Tuesday
Jun172014

On the Tony Awards...

If you work in theatre and managed to miss the news, the Tony Award for Sound design is being eliminated beginning next year.  This is deeply troubling for a number of reasons.

I haven't been able to find any eloquent, non 'bitchy' words trying to explain the situation, however, Chris Ashworth from Figure53 (The developer behind QLab) has put together a great fantastic letter to the powers that be regarding their misinformed decision.

It is a great letter and it deserves a read.  Pass it along.  He hits the nail on the head..

 

Tony can you hear me? by Chris Ashworth – June 15, 2014

 

 

Sunday
Jun022013

What Can You Do to Get a Job

There are a multitude of educational opportunities for aspiring audio engineers these days.  Sometime I have a hard time believing that the "opportunities" aren't just money making ventures.  here's what I look for in someone to join my crew:

  • Not necessarily formal education experience - One cannot learn how it really works without actually doing it.
  • "Design" students should understand that operating or mixing and designing a show are two different things.  There are about 10 designers that make the big bucks and the rest of us have day jobs and/or are operators for a living.
  • Certifications, Certificates of Completion and various other pieces of paper don't mean a thing.  What have you done and who can vouch for it.
  • If you worked as a technician, I don't want to see a "Theatre CV" - I don't care who the director was, What did you do? and to what extent. Did the production push you to do something new?  What were you responsible for?  Number of productions means less than what you did for these productions.
  • Other experience - If you are a design major and want to work, go out into the world, let the buisness break you and then I might hire you to operate a show.  Diverse experience is a must.  The best in the business have diverse experiences from which to draw inspiration and troubleshooting skills.
  • Attitude is everything - Know something, but not everything, and have an attitude that leaves you open to learning something new and different.
  • How do you fit with the rest of the team?  The greatest candidate in the world is a less desirable candidate if they can't play nice with others.  Shows are social experiences.  Not just for the audience, but for the cast and crew, too.  Are you someone whom others want to be around.

Honesty and experience are key.  Don't try and be more than you are. Be an example of a person who knows what they are doing, but can still be taught.  Or rather, someone wants to continue to learn.  Also, be willing to teach.  Having something to share is also a very compelling atribute.

Monday
Aug202012

Audio Essays

I've written a number of short articles on audio topics and recently published a compliation of those scripts.

You can find these articles and many others in my Kindle Book, Assorted Audio Essays
For the Nook at Barnes and Noble - Assorted Audio Essays
For your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch in the iBooks store - Assorted Audio Essays
For Sony eReader, PDF and other digital formats on Smashwords - Assorted Audio Essays

These short observations encompass my thoughts for the last 15 years of mixing live sound for theatre. Some of the earlier writings demonstrate a more idealistic view of the world of mixing sound, but I have learned a lot and tried here to record what I have learned.

I am also working an another tome, which I hope to have complete within the year.

Thursday
Jul142011

Changing the Windows 7 Logon Background

I think that the Windows 7 login screen background is really ugly, so here's how to change it.

  • Open the group Policy editor by typing 'gpedit.msc' in to the search box in the start menu.
  • Navigate to - Computer Configuration-Administrative Templates-System-Logon - Always use Custom Logon Background
  • Enable the policy.

  Or

  • Use regedit and change the OEMBackground in HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Authentication\LogonUI\Background is 1.  Be careful when editing the registry, you can do damage here.

You could do both...

Prepare the image you would like to have a logon background:

  • Your image must be less than 256Kb.
  • Make your image the correct size for your screen resolution. The system has the capability of choosing an image based on screen resolution, so if you really wanted to you could create several images of different resolutions, but it is easiest to do one that fits your screen.
  • If you want to create different resolution backgrounds you will need to name them as follows:

    backgroundDefault.jpg
    background768x1280.jpg
    background900x1440.jpg
    background960x1280.jpg
    background1024x1280.jpg
    background1280x1024.jpg
    background1024x768.jpg
    background1280x960.jpg
    background1600x1200.jpg
    background1440x900.jpg
    background1920x1200.jpg
    background1280x768.jpg
    background1360x768.jpg

If you are only using 1 image name it:"backgroundDefault.jpg"   Windows will automatically apply stretched-to-fit.
Create the path C:\Windows\System32\oobe\info\backgrounds and place your image(s) in the folder.
Restart and you should see your custom logon background.

Good Luck!

Tuesday
May312011

Possible vs. Practical

There is a war going on in theatre.  Well, not a war, but a discussion. 

Designer vs. Producer

Production vs. Operations.

It is the designers job to explore what’s possible.  That's what makes design exciting.  It is part of what attending the theatre is about.

It is the responsibility of the producer to keep the show practical.  However, innovation is expensive, and balancing possible and practical can be very difficult for a producer.

Designers push the limits, the producer should be setting practical.

Saturday
May282011

About File Management - Part 3

In Part 1 I talked about file naming and versions, Part 2 continued with backup strategies and services, in this part I will talk a little bit about maintaining your equipment to reduce the chance of hard drive failure and some 'automated' tools for versioning.

The best defense is a good offense.  Being proactive about maintaining ones hard drives goes a long way to preventing actually having to use the backups that were so carefully produced.  There is one particular piece of software that really does a great deal to your hard drives to prevent hard drive failure.  SpinRite is a fantastic tool that, in surface refresh mode, uses really clever manipulation of the automatic gain control circuits in a spinning hard drive to point out to the drive where the weak spots are, thereby forcing the hard drive to swap out the weak sectors for new good ones. Steve Gibson, the creator of SpinRite, has written an under the hood document describing exactly what SpinRite does.  SpinRite is also a pretty amazing data recovery tool.  If your hard drive is in the process of, or has failed, there is a good chance that SpinRite can recover enough of the drive to allow you to copy the data to a fresh drive.  I have  been using it regularly in surface refresh mode for a few years and have yet to have a drive fail since I've been regularly running SpinRite on all of our computers.

I really like having versions of files available for reference and the occasional instance where I do something that was bad, and I need to revert back to a previous version. In Part 1 I talked about a naming convention that helps to handle this circumstance, but there are also a few server based applications that help do this same thing with far less effort when saving.

I have been experimenting with SVN or Subversion servers lately.  SVN servers handle versioning and revision of files and directory structures.  There are two parts to a functional SVN repository, the server and the client.  Both require software, or at least a knowledge of the specific server commands to accomplish the various functions the server can perform.  This sort of system can be very handy for automatically versioning files and directory structures.  it does, however take a bit more infrastructure than most have around.  SVN servers are also very efficient at managing versions of text files, like code or scripts, and can very efficiently create branches of code base and effectively merge different branches back into a central trunk.  This works very well for code projects, but can also be used, with lesser functionality with binary files and file formats other than text files.

If you are fortunate enough to have the facility to run servers, you could look into the Microsoft product SharePoint, which is a fantastically versatile web based application for document management, project management, version control and information sharing and dissemination.  Basic SharePoint licenses are included with Microsoft server operating systems, and soon will be available through Microsoft Office 365.  Similar to Google Apps service for business, but in many ways better, it is a whole package for collaboration, file management and versioning and communication.  Worth a look if you do a lot of projects. 

If you are looking for an open source web based alternative check out Alfresco.  Also offering collaborative web based document sharing environment.  If you can host it yourself. There are a couple of hosted solutions, but if you require hosting SharePoint might be the better choice.

Use the search below to find hosted SharePoint solutions.

It's no joke that these solutions take significant effort to implement, but the benefits can also be significant.  Use of a Time Machine for Mac or the built in backup solution for Windows can also be of use, but much less granular than some of the other solutions presented here.

Whatever your choice, a file management plan and a backup plan should be vital parts of  your show creations process.

Monday
May162011

About File Management-Part 2

In the previous post, About File Management - Part 1,  I talked a little bit about how I name files and why.  Organization is only one part of managing files for your show.  The second part is Back-up.

On the one hand, having multiple versions and a system for organizing them is kind of a form of back-up.  One can make a mistake and still quickly revert to a previous file to 'undo' a mistake. However, backup for disaster recovery is supremely important.  I practice the 3-2-1 bcak-up strategy. It goes something like this:

3 - Back-up copies of anything important
2 - Different media
1 - Off-site copy

Having three copies increases the chance that one will be close by, and that in the event that one of the back-up copies is corrupt, you still have another on which to fall back.

Using two different media is important because the different media types have different MTBF rates (Mean time before failure). It's better not to put all ones eggs in one basket.  There are a couple of scenarios here: Disk to Disk is probably the most common, quick and easy to accomplish and faily inexpensive.  Disk to CD/DVD is a less expensive but a longer process to accomplish and longer to restore. Not all CD/DVD media is created equal.  There are some important things to know about the media and how to store it to maximize it's life. There is an excellent article called 'How To Choose CD/DVD Archival Media' that should be read before purchasing your media. Then there are the 'cloud' options which also satisfy the third rule regarding an Off-site copy.

Offsite copies can also be simply a hard drive that is stored at you house instead of the theatre, or could be as secure as storing DVD's or CD in a safe deposit box at a bank.  I like using a cloud storage method for whatever I am working on right now and move to an archive storage soultion once the project or show is completed.

There a bunch of cloud storage and backup products available out there.  From Mozy and Carbonite for focused cloud backup solutions to DropBox and JungleDisk for a folder sync and cloud storage type backup.  Dropbox is good and available on just about every platform, but they recently changed their Terms of Service to say that they can unencrypt and share your stuff if asked to.  Jungledisk uses either A3 or Rackspace storage and allows one to store opaque encrypted blobs of data that can't be unencrypted without the private key that the owner maintains.  Jungle disk also gives you 5Gb of free storage and a per/Gb fee for more than that.  DropBox's 2Gb of free space and extra space can be purchased in blocks. 

Generally I will have a local working copy, a second copy on an additional hard drive, preferable a drive array that internally provides some redundancy and a cloud back-up, currently with JungleDisk.

Many of us travel and carry some sort of locally attached storage device, be that a USB or Firewire drive or flash drive.  Some use network attached storage (NAS). Either way the cloud back up can be a life saver if you are on the road and your gear gets damaged in transit.  Of course the get your data out of the cloud requires a decent internet pipe, but the trade-off is better than losing everything.

Part 3 will cover maintaining hard drive health and some 'automatic' version control software that may be appropriate in some cases.

Thursday
May052011

About File Management-Part 1

So much of what we do as audio engineers these days revolves around computers.  Learning how to manage files, creating solid systems for maintaining multiple versions and the all-too-important back-up strategy can increase productivity and help mitigate disaster scenarios.

Managing files tends to be a difficult thing to do.  Doing it successfully depends on discipline and perseverance.  First, try and conceive a naming scheme that is both descriptive and extensible.  Within the scope of a single show or project, I will often start with a sequence number or cue number, followed by a short descriptive name and then a date in 8 digit form YYYYMMDD.  If I need to have more resolution for versions than one day I will add 4 digit 24-hour time to the name HHMM.  That looks something like this:

13.4_BigThunder_20110506_1534

There are a couple of advantages to this naming structure.  Sorting by name in the finder or explorer view will sort in show order and version order.  Sometimes multiple versions  of a file are created throught the creative process, and used for trying different ideas and sometimes they are used for disaster recovery, or a way to "go back in time" to a previous state.

When versions are used for recalling the previous state, the most recent is almost always the "right" one.  If I have to revert to a previous state and continue creating from there, I will often give myself a "marker" in the file name to denote the revert state like this:

13.4_BigThunder_20110507_1610_R_20110506_1534

While I am appending the "_R_DATE_TIME" to the file name, the name represents the current data and time and the "_R_" statement is only expressed in the first file of the revert.  Following that the format moves to the shorter format.  With the previous version date and time following the current date and time the file still sort in a fashion the shows creation order, but with enough information to demonstrate from where the version came.

If I am using the versions in the creative process often the reason for multiple versions is trying different things.  Once I have selected the file that will remain the in the show, I will add an underscore to the beginning of the name:

_13.4_BigThunder_20110507_1610

This changes the sort order to move the files that I am using to the top of the list and keeps them in the show order.  The remaining unused files also remain in show order, but fall under the active files in the list.

If I am working on the same set of files from a file share with multiple people , I will ask that each person append file names with their initials. This way you have an idea of who did what, and when.

13.4_BigThunder_20110507_1610_JP

As you can see it takes a great deal of discipline to implement this type of convention well and consistently, but the benefits are immediate, and great.

Tuesday
Mar082011

Ableton and Controlling your World (Some More)

Over the past few years we have put a lot of work into controlling Ableton LIVE safely and reliably.  As such, we have been examining Max for LIVE and the LIVE API extensively.  Open Sound Control (OSC) is very intriguing, especially since we can also use OSC to control LCS (Meyer Sound LCS Series).  Cycling '74 has been a great help with Max for Live (M4L) especially since they published the LIVE API which exposes a lot of functionality through the M4L interface as well as a Python interface.  The Monome project has created the OSC Api for Ableton LIVE and that is is first building block for highly programmable interfaces to Ableton LIVE.  Using the framework provided (and extending it) one can access all of the same LIVE objects that one can access through M4L, though Python and by extension, OSC.

Obviously the coolest interface would be the iPad.  The problem for us is that currently the iPad can only communicate through a network wirelessly (this might change in the future)  The inherent possibility of intermittent operation and interference makes this device a difficult pick for live, real-time control of a show critical system.  So, in an effort to use "off-the-shelf" products to create a custom interface we went with Visual Studio tools on a Windows PC with Acer 23" LCD touch screens.  Using the WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation) the hope is to eventually be able to port the application to Silverlight and thereby create a multi-platform touch screen control surface for Ableton.  So far we are working on the base functionality for the show and not concentrating on the multi-platform functions.

OSC and MIDI frameworks are being provided by bespoke for OSC and the midi-dot-net project.  Both frameworks have been modified slightly to accommodate Ableton and some of the specific implementations the we require for solid performance.  Another intriguing script for Ableton is ClyphX.

ClyphX is a MIDI Remote Script for Live 8.1.5 or later that enables a special type of MIDI Track upon which a special type of Clip can exist. These Clips are referred to as X-Clips and each one can contain a script of actions specified in the Clip’s name.


Sunday
Jan232011

Response to the FCC Ruling

On Thursday, Sept 23, the FCC handed down its final decision on what devices will be allowed in the remaining UHF space in the 500 and 600 MHz ranges. All wireless mics, instrument packs and in-ear monitors (IEMs) under 50 milliwatts are still legal without a license under Part 15 of the FCC code. There are commercial systems capable of much higher power, and those still require a license.

http://www.stage-directions.com/current-issue/62-audio/2811-its-official.html

Jason Pritchard
Head of Audio on LOVE
Cirque du Soleil
I am encouraged by the FCC’s latest rulings.  The waters ahead are still a bit murky, but this latest bit of information gives the manufacturers on which we rely a clearer direction in which to develop products for the future. The transition to the future will require technological innovation, agility and adaptation. Theatre won’t go backwards. Audiences continually demand more and more from the performances they patronize, and continuing to deliver the next big thing will be our challenge.

New York and Las Vegas theatres, and other large productions that operate outside of Part 74 of the FCC code, are specifically mentioned and, for the first time, provided for. Large productions will be able to be included in the database that Television Band Devices will have to query before they operate. The process of getting registered sounds like it may be a bit tedious, but at least there are the beginnings of a path to compliance where one previously had not existed.