardrobe supervisor has provided us with some mesh hanging bags for our bunks, which are awesome for holding phones, wallets, glasses and whatever else, when gaff-taped to the side of our bunks. So far mine has failed at keeping my contacts safe, and I’m not sure I want to put the effort into actually sewing one of the pockets into a smaller size to hold the little container securely (since the whole thing has fallen off the wall a couple times anyway, as I noticed early this morning when I rolled over towards the wall and was like, “why is there gaff tape stuck to me?”) I think I need to come up with a better solution. I can think of a couple (a piece of foam the size of a soda can, with a hole in the middle for the container, which could be put in a cupholder), but will have to figure out which is easiest, most reliable, and least in everybody’s way if it has to be in a public (i.e. non-bunk) part of the bus.

The Insurance / Doctor Stuff

I wound up paying a little more than I expected to, but it was still worth it. My exam was free, which included all the usual checkups (I chipped in a little extra for a glaucoma test, since it runs on both sides of my family and I’d never had one done — I don’t know how old people do it, it was like a very hard video game). Years of Nintendo and Playstation allowed me to pass with flying colors, and I don’t think I’ll do that again for a few decades if I don’t have any problems. The contacts weren’t completely covered, but I did get a discount on them. I was given a trial pair, which I wore diligently every day for a week, and went back for a quick checkup to check that the prescription was still the best for me (the doc said the contacts may sit differently on the eye after you’ve been wearing them for a while). I needed no change. So then I ordered a year’s supply, which arrived a week or two later.

I got monthly contacts, but I do wonder if it would be a better idea to have daily disposables for touring. It would certainly be easier because I’d avoid the whole hassle of figuring out what to do with them overnight when I sleep on a bus and might get to shower halfway through my workday. I don’t want to end up losing a lot of money by switching to contacts, but I think it might be affordable enough if I can find them cheaply online.


Overall I’m very happy with my decision to ditch the glasses. I still wear them occasionally (like yesterday when I sadly dropped a lens into the hotel sink, and was surely not putting it in my eye!), but far more often I’m wearing contacts or skipping any eyewear altogether on a lazy day off. It’s a little more challenging for touring, but I really enjoy not having glasses on my face, and being able to wear sunglasses easily, and the benefits to stage managing — having my whole field of vision clear, and not getting tangled in my headset — have been great.

June 21, 2010

Resize Images for the Web Using Folder Actions

I call this: mac,tech — Posted by KP @ 2:38 pm

One repetitive task I do a lot is resizing images to be placed on the website. On the blog I don’t have to worry so much about it because WordPress handles all that stuff in the image uploader, but for the main site, I have a couple standard sizes I use.

No image on the site is ever wider than 500px. If it is, then a smaller images is created at 500px and I will build a link to the bigger picture. Sometimes I want more of a thumbnail, and the size can vary a bit, but 150px is kind of my standard.

Today I decided to play around with folder actions a bit. A folder action in Mac OS X is basically a script that runs when you drag a file onto a folder, that does something to that file. This seemed like a good project for a simple one.

I created the folder action using Automator, which is the GUI scripting tool that comes with OS X. It’s pretty simple to drag and drop different actions to perform basic tasks. Here’s what my folder action looks like:

The other one is the same except it reduces the image to 150px, and adds “_thumb” to the end of the filename.

May 17, 2010

A Published Tip on Lifehacker (and CrunchGear)

I call this: computers,tech — Posted by KP @ 3:03 pm

Today is kind of a big day in my geek life:

I’m a big reader of Lifehacker, and today I have had my first tip published on the main page. It’s one I haven’t shared with you guys either, so I’m definitely blogging about it.

It relates to storing your headphones underneath your desk to keep them out of the way.

I’m hoping someday I’ll make it into a featuredworkspace profile.

UPDATE: My friend (and frequent commenter) Tom found that the tip has also been picked up by CrunchGear today, which is another site I read regularly.

Reaction to the articles has been good, although many people have pointed out that due to cats, babies, long legs, and other things I will never have to account for, it’s not the best solution for everybody. It also would appear that this style of top-mounted hook is actually very hard to find. I hope anybody who wishes to try this tip has good luck in finding one, and if you do, please post where you got it.

UPDATE: If you’re having trouble finding hooks like these, reader Jon has spotted them at Amazon. Thanks, Jon!

May 5, 2010

What I’m Using Virtualization for Today

I call this: computers,mac,pc,tech — Posted by KP @ 11:34 am

In my opinion the #1 reason to use virtualization software to run a different operating system on your computer in the middle of your primary one is:
because you can.

Is there any better reason to do anything with technology?

But today I discovered a very useful purpose for it, which for some reason I’ve never employed before. I have an old HP Scanjet scanner (the 3570c, if you care). HP stopped supporting it with OS X drivers many years ago (the last drivers were compatible with Tiger), not that their Mac drivers were ever particularly good. In fact I’m kind of glad they don’t have drivers because my desire to install HP drivers on a perfectly good machine is somewhere around my desire to install anti-virus software.

The scanner is such a pain in the ass to use that I don’t even keep it plugged in most of the time. It sits on a bookcase shelf across my living room. When I have needed to use it (basically when my need to scan something reaches such proportions that I have absolutely no choice), I plug it into my PC, which runs XP and works just fine with the default drivers and Windows imaging software.

So today when I needed to scan some old pictures for the site, I plugged it into my new MacBook Pro, just to see if anything had changed, and of course it was hopeless. The Mac acted like I had just plugged a rock into it (and if you’d like to try and don’t have an HP scanner, ThinkGeek sells USB pet rocks which apparently behave similarly). The scanner also acted the part of a rock. But then I had an idea.

Instead of booting up my PC, stretching the USB cable across my workspace, and going through the hassle of moving the resulting files between systems, why couldn’t I just start Windows in Parallels, direct the scanner to connect to it, scan the photos in XP, and drag the file from the Windows desktop onto the Mac desktop? The answer is I can, and it’s that easy. As far as I’m concerned it’s just as easy as having to open a specific app for the scanner, with the added bonus of not having some intrusive drivers installed on my main system. I have no idea why I’ve never thought of this before.

So I will leave you with two bits of knowledge: if you have old hardware you need to use occasionally that’s incompatible with your Mac, you may be able to use it without much inconvenience by using it through a virtualized Windows installation.

And two, here’s what my bedroom looked like in 1990 when all my walls were covered in New Kids on the Block posters.

July 22, 2009

Quick Tip for Traveling Mac Users

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

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

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

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

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

July 1, 2009

iCal, iChat and Your Parents

I call this: mac,theatre — Posted by KP @ 1:05 am

Here’s a tip that you might find useful:
I live about two hours away from my parents (something like 40 miles as the crow flies, but that’s New York for you), but as you probably know, I’m out of town for a good chunk of the year.

When I was going on tour, naturally my parents were very interested to know where in the country I was on a given day, whether I was traveling or had a performance that night. My folks are Mac users, but they had never gotten into using iCal. Before going on the road I published the two calendars I was using for the tour (one for each show) on my MobileMe account, and set up my Mom’s computer to subscribe to the calendars.

Every morning my Mom could open iCal and see where I was and what my day was like, and it would be updated in pretty much real time as our schedule changed. By using time zone support, it also gave her the correct local time (i.e. if I had a show at 8PM in Colorado, she would see it listed at 10PM on her calendar).

There are several advantages to this. First of all, it automates the process of “So where are you? Do you have a show tonight?” This is not to say that I was avoiding actual human contact, it actually made our conversations more interesting because it would cut to the chase: “How was your show in St. Louis last night? I was looking at pictures on their tourism website yesterday. Did you see the arch?” The other advantage is that they can see at a glance what my general day looks like. Is it a day off? Is it a crazy one-nighter where I probably won’t have a free moment? Are we on the bus all day? This helps them to decide when is the best time to call me.

Now that the tour is over, I’ve kept up this practice with my summer stock schedule. It’s a little less complicated than being on the road and crossing cities and time zones every day, but it still helps to keep them involved in what I’m doing. If having your parents know your every move concerns you, keep in mind that I’m only sharing my work calendar. Parties and other personal appointments go in a different calendar!

While I’m at it, I should also mention how much iChat has helped me to keep in touch with family while on the road, out of town, and even from the relatively short distance when I’m at home. One of my first blog posts was about how I bought a webcam for my parents so we could video chat (mostly to save money on phone bills). Bear in mind the tech specs in this post are way out of date (it references the recent release of Mac OS 10.4.9, and a camera purchased at a store that is no longer in business, for starters.)

Video chat is still my usual form of communication with my parents (when my internet connection allows, which even worked well on the bus, until the bus internet started to suck). It became especially important when I was on top of a mountain in Colorado and my aunt had to go in for a serious operation. In the middle of the load-in day I was able to go to the back lounge of the bus and spend an hour video chatting with her the day before the operation, and that made me feel a lot better about not being able to see her, compared to how it would have been if we had simply talked on the phone. I felt like I had actually been there, which was very helpful emotionally during the five days it took her to wake up after the surgery.

One of the things that often sucks about doing theatre, especially touring, is the inability to take a day off work whenever you feel like it. Often you have to miss weddings, funerals, and other major life events. If you’re going to be in a situation where you know you will be stuck if something important happens, I recommend setting up your loved ones with a web cam if they don’t already have one. Even if nothing dramatic happens, they won’t give you the “we never see you!” thing quite as much if they can see your lovely face!

April 24, 2009

My Newfound Love of OmniFocus

I call this: computers,mac,phones — Posted by KP @ 9:40 pm

Among my favorite types of computing applications has always been the organizer/checklist/outline kind of app. Back in my PDA days, the Palm apps Bonsai and ShadowPlan competed for my heart with each new update. When I got a Mac it came with a version of OmniOutliner which I loved a lot, but alas because it was one of those “came-with-the-Mac” things, as soon as I tried to install a new update it broke my fragile registered version, and I was pissed about it and refused to pay for it, so it was gone (I’m currently having that relationship with ComicLife).

The other problem I have with tasks in general is that the default Apple apps have a really stupid way of handling them, or at least stupid to me, growing up with Palm’s big four apps: Datebook, Contacts, To-Dos and Memo. Apple seems to hate to-dos and memos, so much so that after what seems like centuries in technological time, we may soon finally be seeing them sync between iCal, Mail and the iPhone. What, I ask, was the damn point of using them at all until now? First I stopped using tasks, because I could never get them to sync properly between iCal and my Treo. So I just wrote everything as a note. Now as an iPhone user my notes don’t sync with anything (???!!!!WTF??!!), and yet I still write everything as a note. Occasionally I will email that note to myself if I really need it in another format.

So of course I looked to the App Store to see what the third party developers had come up with that might serve as a basic tasks app. I honestly wanted a basic tasks app — a list and a bunch of giant checkboxes. I tried, I really did. But at the time the basic apps were either ugly, overpriced, or reported buggy and lacking basic features. Who knows, since there are no free trials. But the one that sounded the best to me was the most complicated of all — OmniFocus. At $20, it’s one of the more expensive apps in the App Store, but that was back in the day when an average game was $10, so it didn’t seem as expensive to me then as it might now when everything else is 99 cents.

Using OmniFocus brought some kind of order to my life. I use it sometimes for shopping lists, generally more of the long-term stuff, not like “what I need to get from Duane Reade in 3 hours,” which is usually a straight list. I write down things I want to work on with my computer, like reinstalling Parallels, which I forgot to do the last time I was home; and things I need to pack for the next leg of the tour, or what I hope to accomplish during my down time on the next load-in day. I also have a special project for fight call, which is really not what OmniFocus is designed to do, but I tried it anyway. With both Henry V and The Spy, we have a rather extensive fight call, running through distinct sections of fight choreography with different actors. There is a standard order which we have developed for that, and especially because we perform The Spy so infrequently, Nick and I needed a way to keep track of that order and make sure we’ve hit all the proper scenes. So I have a project for Fight Call and a sub-project for each show, and inside each are the actions representing each individual fight and the actors needed. I’m not sure exactly what app Nick uses for his list, but he has it on his Blackberry. This allows both of us to open our phones at the top of fight call and Nick runs the current fight while I can let the actors know who is up next and which scene it is, and make sure they have their weapons ready when it’s their turn. This is sort of a recurring checklist rather than a regular list of tasks, and the blending of the two types of lists is kind of weird to me, but I think OmniFocus can be made useful for things like this, or prop checklists, with a little work.

Anyway, I was very happy with my purchase. Of course it’s designed to sync with the desktop version of the app. That is, if you’re willing to pay $80(!!??!!WTF??!!) for it. It’s kind of all or nothing. There’s not a way to say “Gee I’d like to be able to see and edit my OmniFocus file on a desktop machine” without fully committing to using the software to run your life. I’m not sure exactly what happened to me, I think it was a conversation over drinks with a few of my colleagues about organization and task lists that led me to question if the fact that my technology has failed me, and is driving me closer and closer to having to etch my tasks on tablets, might someday result in me screwing something up. I’ve done OK with this seat-of-the-pants way I’ve been running my life and career with the occasional iCal appointment (with or without an alarm) to remind me to do things, or with a plain-text list in my iPhone’s notepad. But really, how far I have fallen since the days when there was a checklist for home and shopping, and work stuff was laid out in fancy outlines with multi-part projects and due dates and things!

So I decided — by way of writing an action in OmniFocus on my iPhone — that when I got a chance I would download the 14-day trial of OmniFocus desktop. I have been using it for about two days, and so far I am hooked. It’s got an even steeper learning curve than the iPhone version, but the larger screen in some ways makes the relationship between the different views and types of data clearer. I’ve also been watching some of the introductory videos on the website. After that, I discovered a great set of video podcasts called ScreenCastsOnline, which do in-depth screencasts of popular Mac apps. I’ve only watched a couple, but they have tons available that I want to see. They also offer podcast subscriptions in HD or iPhone-compatible sizes. I sense this will be a new favorite podcast of mine. You can get the links to either of these feeds on their website.

In all, I’ve been having fun trying to think of every little thing I need to accomplish and entering it into OmniFocus and categorizing it. I think I’ll be much more efficient using the desktop app since the majority of what I need to accomplish either requires me to be at my computer, or in an environment where my computer is out. This way, the iPhone app, which is a little more cumbersome to use due to the fact that it can’t run in the background, is only really needed when I’m out and about. More thoughts to come as this experiment goes on…

UPDATE: there is now an entire page of the site dedicated to OmniFocus tips!

September 3, 2008

The Penny is Relevant Again!

I call this: mac,phones — Posted by KP @ 7:56 am

This may be the only thing giving purpose to coins in the 21st Century.

Coinstar has begun offering gift certificates in place of cash receipts for coins. Doesn’t sound that interesting yet, right? OK, Coinstar is now offering iTunes gift certificates for coins, AND, you don’t pay any kind of fee on the amount you deposit. If you have $4.28 in coins sitting in a drawer or bowl somewhere, you get $4.28 to spend on the music or iPhone/iPod apps of your choice. This, combined with the fact that Duane Reade is now installing Coinstar machines in many of their stores, has made my app purchases for my iPhone essentially free.  I even bought the one that looks like a lighter, just because I can (iLightr, it’s much more realistic and interactive than the others, though I don’t recommend buying it with money that didn’t come from your metaphorical couch cushions).

Anyway, this development has brought me great happiness, and turned change from a nuisance into an easy way to pay for apps and music.

March 30, 2007

Creating a wireless network for the rehearsal room

I call this: computers,mac,theatre — Posted by KP @ 11:37 pm

I’m about to start rehearsals for a new show, which has got me thinking about getting all my goodies set up to take with me to rehearsal. One of my favorite ways of making things more efficient in the rehearsal room is to set up my own wireless network for the use of the stage management team, creative team, or even the actors who want to use a laptop or other wireless device on their breaks.

Unfortunately, below a certain level, most theatres and rehearsal spaces don’t offer much in the way of internet access. If there’s wi-fi, it’s probably by accident, that the hotel across the street might has an open network or something. And it seems to be one of Murphy’s Laws that the signal never reaches to the area of the room where you have to set up your table. It’s even hard to find a phone line (or one you have access to) to use dial-up. Most of the time I use my cell phone as a modem, and connect by Bluetooth from my laptop. This gives speeds about the same as dial-up, but also wears down my phone’s battery, and can sometimes interfere with incoming calls.

Should I be lucky enough to find an ethernet connection somewhere in the building, that’s where I will set up my network. The key piece of equipment here is Apple’s Airport Express router. It’s not the most fully-featured router, but it’s tiny! At just a little bigger than the power brick of a Mac laptop, I can shove it in my bag — or as I usually prefer, in my printer carrying case — and forget it’s there until I need it. I also carry a retractable ethernet cable which likewise stays out of the way until it’s needed.

In a perfect world, the place I like to set up the router and printer is:

  • not in the rehearsal room, where the printer will make annoying printer noises
  • close enough to get a strong wireless signal through the wall (~50 ft.)
  • in a location occupied only by people who won’t steal stuff

Once I’ve found my location, I plug in the router and printer. Finding two outlets, one of which is big enough to fit the brick of the router, is sometimes the hardest part — stealing a power strip from somewhere is often the result. If the ethernet connection is a jack, I use my own cable to connect to the router. Then with the USB cable I carry, connect the printer to the router. The printer I use is the Canon i70, which is no longer made, but the i90 is the current equivalent. The only thing I really dislike about it is that it doesn’t have one of those little slots for a computer lock to be inserted. I leave the printer lying around unsupervised much more often than my computer, and yet there’s no way to secure it.

So now that everything is plugged in, it’s time to set up the software. Using the Airport Admin Utility, I create a network, which I usually call something very simple and easy for other people to remember. I always create a closed network, meaning that it won’t show up to random people as an available network. Each person has to know the name of the network and type it in manually. I generally don’t bother with encryption, as I have had more headaches trying to get it to work for everyone, especially when some people are on PCs or other devices. If I really want security I will set it to allow only the hardware that I specify, which means every time I add a new person having to get the MAC address of their computer or mobile device. If all has gone well, the router will be displaying its happy green light, meaning it has an internet connection, and everyone should be able to access it for internet and printing.

Being able to give reliable internet access to everyone in the theatre or rehearsal room makes everything much easier. The last two shows that I was PSM for were workshops of musicals in development. Every day, every hour, sometimes every half hour, there were new pages of text, new songs, new arrangements e-mailed from the copyist, and all of it had to be distributed to be worked on NOW. The musical director would decide to change the key of a song, the composer would transpose it on his Powerbook in Finale, e-mail me a new PDF, and I’d send it to the printer. The whole process could take less than five minutes, and nobody had to get up from their chair, except to go out to the lobby, grab the pages from in front of the printer, and hand them out. Theoretically the composer could have even sent the file to the printer himself, although I never bothered with the few seconds it would have taken to add the printer for anyone besides my assistant, and I would have needed the PDF for my records anyway.

Even in situations where internet access is not available, just having the printer on the network can be a big help. Being able to send print jobs out of the room and have them waiting whenever I feel like picking them up is great for spaces where the noise of the printer is too distracting, not to mention the ability to let others also use it. And the best part for someone like me who often works in many different locations and is not always given storage space, is that everything is very easy to carry. I bought an unfinished carrying case from the Container Store, and shaped the foam padding to hold my printer securely, with a little extra room for its cables and the Airport Express. Then I throw some blank paper on top of it all.