Saturday, September 17, 2016

USITT tech expo

Tech Expo Deadline Oct. 14

USITT Tech Expo displays creative solutions to production problems. Every other year, this exhibit highlights the work of technicians from all areas of production including sound, rigging, costume, crafts, properties, mask making, lighting technology, stagecraft, and special effects. An article describing, in detail, the products and processes used to develop the idea, accompanies each exhibit. The articles are assembled into a catalog which is sold at the Conference, online, and by the USITT Office.

The application deadline is Oct. 14. Apply here.

Tech Expo is the only juried exhibition and publication devoted to theatre technologists.

Find guidelines and more info at

Monday, July 25, 2016

Striplox Hardware

Striplox has and interesting product out that is fairly similar to the Z-Clip product that we use alot of around our shop.  It slides horizontally (or vertically), allows the connectors to be very flatly nestled together, though this is true if you inset Z-Clip as well.  It is a little different in that there is an option that makes it lock into place, so that it will not be removable once installed.

The website shows additional uses, including being able to put it into the end grain of a piece of wood, and to use it for corners.  It is definitely something that I could see being used in the shop.

Friday, July 22, 2016

On Teaching 3 – Online Learning

I wrote the first two of these after a bad online teaching experience.  During the last quarter I had an OK online experience.  Most of the classes I take are online.   It isn’t necessarily because I prefer them – but they are typically more convenient.  As with any class there are many differences between classes and schools, even within a college or university.  I consume a fair amount of content – much of it online.  Obviously it varies in the way that it is conveyed, but it is clear to me that online learning – actively with enrollment, semi actively via online sites like Lynda.Com, or open source university classes, or just casually with many of the articles and white papers available.
Generally speaking, most of this learning occurs much more passively than traditional classroom learning. 

Generally speaking online learning is typically not as effective as classroom learning and retention is lower.  Considering the fact that online learning, in my opinion will only grow, finding a way to fix this is important.

My online classes have generally been 1 of three types. One is a live recorded actual class, in which the online portion participates asynchronously with the rest of the class.  One class gave you the option of watching it live (this was a fairly good online class).  One type provides pre-recorded lecture materials.  One of the best classes I ever took online had this - his lectures were full length, insightful, and on point.  The third, may have online recordings but they are short and no where near lecture length.

The other differences in classes of course is the assignments.  To "mimic" in class discussion, many (poor) online classes require an absurd amount of reading and writing posts relating to the topic and the commenting on other posts. Hopefully, they at least provide a rubric on what these posts should include to be meaningful, but they often don't.  And the amount of work that goes into this far exceeds that of a normal classroom discussion and sometimes equals a paper (some require resources).  I understand that it is more difficult to see what students are doing in a virtual world.  I find that discussion groups work better than doing whole class discussions, and that case studies and actual papers and analysis also work well.

Also what I find is that not only is the lecture material not the same as an in class discussion, but neither is the reading material.  When I first started taking online course it seemed like teachers just simply made their in class course into an online version (minus maybe the video).  I'm not really sure of that though - just as students seem to put less work into an online course - so does, it seems the professors do.

I realize that all of these thoughts on teaching may seem off topic to theatre, but frankly, especially in areas like Cad, I feel like there are things that could be taught online.  and I don't think that online courses will go away, because ultimately they do save time, even if they are made to be high quality.

So here are my thoughts :
1. Provide lectures.  I am taking a class to gain specific knowledge, but I am paying someone for that opportunity and feel like I deserve some sort of personalized experience and that includes relevant, and full length lectures.  I can find a list of books to read on my own, and probably even fine a discussion group.  The teacher aspect is lost in online learning and needs to front and center.
2. provide meaningful books, articles, etc.  not overwhelming, unless it is clear what is required and discretionary and check that the links are active.  (providing does not mean that we won't purchase materials, just in terms of choosing resources).
3. have meaningful assignments.  do case studies.  Have small groups discuss issues.  Busy work isn't productive, takes alot of time, and is meaningless for long term learning.  Focus on projects or papers. realize that while we are all using technology that group projects are still painful (not that I ever expect them to go away).
4. Use other technology.  There are spaces for virtual collaboration where people can put up PDFs and text chat, or mark up what is on the screen.  Resources are constantly changing, stay up to day.  have virtual office hours.  Be responsive.  Give students feedback.  Be clear what you expectations are.
5. tests and quizzes vary from class to class. i don't typically find them effective (they are usually from the text book company and are "tricky" just to be more difficult.  Though in one of the best classes I had we did have an in class essay final.  Obviously this will depend on the type of class being taught, but projects and papers can be viable options.  Don't make choices because they are easy, and don't use the teacher questions out of the text book because it is also easy for you to deal with.

As I mentioned, I dont  think this trend will go away, but I think it can be much better if approached differently!

Below are a variety of sites that talk about online learning in more depth.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Klimp Fasteners

A job recently came in and the crates used Klimp fasteners.  They "clip" into place and secure the crate without the use of bolts.  The package we received to do work on was about 5 years old, and had seen international travel, so they had help up pretty well as an alternative methodology for crate construction.  

While obviously useful for its normal use for crates, I would be curious to see if it would be a useful piece of hardware for scenery in rep theatre - though obviously it would be limited to 90 degree corners.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

HPL Graphics

When it comes to durable graphics, HPL or High Pressure Laminate materials are the strongest that you can use.  They are great for museums for reader rails and in other high touch areas.  The quality is great, the timeline is long – so plan ahead! 
Some go to sources for us are:
IZone, Fossil and Folia.

I have been looking into this below and looking to experiment more with Envirosigns and Vacker signs, but am looking for more options.
Graphics are an odd part of my job as a PM.  We don’t make them either in terms of designing content (though we have done this), or in terms of printing them.  We install them – and we need to make sure that images are correct and the correct size.  So on one hand, there is little to no handling, except that on some jobs, graphic production, checking, and management is actually a very large part of the work to be done.

I did run across a couple PDF’s that have more information about graphics to pass on:

New Companies:

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.