Thursday, March 10, 2016

Online Research

I write about many things here, but one topic that I like to engage in, and write about is research.   Usually my first step is Google Scholar.  You can configure it in many different ways, and even provide your school information to help make the process smoother (you typically have to log into many research databases with an ID, which you do through you school log in if you have one). Otherwise, some of these site will require payment (or sometimes they have a certain number of free articles allowed).   Google Scholar is also very useful in terms of looking up patents for theater technology.

I also frequently use the New York Times.  I was reading a book about a murder in NYC, and it dawned on me while reading the book that the reason I could not get earlier information about technical direction, technical theatre, and such from the times (late 1890's I think is the earliest that I have), is because they were not the dominate newspaper in NYC before that time.  The others that were are not as easily searchable, but I have not spend a significant amount of time following those leads.  I will say that newspapers and trade magazines are helpful in terms of tracking down industry trends and shifts.  For instance, many of the large scene shops switched hands over the years.  It is published that Variety was purchased by Showman Fabricators, but following the trail back can be tedious.  I have been looking at this history trying to trace the historical changes in the technical side of theater in the US.

New Mexico State University has a variety of PDF's available about doing research and using the library.  I know that all of the schools that I have attended have the same.  Connection to a college or university is nice because you often will have access to digital copies of articles that you may not otherwise have access too.  Many articles will not be available electronically though, so you still have to use the actual library!

Internet Scout Project  seams to be an online content knowledge management system where users can create their own database, but also provides databases to the public.  One such site is the Electro-Mechanical Library available which has a large collection of knowledge about devices.  This particular source is not necessarily research in terms of academic writing, but very helpful in terms of looking up information on specific electrical and mechanical devices.

Obviously, there are many, many, many more sources out there, but these represent a few that I have been using.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Led Lights

The whole of LED lights is much larger now than when I first started using them.
We often use lights from  Super Bright LED's.  We primarily use LED tape, and the projects often have a short lifespan.  More expensive LED's are usually fabricated under stricter scenarios.  But you pay a much difference price for that.  In this range the place to visit is: Color Kinetics, environmental Lights or DSL Group.  Basically, with LED's the quality does typically correlate with the quality of the lights.

Other good sources:
DSL Group

These sources will also provide enclosed LED strip light (similar to Neon Flex or the LED equivalent to neon).  LED only bends in certain directions, though depending on how you are using it you can often bend it naturally and bounce the light in the right direction.  If you buy it without the casing, you can only cut it within certain intervals.  This means that you need to occasionally bury the end of the tape, and that you have to plan ahead for where the lengths need to start and stop so that light is evenly distributed.

Often, once you get the LED's in place, if you are not using a packaged product (though this does occur in some packaged products as well) is that you can often see the LED's as single points of light which are not diffused.  To just dim the light we often use sheets of ND (neutral density) gel to block the light.  Milk white, sign white and Satin Ice acrylic are all good options as well.  If you are building something you will want to test - the specific type of acrylic you use, and the thickness of that piece will determine the spacing that it needs to be away from the LED to evenly distribute the light.

Lastly, if you are looking for specific colors, you may want to test the LED as samples before buying everything you need - for instance, we have had issues getting a good orange and red out of some products.  Its getting to be so common, that I think it is easy to slip into the idea that it doesn't need to be figured out - but that can bit you at the end when it doesnt work exactly how it was planned to.

Lastly, sometimes its helpful to buy something to hold the LED strips without manufacturing something new.  For this check out:
Klus Design
Outwater Plastics
Nova Display  We used the low arch product on a past project - you can see individual LED's but it looks sleek.  Nova Display also has many other products that are worth browsing.
And of course Amazon again.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Graphic and Shelving Hanging Systems

One of the items that I see more often in proposals and designs are cable display systems.  These can be fairly slick and elegant ways of displaying artwork or graphics, and even merchandise.

Most of the products I have used have come from Arakawa Hanging Systems.  There are many options out there though - I have often thought that the next time I do a cover the walls exhibit at USITT that it would be cool to use some of this equipment for the display.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Roll Drops

The other day I was thinking about roll drops - in particular a job I bid a couple years ago that used roller shades back to back for a TV studio.  The material on the shades was a print on blackout material - but they also used them for light boxes, obviously with a different material for the print.
They were using these rollers from Denny mfg.  They carry 12' long drops, and are pretty economical.

While looking for the information on Denny Manufacturing I also ran across a few other companies that produce equipment that could be used in situations like these.
 Titan Patio Drop Shade can do 20' wide by 18' tall

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Displays - Banners, Lightboxes & More...

Alpina Manufacturing has a good range of products that allow you to display graphics on walls or stands very easily, and the frame easily opens to allow you to insert a graphic - and they are economical. is one of my default places to look for sign frames, iPad holders, and even light boxes.  You could probably outfit an entire booth from this company.

For additional Slim Light boxes check out:
Blue River Digital
Environmental Lights

Note that depending on how you are using the light box you might need to check out the fabrication. Most thin boxes lit by wrapping LED's around the perimeter.  On many smaller sizes this is fine. And if you engrave the Acrylic it produces a really nice effect, though obviously different than lighting a graphic.  On larger boxes, places light environmental lights custom builds the light box with proprietary engraving patterns on the real of the acrylic to ensure that the light box is evenly lit throughout the whole surface of the product.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Cam Levers & Hardware Resource

MSC has a variety of adjustable clamping handles, hand wheels and knobs.  Its a good place to look when you can't find something from McMaster.  They also have a variety of white papers regarding inventory control.  

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Job Data Notes

Budgeting from historical data is one of the best ways to price future work.  There are many of caveats of course, something might be more because there is no scrap, or a job may come in under because it used scrap, but theoretically it should even out for the company - but this may not track out in jobs. Also, how much use you can generate depends on your ability to track.  Where I work now can tell you how a project did - but it is much harder to track how one element within that job did.  At that point it is tracking done by hand based on time sheets and the way you broke out the budget. Budget breakouts are important in terms of reconciliation, and tracking history so that apples can be compared to apples.

At any rate, I have have been a PM for 8.5 years with my company and during that time I now have back 184 completed / reconciled files.  Approximately 22 projects a year is an interesting statistic too many - on the higher side for theatre (but certainly not off the chart).  But the flip side is that completed projects only, I think probably accounts for about 50% of my time - it doesn't account for any of the smaller jobs that go through as primarily rental jobs, and even more time consuming - it doesn't count the time I spend bidding projects for which we are not awarded the work in the end.

I used to be better about tracking jobs I sent in a proposal on in which we did not get the work - thus creating a "hit rate" of jobs won versus jobs lost.  But I have not really kept up with that - and it is a little loose as some are very low probably jobs in the first place, and we provide budgets that are more generalized.  If we chose to be more targeted on what we provided proposals for we would have a better "hit rate", but we could also lose potential customers.

I also track the cost difference between what we sold the project for, versus our actual cost and review those over time.  Tracking it over times helps me to identify trends to see what the causes may be if the proposed totals make more or less money than expected over a specific period of time.  Interestingly enough, one variable to consider, in my case, is that when the shop is busier jobs take less time than when the shop is slow.  And it doesn't mean that when we are busy quality suffers (though it can happen).  Rather time and projects have a way of expanding and contracting to fill the available time.  If you have nothing else to do, a task may take a long time - where as the same task n a busy day could be done twice as fast because you have a list of other things that need to get done.  (this is referred to as Parkinson's Law; specifically that 'work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion).  (this concept is actually one interesting for further date as it actually works within the triangle of fast, good, cheap).

Monday, February 15, 2016

Project Place PM Software and Training

Project Place offers a range of services from webinars, a blog, to PM software.  They offer quite a bit of services and is free for small projects - but also have enterprise opportunities.
I have been looking for an opportunity to use it for a small scale project and try it out. Implementing technology to a project team is always an interesting and challenging circumstance.  You need folks to buy in and use the software.  You can only test out a piece of collaboration software by yourself to a certain extent.  But all software packages have good points and bad, some may be able to work out - sometimes you may need to test other solutions - but care needs to be taken as multiple changes in technology can be even more difficult to manage.

At any rate, I like the information this company provides, I think that helps adoption, and knowing if it is a good fit for your environment in the first place.  Further, even without adoption there is a wealth of knowledge that is useful in terms of PM techniques that are worth exploring.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Artistic Direction - Frosh Bites

I was reading's article on Eleventy-One Nuggets for Being a Successful and Ethical Artistic Director, and thought that there was many interesting topics and thoughts that were worth passing on - and not just to artistic directors, but TD's designers, project managers, and basically anyone else that desires a successful life.  

I really like 111 - the comment on change management.  Change 
management is a difficult topic, and frequently is problematic to implement.  

Take a look at the article, book mark it - it will be worth coming back to. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Teaching Take 2. Bad Teaching

This sounds bad, and to a certain extent I apologize for that.  On the other hand – I find it frustrating.  As a student I believe that a teacher has a certain responsibility to their students (regardless of the cost of tuition, but tuition is costly).  My belief of a responsibility doesn’t discount the responsibility of the student to be an active learner.  Just that they should be responsible not just for disseminating information, but making sure that real learning occurs.  I don’t know the answer to this question.  I know that in many cases teachers are hired because of what they have accomplished in their careers (frequently common in business).  Depending on the institution they are hired because they do research (and/or have many publications) and that in both cases, the high profile of the “teacher” can bring in funding to the school.  Neither of these situations have ANY bearing on the capacity of the individual to be a successful teacher.  It is critical that a teacher has domain knowledge.  There are theories out there where this is a debatable criteria, but let’s assume that it is true, for the sake of argument. While I know this may work in coaching, teaching and coaching are not vacantly the same thing.  I’m not an educational theorist – but I don’t necessarily need to be one to say that regardless of any of those theories, bad teaching exists.

Just to be clear, I don’t think that teachers mean to teach poorly.  I think I have seen a lot of reasons over the years for “poor” teaching.  Poorly treated adjunct professors may be working at double or triple the load of a normal professor with no benefits -   Poor teaching in this case could simply be an issue of not having time – or capacity to be as thorough as potentially them may need to be.  Maybe they are burned out from striving to teach and do committee work, publish, and chase tenure. 
But I think, in my opinion, the issue is that teachers are not hired for their ability to teach, they are not taught how to teach after being hired, and that successful teaching is not a primary concern for maintaining their employment.  And I think that it is a problem.  Teachers should be mentored, and taught (assuming they have mentors how are successful teachers) about pedagogy.  They should be able to engage with students in multiple ways.  I don’t have an issue with a class that is a lecture class – but then the lectures should be done well. 

What I see that frustrates me the most are mostly simple things:

-          Poor public speaking, not being audible (even after being asked).  Not repeating student’s questions (this is a huge issue in some online courses). 

-          Lack of clear expectations and feedback to the students.  What is a quality response?  And I spend an hour to make a quality response to a question online and another student say’s yea me too – are we graded equally?  Intrinsic motivation aside, I don’t need to spend hours doing “busy work’ for an online participation grade while have the class gets the same grade for agreeing.  (Except that I do, which is probably why I get mad). 

-          Teaching skills that you don’t demonstrate as a teacher.  If you are teaching a course about creating a learning environment, then create a good learning environment.  I have had multiple classes where slides were published with poor grammar and incorrect information.  It’s hard to learn something when the provided materials are not correct.  Then of course, how do you have any credibility in the first place….

-          Class format, topic, and online versus in person all have different costs and benefits.  Teachers probably have preferred styles, but learners do too.   I have learned a lot from classes that were all lecture.  Unless the teacher is very skilled at leading a discussion, I find learning to be more difficult when it is only discussion – seminar style – unless, the students are very vested.  But generally mixes of styles work best for me.  Discussion is valuable. I like case studies.  I think group projects can be important (though I typically don’t care for them).  But it isn’t a one size fits all situation.

-          Last, but most wrong to me are classes where the teacher tells you a certain percentage of what you need to know to be successful (and it typically occurs in classes where you cannot easily research the remaining information), and expect you to figure out the rest – because they thing that proves that you are learning.  Examples:
o   Teach someone how to draft, tell them to design a house, but expect them to design windows, doors properly without showing them what the symbols mean for those elements (as they can just figure that out on their own).  Better yet, teach someone auto cad, even if they have no drafting experience.  Technically possible – but it comes with a loss of quality.  Or teach a French class, and expect someone to know what a library is called because they know the work for book.  I’m not saying that a student should not be able to put 2 and 2 together.  Students should problem solve, but teachers need to allow that to happen, and to give them the framework to build upon (or, conversely not expect the student to come up with the teacher’s “correct answer”.  I have seen a recent trend where teachers hold back information and tell students to figure it out, and that that if they wouldn’t give them any more information it would be “cheating”.  I don’t get that.   

There are other issues at play of course.  Do students rate easy teachers more highly than hard teachers?  There a third factor of fairness at work – hard but fair is okay, but hard and unclear is different?  I have heard that easy teachers are not necessarily ranked better – but in my personal experiences, there does seem to be a correlation between easy = higher ratings.