Tuesday, December 08, 2009

CEE Video

The Civil and Environmental Engineering department at the University of Illinois made a video about how cool it is to be a student at UIUC. They used a bunch of pictures of my friends in the video. As you can see, I have a racially diverse group of friends, and pictures of this racially diverse group make for good promotional material!

Video was temporarily removed from their site, so I have archived it here:

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

More Trillian Problems

Thanks to Evan for pointing out a tip to make Trillian load faster. Removal of the a/v plugin does indeed help speed the load time of the program.

A mention here about disabling the show loading screen also helped speed startup.

Those two tweaks helped, but Trillian still seems to have a problem in startup with Vista. Perhaps (well, for sure) Vista is the problem.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

HP Toner Anyone?

Today I am ordering Toner for the office. Anyone else need 42A toner for an HP printer?

HP® Q5942A - Q5942A (HP42A) Laser Cartridge, Black

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ordering Master Locks

I wonder how many people buy stuff through their own amazon affiliates account? I will bet a lot. Then again, Amazon doesn't really have incentive to to kill those accounts because they help with SEO for their products. Win win for everyone I guess.

Master Lock 178D Set-Your-Own Combination Padlock, Die-Cast, Black


Thursday, August 13, 2009

31 Songs Named After A Girl (From Family Guy)

I spent a few minutes looking for this list, without any good results. So here it is in full, with extra info.

Family Guy Episode 115 Ocean's Three and a Half - Video Clip

In this episode, Stewie falls in love with Joe and Bonnie's beautiful baby girl named Susie. Stewie decides to write a song about her and calls it "Susie." Brian says the song is horrible and calls him out for writing a song about a girl, because "there aren't a million of those already." Stewie says, "Oh Yeah? Name 20!"

Here is that list.

Name 20:
1) Rosanna - Toto
2) Roxanne - The Police
3) Michelle - Beatles
4) Allison - Pixies, Elvis Costello
5) Sarah - Thin Lizzy (Sara - Starship / Fleetwood Mac)
6) Angie - The Rolling Stones
7) Brandy (Mandy) - Barry Manilow, (or "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" by Looking Glass)
8) Mandy *
9) Gloria - Shadows of Knight (Van Morrison)
10) Cecilia - Simon and Garfunkel
11) Maggie May - Rod Stewart, The Beatles
12) Jessica - The Allman Brothers Band
13) Nancy - Frank Sinatra14) Barbara Ann(e) - The Regents, The Beach Boys
15) Billie Jean - Michael Jackson
16) Layla - Derek and the Dominos (Clapton/Allman)
17) Lola - The Kinks
18) Polly - Nirvana19) Helena - My Chemical Romance
20) Jenny from the Block - Jennifer Lopez

Name 6 more:
1) Sherry (Baby) - The Four Seasons
2) Laura - Frank Sinatra
3) Wendy - The Beach Boys
4) Maria - Ricky Martin, and others
5) Peggy Sue - Buddy Holly
6) Minnie the Moocher - Cab Calloway

Name 5 more: **
1) Tracie - Level 42?
2) Jean - Oliver?
3) Jane - Barenaked Ladies4) Mary Anne - The who
5) Elenor Rigby - The Beatles

*Brandy was the original name of Barrry Manilow's song, but was later changed to Mandy due to confusion with the same song by Scott English. This may be a homage to both songs, listing them in order.
**With the obvious exception of Eleanor Rigby, the last 5 songs are pretty obscure, but are possibly the version performed by the bands I listed. I think they easily could have found some more mainstream songs to throw in at the end, like Molly (Sponge), Maybellene (Chuck Berry), Veronica (Elvis Costello), or they just threw in these randoms to confuse people like me making these stupid lists.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Stoping the Coho IM Spam

Ever received an AIM from some random screen name ending with "Coho?" I started getting this SPIM about a year ago and didn't think there was any way to stop it. Google to the rescue. I found Morouxshi's blog post detailing how to stop the Coho SPIM. It is pretty simple, and seems to have worked for me. Time will tell if I get any more of this crap.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

All My Love - Jeff Nominated

I wrote back in March about the last show I worked on called All My Love. At the time of that post, the show had been Jeff recommended. The Joseph Jefferson awards are the equivalent of New York's Tonys, though obviously on a much smaller scale. The way you win an award is a bit complicated but basically:

1. Judges come to see opening night. If they think some part of the show (or the whole show) is good, the show becomes "Recommended."

2. The full Jeff comittee then sees the show during the production run and decides if some part of the show (or again the whole show) is really good. If they do, then the show gets nominated in a particular category (writing, direction, tech elements, etc...).

3. There are typically 3-5 nominees in a category. Then there is an award show where the Jeff comittee decided which of the nominees is the winner.

All My Love ended up getting a nomination for "Best New Work." This basically means best script. It is an honor to be Recommended as a production and an even greater honor to be Nominated. Tony Fiorentino did not win the category, but it is still an honor for me to have worked with such a great new playwright and worked on my first Jeff Nominated show! Thanks everyone!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Thanks to KA9FOX

I wanted to give a quick shout out to KA9FOX who runs a pretty great free ham radio classified site over at QTH.com. It is free to place an ad and you can keep renewing the add forever, or until the item is sold. I helped my father sell his 40' US Tower a few weeks ago. The site really has a lot of people on it looking for the gear you are trying to get rid of.

Anyway. Thanks for running the site!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

CTA's Chicago Card - An Embarassing Failure

Apparently Ron Huberman, Chicago Transit Authority's previous president, decided nothing more could be done to fix the CTA and moved on to bigger and better things, like screwing up the Chicago Public Schools. His short tenure at CTA certainly didn't help the situation with the CTA fare structure or electronic fare media, rather he made it worse. He left the CTA with a complete disaster in it's Chicago Card and Chicago Card program. Many people complain about the system and the various problems with paying fares. The Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus programs are now complete failures in just about every way, but they didn't start that way.

When the Chicago Card, a smart card system, was first introduced, back in 2002, the idea was to speed fare payment and reduce the need for people to use cash while traveling with the CTA (The CTA would also be able to reduce frequency it collected cash from buses and stations, and reduce maintenance on those systems). I had just moved to Chicago at the time and immediately signed up for a Chicago Card Plus, which would be linked to my credit card. Periodically, the Chicago Card would be reloaded by charging my credit card automatically. When paying on the bus or train you would simply touch the card to the reader and your fare would be paid. You didn't even have to take the card out of your wallet or pocket. This system was a very good way to pay fares. They even made some incentives to get people to use the card. Every $20 that was reloaded on the card would earn you a 10% bonus. So you would get $22 worth of fare for the price of $20. When boarding the CTA the card would significantly speed the fare paying process, especially useful on buses. Finally any fares on the card would be protected in case the card was lost or stolen.

In 2006, the CTA made a major change to the fare structure which allowed people paying by Chicago Card or Chicago Card Plus to pay $0.25 less than the regular fare. This was another significant incentive to get people to switch to the card, and in theory made more people start using the card. During much of this time the $5 fee to obtain a card was waived. Why would you continue to pay cash or use the magnetic cards when the Chicago Card was cheaper. For daily commuters, a no brainer right?

Well in 2008 the CTA again raised fares, this time they eliminated the financial advantages to paying with a Chicago Card. Chicago Card users would now pay the same price as magnetic card users, though fares paid with cash on buses would still cost $0.25 more. With this fare structure there is absolutely no reason for a person to get a Chicago Card except for the advantage of having your fare protected. Are protected fares really worth the hassle? I ride a south bound bus from the loop most evenings on my way home. I would estimate 80% of the riders still pay with the magnetic cards or with cash. It frustrates me to no end having to wait behind a line of people slowing taking their time to fish out their cards and insert them into the fare machine. What about the "go-lane" the CTA said would be in effect on buses and even advertises on the buses to this day? Bus drives still routinely make people re-swipe their Chicago Cards when they try to skirt past a person paying with magnetic card or cash because the system can't display two fares at once, even though the fare is still recorded from the Chicago Card. So again, no time savings due to stupid bus drivers.

What was once a good idea now suffers from poor implementation and bureaucracy. The CTA could have continued to offer incentives to get most people to switch to the cards but instead they are right back to where they started in 1998, with the majority of people paying with magnetic cards and slowing everyone else down. You want to know why you have no money CTA? It is because you fail at even the most basic attempts to make things better. I won't even talk about the ctabustracker.com, and it's failure to prevent bus bunching, or the fancy bus shelters that do nothing to shelter you, but give JC Decaux some nice advertising revenue, but those are for different posts.

I was motivated to write this post primarily because of my recent MAJOR problem with my Chicago Card Plus. On 4/17/09 I discovered that someone had stolen my credit card number and used it to get themselves a free ipod or something through an affiliate marketing scheme. (Why would I want diet pills, collagen pills and ANOTHER Netflix subscription on top of the one I already have? - but again, for another post). I had to cancel that credit card and get a new one that Chase took their sweet time to send to me. Meanwhile, on 4/21/09 CTA tries to charge the cancelled credit card because I had reached $0 on my Chicago Card, it was declined of course and they sent me an email saying so. That same day I switched the card# on the CTA account to my backup credit card. My credit card was promptly charged, and they sent me another email on 4/22/09 saying it was "re-activated" and "should be available for use within 3 business days." Great I thought, perhaps they will update the system and it will be ready to use again before the 3 days end. I was actually able to use it on the bus on 4/22/09, but on 4/23/09 it did not work, and I was forced to pay cash (luckily I anticipated this and brought exact change with me.) No bohter I thought, the system will update again overnight and tomorrow it should be working.

I figured if it took them an extra day to de-activate the card, it would take them only one day to re-activate the card. After all, computer systems these days are pretty quick about updating changes. It was not to be. I tried using the card on Friday, but it was again declined and I again paid with cash. Would it work on Saturday? Nope - this time I had a magnetic card to use. Ok - so now Monday rolls around. It has been 3 business days by now and the Chicago Card should be working right? WRONG! Still not working, I again pay with magnetic card. I am getting pissed now. The system should have had more than enough time to update by now. I try again on Tuesday morning, guess what....still not working. Now I am motivated enough to call CTA and get this thing fixed. It is a pain to keep having to refill the magnetic card at the train station.

Today is 4/28/09 and I call CTA. After 15 minutes figuring out their phone menu and hold music the phone representative, who seems thrilled (not) to talk with me checks my account, and asks when was the last time I tried to use my card? I said this morning, yesterday morning, etc... She said, oh well you kept using it so the system never unlocked it and now a manager/supervisor/someone has to unlock it. I told her the email was definitely not clear that you couldn't use the card for 3 days or face it being locked - and rather it said the opposite that it would be working WITHIN 3 days, meaning that it might be 1 day, 2 days etc.... How could I possibly know exactly when it would start working without testing?!?!? Then she went on to say that she turned the card back on, but it wouldn't start working again for ANOTHER 3 business days!!!! Not until Monday 5/4/09. But she assured me it would be working on Mondya. As you can see - this whole thing is totally ridiculous. No computer system on this planet should work this way, especially not a system that serves the public.

I hear people tell stories about transit systems in other cities, and other countries and I have to think that Chicago's is the absolute worst - at least the CTA. Metra is another story, their trains seem to usually arrive on time, are generally clean and typically travel quickly. Perhaps I won't mind commuting on Metra if/when I eventually move to the burbs. CTA has so many problems and I can't see how it can ever justify fare increases. As nice as it may seem on the exterior it really is a steaming pile of garbage, but what isn't these days.

Monday, March 23, 2009

All My Love - Production Roundup

I just opened my latest play for which I served as Lighting Designer. It is called All My Love and was produced by my longtime friend Tony Fiorentino with his company Diamante Productions in Chicago. The show is running at the Theatre Building Chicago (TBC) through May 10th, 2009. (Get your tickets now!)

Synopsis: "When a middle-aged divorcĂ©e decides to explore the world of polyamory, she must temper the jealous passions of her lover, while her teenage daughters search for the meaning of love through the prism of their mother’s unorthodox practice of relationships. “All My Love” is an exploration of alternative “lovestyles” and a critique of Western society’s most cherished notions of love, monogamy, and marriage. "

All My Love Reviews: The show has been getting positive reviews and even received a Jeff Recommendation!
List of reviews:
Timeout Chicago
Chicago Reader

Technical challenges:
As a lighting designer, one of the biggest joys I get out of doing this work is overcoming a challenge in an interesting and beautiful way. This play had a few of those that all came together to make a really pretty picture.

1. Using a CYC: The play was written to be set in a house that required multiple rooms; living, dining kitchen, 2 bedrooms, etc... Due to cost/space/time requirements, the idea of having multiple rooms onstage was thrown out. Though creative direction, we were able to condense down to just a living room and a bedroom. The set designer nixed 95% of the "walls" that you might normally have on an interior set in favor of 3 different height platforms and an upstage CYC (cyclorama). You don't see CYCs used much in smaller theatre because most small theatres don't have them available, don't have space for them and they are typically cost prohibitive to rent. In addition, if you use a CYC, you usually need to do some kind of CYC lighting. That requires even further expense to rent in strip lights, special wide throw CYC lights, or newer LED wash units - again prohibited by cost. And to do it right, simply throwing up a CYC is not always the only task involved.

For All My Love we were able to use a CYC donated to TBC from a previous resident company. TBC also had some strip lights that were old, but served our purpose enough that we decided to use them. The availability of these 2 items at very low cost enabled the use of the CYC for the this set. The existence of the CYC allowed me to use varying color of light to help suggest time of day and also to serve as a bright backdrop during certain transitions between scenes, which were always illuminated in some way.

2. Transitions: Speaking of transitions, this was another technical challenge to the lighting design. The director wanted to never go to complete dark during any of the scene-to-scene transitions, only going dark at the end of the acts. Having 3 colors available to mix on the CYC helped provide something interesting to look at during the transitions, as did heavy use of backlight, which darkens faces. This show used a lot of cross-fades with varying timing; good thing TBC is well equipped with their ETC boards.

3. Televisions on stage: Playwrights will always find something to write into their script which is just about impossible to achieve technically on stage. Dealing with a television on stage has been one of the greatest challenges of my career in lighting design, I have encountered the task at least twice prior to this show with varying results. Obviously, the best way to achieve a television effect would be to put an actual television on stage. This is not always desirable, as a television large enough to cast a high output of light is, in most cases, either too large to actually have on stage or cost prohibitive (50" plasma anyone?). In a small space you could scale down and use a smaller television, but you still need to deal with content on the television itself. This can usually be achieved by setting up actor/tech triggered content from a VCR or other digital output device, but if an audience can see what is on the TV, then the content has to be exactly appropriate for the script, which would involve extra cost for production or research.

Since the set for All My Love was not very realistic, we decided that the television effect could be accomplished by something other than a television. On a previous show I attempted to construct a "flicker box" that would randomly flicker a light and then point that light at the stage. I didn't have the budget to buy a real flicker generating device and the one I ended up making never worked right. We had to ditch it at the last moment in favor of a manually flickered submaster. For this show I decided that I wanted to use an LCD projector to project actual television images on stage. Different options were debated (projecting on the CYC, projecting on the floor, etc...) and eventually we decided to point the projector right at the couch in the living room on stage. Depending on the level of ambient light, you would be able to see the content on he actors faces, the furniture, the floor, etc... The content was pulled mostly from Youtube (thanks to VDownloader) and fed from a laptop in the booth via a simple powerpoint presentation. The lens was thrown out of focus as the actual images were not as important as the "look" of television. We ended up with 3 different scenes using the projector effect, including a pivotal scene in the play, and it actually looks really good!

4. Projector light when you don't need it: While the projector idea was a lifesaver for this element of the show, it triggered another problem. Even projecting a totally black slide, there is still light clearly visible onstage during some of the darker transitions and the blackouts. So I had to come up with a way to block this light when we didn't want it, and allow the light to shine when we did. High end shuttering devices exist for this purpose, and super high end projectors have them built in, but this is a low budget show of course. We had a remote control, but the "eye" of the projector was facing the stage, not the booth. Besides, turning the projector on and off during the show might be distracting to the audience that is sitting only 10' below. The better idea was some kind of simple shutter that would block the light during the non projection scenes. During an early production meeting the set designer suggested "just use black wrap!" I was thinking something more complex, such as a model airplane servo or something, but black wrap would be simple and cheap. I ended up using a heavy duty gate hinge, a piece of wire from a coat hanger, some black wrap, and some gaffer tape to make a nice little swinging flap that would totally obscure the light from the lens of the projector. I mounted the hinge to the bottom of the projector mount (a square piece of 3/4" OSB), attached a long piece of black tie-line to the top of the flap, and ran the line back to the booth through two little pulleys. I had to add a little bit of weight to the string above the flap to ensure that it would fall down and out of the way of the lens as the length of the string had enough weight to counterbalance the flap itself. This totally worked and is pretty silent. I never heard it once while watching previews, though I did glance up to see if it was open yet prior to a cue and noticed it slowly lowering :) The other advantage to allowing gravity to lower the flap is that if there is ever a problem with the flap, it will probably be stuck "open" instead of "closed" and allow the projector to do it's job at the minimal expense of casting some unwanted light on stage.

Last week was a long week. At by the time I went home on Monday evening, I had no idea how we were going to get everything done prior to opening. By that time, I hadn't focused anything, and had basically placeholder cues setup. But by Friday evening's performance I had worked out just about all the bugs, at least all the lighting bugs. I had a few notes on Saturday, and a few cue modifications for Sunday, but otherwise everything was perfect by opening.

Here's to hoping I had something to do with Jeff's nod!