Saturday, May 26, 2007

Links related to Knots

I was looking around for a knot site that I had found previously, and thought I would post the ones I know and like.
This is one of my favorite Knot websites. It has a multitude of knots, and the knots are animated to show how they are done. What I like most about the site is that you can sped or slow down the animation, or view it in stills, or even rotate or flip the animation.
Also Animated, but not as good as a site as the above.
Videos of knots
A list of links related to Rope and knots
A sight sponsored by Sampson Rope. The above link brings up their page on rope splices.
A site by J C Clancy.
Mick Alderson’s page on Rope.

And something new:

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Learning Equipment

One of the topics I think about is how to effectively leach technical theatre concepts using current technology. Then one day I stumbled across this site:

The site offers a variety of systems that teach motors, motor control, pneumatics and the like. I think this is an interesting idea, and while the purchased units are probably pricey, it seems that the learning labs could be recreated with products around. This has the added advantage that it would be customized to be the most appropriate for what the student would encounter in that environment, though care should be taken to create some unity to what a student may encounter after college.

From an educational point of view, using a tool such as this allows the use of multiple learning styles. This is important also in that topics such as automation, learning should be both hands-on and text based. Yet it is often difficult to do the lab portion. With units that incorporate the tools in small portable stations, this hands-on component may be easier to integrate into the curriculum.

Tape Source

Having an assortment of spike tape on hand, and a few roles of colored electrical tape, I decided to color code boxes as I pack up my aprtment for my upcoming move. In search for a couple more colors and an economical source for more rolls I found the following sites online.
This site has a wide range of tapes. Theatrically speaking, I liked the white no-slip tape that glows in low light. It isn't cheap though at over 90 dollars a roll.
I referenced Dick Blick mostly because I have used this company for many years for art supplies that are unavailble locally.
hats, purses, wallets, backpacks... you name it, you can make it with duct tape. Reminds me of a saying.... Gaff tape is like the Force - There is a light side and a dark side and it holds the Universe together.
Offers a variety of tapes.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Circular Binder Storage

Looking for something completely different on the Internet I found the following binder storage systems:

While if you look at the prices, you may be shocked, I liked the idea behind this type of storage. While I have often seen circular bins for shop hardware storage (screws, nails, and such) I have not considered this for binders. It is particularly appealing since binders don't really store well on shelves (they waste space around them). It seems like it would be simple (or at least better than the prices listed) to engineer a similar system, and as I have many binders, it looks like a good solution.

Technology Blog

I found another blog site this afternoon that i thought i would pass on. Its The gentleman who writes it is a patent lawyer, and his blogs have a technological, patent, and copyright theme to them. Perhaps, not the most theatrical site I have viewed, but the ideas behind the technology is interesting.

One Good Turn - Book Review

I just finished reading One Good Turn- A Natural history of the Screwdriver and the Screw by Witold Rybcznski. It was a good read. It was easy to read, and had lots of interesting information in it. I particularly liked the style of writing in terms of showing the research that he did about the screw. As such, it highlights books, and artists and methodologies for conducting research. And not surprisingly, some of his research uses authors that I have used (or seen used) in technical theatre research as well. the books bibliography is worth keeping around for future research.

The book is thorough - it talks of tracing both written and visual sources back to the Greeks. There are sections on Robertson screws, and Phillips, and a bit about each of the people these screws are named after. It also discusses the manufacture of screws and the development of the lathes that are used. I also liked seeing some of the early uses - in armor, in weapons, and for water extraction.

Also interesting was the book talked about how to draw a helix around a column or tube using a right angle triangle. Obvious after I have seen it, but not something I had thought about previously.

Check the book out - The screw has had a pretty interesting history.


I recently came across some plastic sign material. one variety can be seen at:

The material I have was about a 1/4" thick, and very durable. Difficult to bend or cut with scissors, and resistant to bending.

I wish that I had paid more attention to this material during Pirates of Penzance this past spring. Pirates needed pieces of material that were as thin as possible, but durable. I looked at foam core, but the price was prohibitive and I needed larger sheets than what I could purchase, and laminating them together was cost prohibited. i went with a luaun / foam sandwich, which I have used on other productions. On some pieces we inserted steel or wood supports (for a cantilever section, and for attachment points), but the foam / luaun sandwich bonds well, has nice edges, doesn't require internal framing except for special circumstances (these were all used as flats not platforms). They are relatively economical, and can be laminated in a variety of shapes and configurations, making them ideal for solid odd shapes that abound in theatre.

But, this sign material could have been advantageous. It would have been lighter, came in colors, can be ordered to be flame retarded, could be directly printed on, and comes in a variety of sheet sizes. The edges would not have been solid (the material is like corrugated cardboard except it is plastic) but the thinness of the sheet would have made that irrelevant.

Something to keep in mind for the future.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Project Management Links

here are some useful links to project management information. I keep looking for better ways to maintain and collect links, and collecting them on here so they can also be of use to others is my latest plan. One of these I suppose I will put a "master-list" of sorts on my website, but until then, I hope all can enjoy what I post here.
This site has some good stuff (some of it is fairly introductory). They have alot more, but you need to pay monthly to access it, and its fairly expensive.
This is a one page site that talks about planning a project. i like that it talks about things that you need to do, but isn't always mentioned elsewhere (like creating specifications, and controls).
This site has a variety of checklists that you can download. Link directly for example:
Simple, but somewhat useful. Might be useful to develop a theatrical set for use.
Free management library. Lot of information about lots of topics. Good resource.
This is a mixed lot. Some good insights into leadership and non-profits, but long, and not entirely relevant.
The typical information. Always a good start.
good resource, lots of different information.
Another blog, this is a link to a specific article I thought was intriguing. This blog entry addresses what planning is and isn't, which I think is important to keep in mind. Its somewhat like the idea that an estimate is different from a bid.
another blog site. The cool thing about this one (like it IT tools) is that it links to others as well.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Project Management Blogs Part 1

I will label this Part 1 upfront, as there are alot out there, and I can't hope to justice to many of them in one blog.
I spent alot of time with this blog so far. I particularly thought the estimating blog was interesting. It is more geared towards IT, but still applicable. The author discusses the "mythical Man Month" which I talk about more later. But one of the points that is important was his comment about how close he estimates labor. He likes to break down tasks so they take no more than 5-10 hours. I agree that using small tasks like that make it easier to chart progress. One of the calendars that I often use breaks down each person on a monthly calendar and they can be assigned projects for 4 hour blocks (morning and afternoon for each day). For the most part I like that system, other than the fact that my estimate sheet doesn't always split neatly into four hour blocks. What i often do to get around that is use the element name on the calendar, and the estimate sheet has each element broken down in to small tasks. The other trick in estimating to keep an eye on is that jobs seem to take more time on paper when you break them out than they do in real life. A classic example of this was once, in a class project, we did time estimates on making a pot of coffee. By the time you calculated getting everything together, making the coffee and so forth, it took more than a half hour, very unrealistic in real-life terms. In terms of stagecraft, I often find the most inflation in cut lists. While it is true that a single cut list can be time consuming, a project will frequently have more than a day spent on cut lists. If all of the cut lists are done at the same time, it usually cuts this time in half if not more. Though, it could be argued that the time in the cut list estimate also includes time spent with the carpenter going over the project.

Nevertheless, the above blog links to some other blogs as well.
Also deals with estimating. In this blog there is reference to estimating by points (a IT term, but I think it could be used in stagecraft) versus ideal work weeks. Here they acknowledge that despite there being 40 hours in a week, you may only get a percentage of that in effective hours. The points as applied to stagecraft, I think, would mean determining how long standard scenery took your shop (1 flat = x hours, 1 platform= x hours) and using that to do a base estimate for labor (this is one way of doing budget estimates also).

Wikipedia has a good article on the "man-Month" reference I used above:
You should go and read the article, but there are some truths in it. brooks law for instance is right there next to the adage "the project expands or contracts to fit the time available". (also used for budget). Granted you can start the project to late to fully realize the project, but it can never start too early! from the link, I also thought the lines of communication was interesting, and the effect on productivity that creates. I have put the book on my reading list.

My last link is:
They have, at this site, a variety of blogs and other tools. Take a look its worth it. Even though much of these are based off of IT work, they are very applicable to the theatre world.

Thursday, May 10, 2007


I was rereading Ender's Game (Orson Scott Card) yesterday, partly because it is simply a good read, but also because a student in my AutoCAD class this semester made the analogy between the battleroom and 3-D drafting. Its a pretty useful analog really: Ender in the book makes attempts to always reorient himself, and the others continue with the game oriented in the same position they came in the door with. The skill to reorient yourself around 3-D in cad is useful, but often difficult for people who aren't used to thinking in 3-D.

At any rate, there was a couple of passages in the introduction that I thought was interesting. First, was that card spent time in theatre, as an actor, playwright, but also behind the scenes some as well. It would be interesting to read some of his plays.

At another point he says "even though I could not articulate what I understood...I knew that I did understand it. I understood, at levels deeper than speech....." Why I think this is interesting is that I often feel that way. I go through a learning process to sometimes realize that I knew everything previously, but could not articulate it. I learned a language to communicate what my "gut" told me. Plus, I believe that this is a common thing in many areas, particularly Technical Direction. A TD "knows" that 2x4's are fine for platform legs, not because he has done the math (usually), but because he has seen it and used it and empirically tested it. Yet if asked on the spot why the 2x4 is the best solution, some would not be able to articulate that knowledge very fully (as in beyond "it just works'').

Lastly, I liked the quote "The essence of training is to allow error without consequence." First, this compared to most training that we do in the theatre doesn't hold true. We take on projects where failure matters, if not for safety but for the sake of the show and the team. As an industry we seem reluctant to train (in areas like technical direction) in ways that allow failures. A designer designs many paper projects prior to designing for a realized production, yet TD's rarely do this in its entirety. (meaning that they do a rigging paper project or an automation paper project, but rarely a whole production). And, I do believe they can do a significant portion of TD work on a design that isn't meant to be realized. TDs can still budget, draft, determine materials, schedule, and so forth with any realization of a project. Of course, it is like design in that a paper project isn't the real thing - both are needed in training. Yet how do you determine how and why a student should be allowed to fail. What is failure? This issue has been a thread at USITT. And even in my commencement, the speaker announced to all that we should fail, as that leads to more success than success alone. Freedom to fail allows risk, allows freedom to try new things. Under time and financial restraints, and an opening night coming, it is sometimes difficult to find that freedom to experiment in theatre, which I feel is damaging to the theatrical process. After all, you eliminate one of the joys of theatre in that scenario.

However, it is necessary to LEARN from failure. (Its also necessary to learn from successes as well). No matter how old you old, I believe that there should be something that you learned from every project. There could have always been something that you improved upon. If at the end of a project someone asks you what you would have done differently, and you can't think of anything, perhaps (I think) you should do some reevaluation. because that, to me, signals a rut - a lack of growth. And perhaps that's the worst failure....

Yet, if you actually have read Ender's Game it is ironic to be discussing that sentence, because like theatre, the battle school in the book does associate failure with a cost. The consequences are losses in rankings, lost in esteem or respect (granted after the "launchies" have learned most basic stuff). This too is important, because without risk, failure isn't very important. No one will sweat a lost game of checkers (I'm excluding exceptional and champion checker players I suppose). if failure in a learning environment is that inconsequential that it won't be motivating enough for growth. So, all in all, its a carefully orchestrated balance between too much risk (people won't innovate) and too little risk (people won't grow).

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Tape Rollers

I just came across this product on the stagecraft mailing list. (As I am finally starting to catch back up from all of the end of year trappings.) The link to a site that sells these tape rollers is: I have to say though, that while they look very handy, I would hesitate at the price tag. Especially when they look like they could be fairly easily made with shop labor and mostly parts around many scene shops.

Update on 3-D printing

The New York Times just did an article about this technology. The permalink is:

Its an interesting article. I think the technology will be a great asset to theatre when it becomes economical enough to use.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

AutoCAD Resource

One of the resources that I have come back to over and over again for online AutoCAD resources is Some of the content you can download without being registered, but registering allows more content (it is free). I have found their magazine AUGIWorld to be of use, as well as a number of the blogs.