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Archive for the ‘Technical Tuesdays’ Category

Lynda.com

Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

Got home from Winnipeg and finally got around to selecting one of the free gifts offered to me by Adobe for registering the copy of Adobe CS4 that I picked up recently… For anyone in the know, you may ask why on earth I bought a copy of CS4 when CS5 is apparently just around the corner. Well, it’s like this… I’ve been drafted into helping create a yearbook for my son’s grade 7 class and it seemed more important to get the software sooner than later, so I bit the bullet and took a bid leap and spent a schwack of cash on the software bundle… There are rumours of being able to get a cheap or possibly free upgrade given the proximity to the release of the newer version, so I’ll be keeping my eye on that very carefully… Apparently Photoshop in CS5 has some pretty nice improvements and new features…

Anyway, as part of buying the software and registering it, I was given a selection of ‘thank you gift’ options from Adobe one of which was a one month subscription to the on-line training available at Lynda.com

I’ve known about Lynda.com for years and was first introduced to their software training programs by my friend Jim McCombe back in the late 90’s when we were both just getting into the whole webpage thing… Back then bandwidth was so limited that the idea of streaming videos was quite simply out of the question. These days with things like YouTube and various video codecs designed specifically to keep file sizes down and quality up video is a reality that we can enjoy on the internet painlessly. In fact, in my house, my kids spend more time watching YouTube videos than the TV…

I’ll have to admit that, even though the technology has improved to the point where these videos are easily consumed over the internet, I hadn’t really given much thought to revisiting Lynda.com until I got this free months worth of tutorials as a gift from Adobe. This may have been in part due to the fact that if I’m working on Cruise Ships the internet is both slow and expensive which doesn’t make it an ideal location to be tapping into on-line tutorials. April however is a month that I determined a few months ago would be spent at home and right after getting home from Winnipeg I signed up for a month’s worth of training thanks to Adobe and have been watching videos every day.

Yes I’m a bit of a geek to begin with, but I know that with certain pieces of software I own I’m just scratching the surface of what is possible. I know how to do what I want to do in most cases, but am also aware that there may be more efficient ways to do things and really haven’t taken the time to explore some of the hidden features and options that many software packages offer. I’m also keenly aware that just because I know how to accomplish a certain task it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m doing it in the most time efficient method. Sometimes it’s just easier to do things the way you know than to find the additional time to actually learn how to do it right.

Well, it feels good to be making the time to actually sit down and go through the tutorials for a couple of pieces of software and fill in all sorts of gaps in my knowledge. Even with task that I AM familiar with (writing this blog for example with in the WordPress world) I’m making the time to go through the instructional videos and am picking up tips and tricks that I know will end up saving me time in the weeks and months to come.

Years ago I actually purchased a DVD tutorial from a different company so I could learn the Final Cut Pro Studio suite of software and at the time it made sense because I was traveling a lot and didn’t always have an internet connection. At the moment however the trainings I’m watching at Lynda.com are the perfect way to incrementally increase my knowledge on various software packages that I know I should know more about. Got some time? Want to learn how to get more out of your computer and the software on it, well then, the $25/month subscription price well worth the price of admission.

Check out these Cups.

Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

A few weeks ago when I was down in Seattle hanging out with Matt Baker he showed me the nicest looking shaker cups I’d seen in years. The cups are available from The Juggling Arts Website and as the website indicates they’re made out of Aircraft aluminum which is a nice buzz word I guess. The point that Matt made that struck me though was that the were very hard to dent. Matt’s cups were the blue color and it looked like the paint was a powder coating. No idea how long he’d had his cups, but they had started to chip a bit… I don’t think any paint is really designed to take the sort of abuse that throwing shaker cups around gives to the surface – but this paint seemed to be holding up fairly well. The most noticeable area of chipping was around the lips of the cups which take the bulk of the abuse if the cups get dropped.

Now I’ve got to admit that I’m not a hugely proficient shaker cup manipulator though I have posed for a few moves for my friend Todd Strong who writes for the Teach In column in Juggle Magazine as well as for use on his website, so I’m reasonably familiar with a few different prop maker’s take on shaker cups. After having a good look at the Juggling Arts website I also tracked down a nice comparative review on-line of three of the primary manufactures. Actually this website provides all sorts of information about the art of shaker cup manipulation, but this section was the part that caught my eye –

The Dube cups are taller and narrower than the other manufacturers, which makes them more similar to real cocktail shaker cups. It also makes it harder to do several moves, especially throwing two or more cups from another cup. They are also made of aluminum, which rubs off on your hands, and leaves the cups looking dull and defeated in no time at all.

The Jenack cups are wider and shorter, which makes some tricks decidedly easier. Unfortunately they too are made of aluminum, and although I can’t speak from personal experience, they don’t hold up as well as they should.

The Juggling Arts shaker cups are similar to the Jenack cups in shape, but are made from a metal alloy, which holds up much better. These cups haven’t been on the market for as long as the other two, so I guess the jury is still out, but they’re clearly the best of the three. The also cost more, but if you start out with aluminum cups, you’ll end up rebuying them, or getting alloy cups eventually. Plus, Dick Franco is now using these cups, so who needs my endorsement?

I’ve used the Jenack cups for years, but they’re apparently hard to come by these days, so that the Juggling Arts is making a cup that’s a similar shape and a bit more robust was exciting news to me as I may need to replace my cups fairly soon and I really didn’t want to go the Dubé route…

Anyway – for those who use shaker cups or are considering them as a prop, my recommendation would be to check out the cups offered by The Juggling Arts.

Bring the right Cables…

Where in the world am I today?: Winnipeg, MB, Canada

It might be as a result of the training I received as a Street Performer dealing with my own sound, it might be because I’m generally a bit anal about trying to make everything look and sound it’s best, not exactly sure, but I was reminded again of the importance of traveling with the correct cables the other day… I showed up to perform at Portage Place Mall on Friday and I was splitting the bill with a local magician. He came all prepared to plug in his MP3 Tech into the sound board that the client had provided, but the cable he brought wasn’t quite the right one for the job.

Thankfully I had the cable he needed or at least one that got things working and we were able to get his music plugged into the board and working fairly painlessly. It was one of those scenarios where a fairly small part of the equation was missing and could have created a significantly larger hiccup had I not been able to have a quick fix on hand.

I’ve encountered a number of instances when a client said that a sound system would be provided and I didn’t need to worry about a thing, yet when I showed up I was very happy that I had brought my regular gear on the off chance that something wasn’t as is should be. Especially when working with a new client or when you haven’t had a chance to check things out in person it’s always a good idea to show up with a few extra bits that might be needed. It’s always better to have something and not need it as opposed to not having something and needing it.

The one cable I never leave home with out is the mini plug stereo to quarter inch mono plug that I use to plug in an iPod to a soundboard. You can also have stereo mini jack to stereo RCA plugs or perhaps stereo mini jack to dual mono quarter inch to achieve the ‘stereo’ effect, but rarely am I in a situation where stereo sound is key to the equation. I find almost always that the stereo mini to mono quarter inch gets the job done. Now, I should mention that the cable I use is really a male stereo mini jack to mail stereo mini jack to which I attach a stereo mini to mono quarter inch adaptor. this simple solution has worked well for me for years and is something that any performer who uses an iPod should just have.

Actually if you visit the site (www.audiogear.com) that I used to demonstrate most of the above mentioned cables I was talking about you may even come up with some more solutions…

Don’t have one? Get one. Even if you have a fancier set up than an iPod running your music, having your tunes on your iPod and having one of these cables as a back up alternative could save your bacon one day.

When software acts funny…

Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

I had one of those days today noodling with Photoshop and not having it be very happy with me… Actually ever since I upgraded to Snow Leopard back in September I’ve been having issues… Everything seems to be functioning just fine, then boom, mid-task I’d run into menus being greyed out and unaccessible…

The quick fix was to force quit the program and then restart it, but after six plus months this was getting really old, so today I decided it was time to get to the bottom of the problem… I’m not sure I’m entirely there, but I think I may have figured it out.

The following is a bit geeky and really only relates to those out there using a Mac, so if you’re a Window’s Fan, sorry, this isn’t for you… My blog, my rules and this was a big chunk of today for me so I wanted to get it out there in case anyone else out there has run up against any issues like the ones I described above…

#1 – I trashed the preference files for Photoshop so that they regenerated themselves from scratch. This way, if anything in the preference files were corrupted those issues would be thrown out the window. To do this, I first quit Photoshop then I followed the following path: Hard Drive -> Users-> My User Account -> Library -> Preferences. Once inside the preference folder I trashed the Adobe Photoshop CS4 Settings Folder. Once I restarted Photoshop I was presented with the default settings and needed to rebuild a few of the actions that I had in the Actions Pallet from scratch. I could have avoided having to rebuild them had I exported the actions before trashing the preference file, but rebuilding the very few actions I had didn’t really take all that long and ensured that I was wiping the slate clean.

#2 – I realized turned off Rosetta compatibility. The only reason for me to have Rosetta active is because I have an old scanner and it’s import plug-in only works under Rosetta. To turn Rosetta functionality on and off, I navigated to the Photoshop Application Icon: Hard Drive -> Applications -> Adobe CS4 Folder -> Adobe Photoshop CS4. Highlight the icon then go to the File Menu and “Get Info.” In the window that pops up there’s a check box for “Open using Rosetta.” I had this checked because I like being able to access my scanner, but decided to turn it off.

With any luck these two tweaks will bring my Photoshop wows to an end… And I’ll be able to get back to the tasks I use the software for as opposed to the task of getting the software to perform like I want it to… Fingers crossed!

This just in from Holland American Line…

Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

Got the attached screen shot from Bob Cates a couple of days ago with the news that apparently Holland American Cruise Lines has, for some unknown reason blocked access to my blog… Bob writes –

I thought you would find this disconcerting. Holland America Line, for what it’s worth, seams to be blocking your blog. I did manage to get onto your home page (www.checkerhead.com) but when going to the blog, it gave me the following screen. (you can see your url in the image capture). Not sure how on earth one would fix this. Can’t imagine there are many 70 year olds on Holland America trying to access your blog though.

I think Bob was more disconcerted than I am about this which is both flattering and surprising. I wonder if this has anything to do with the weird hack that happened to the blog a couple of weeks back. Someone got in and inserted this weird block of text that appeared before the blog posts. To be honest I hadn’t even noticed it either as the problem wasn’t showing up in Safari for a period of time and it wasn’t until I check out a bug report by my friend Jim that I noticed the problem when I opened the blog using Firefox

As soon as I recognized the problem I talked to my guy at E T Web Hosting and he had it sorted out with in an hour or so… Quick fix and there haven’t been any problems since. I have noticed a huge increase in the amount of Spam Comments that are left on the site for some reason which I also though was semi-flattering in a weird sort of way. If my blog has become popular enough for spammers to try and tap into my readership, well that’s pretty cool in a bizarre sort of way. Mind you the more likely answer to why this is happening is likely some sort of automated robot that’s finding the right combination of software and accessibility and just plastering the site… Might have to go in and have a closer look at the setting actually… Hmmmm… Yes…likely a good idea.

Short story long… If you’re cruising aboard Holland America any time soon and try to access the blog, you may not be able to… Just one of those things in the imperfect world that is the World Wide Web.

A note about mailing a GGOL

Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

Many many months ago I tried to capture the essence of how the concept of the GGOL came about. You can review that information should you care to by flipping back to my original post on the subject. Basically what it amount to is remembering to say thank you to the people who get you a job by finding out what they like and sending a thank you gift that’s appropriate for the person who landed you the gig. I figure if it was an agent that got you the job you’d be paying them a commission. If it’s a friend or associate that helped land you a job then some sort of recognition of their efforts is in order. Some performers end up becoming part-time agents and simplify the process by just charging you a commission, but I have no desire to take money out of my friends pockets… Some sort of acknowledgement of my recommendation or the efforts I put in to get you the gig is most certainly appreciated though.

This seems to come up most often when I’m organizing a larger program or event like the work I do at the PNE Street Stars Program or the recent work I did with the BC Street Jam program during the Olympics… Some of the time performers ‘get’ the concept right away and enjoy the challenge of coming up with the right ‘token of their appreciation’ sometimes performers are completely oblivious of the fact that some sort of thank you might be appropriate. I’m fine either way, but I find it interesting that the performers who do ‘get it’ seem to go on to have more successful careers for some reason… Hmmmmm…

The Project Dynamite Boys who came to the PNE last year (Alex and Dave) were two guys who not only ‘got’ the concept, they thoroughly embraced it. Smart boys those two and a really fun high-paced show. They’re going places I can assure you of that and they make it pretty easy as a presenter to bring in because they’re on top of their game. They were only in town for the first five days of the PNE in 2009, but made sure to present me with a lovely bottle of Mcallan 10 Year Old Scotch… A very nice acknowledgement of the efforts that had gone in to getting them the gig if I do say so myself! Now I’m not as much of a scotch drinker as I used to be, in fact I’m trying to cut back on my consumption in general… Give my liver a bit of a break, but the point is that they ‘got’ the concept.

About a year ago now I performed at the Oklahoma City Arts Festival. Had a great time and my shows were very well received. This particular event has a budget to bring in one Street Act for their festival and they like to mix it up every year. I’m well aware of how this works and always love to pass along my recommendations as to who might be a good alternative. This does two things. It keeps the client happy, and it gets a gig for a friend who you know will do a good job.

Back in January I got an email from the producer of Oklahoma City asking for suggestions and recommendations for who would make a good act to bring in for the 2010 Arts Festival and I happily suggested the Project Dynamite Boys… I sent them a heads up email letting them know that they might be hearing from the producer, and sure enough, one thing lead to another and they got the gig…

Then I see on their Facebook page that they were off to find a GGOL for me as a thank you for the gig… I write saying the appropriate thank you and letting them know that I’d keep my eye on my mail box… So I keep my eye on my mail box, but nothing comes… I wait weeks, then it dawns on me that this might have been some elaborate joke, so I write to Dave to check. He assures me that it’s no joke, so I continue to wait…

Finally I get a letter in the mail from the Canada Border Services Agency stating the following –

This is to advise you that the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has intercepted a mail item addressed to you that contains an intoxicating beverage(s)/liquor (as listed below) and transferred it to Canada Post.

1 Bottle 750 mL of Whiskey

The importation of such items by mail is prohibited under the Importation of Intoxicating Loquors Act.

Consequently, Canada Post must dispose of the item(s) in accordance with “Non-mailable Matters Regulations” under the Canada Post Corporation Act.

Doh!

Lesson learned? Don’t send Booze in the mail… Thanks for thinking of me though boys!

Temptation…

Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

Is resistance futile?

Ever since the very first iPhone was released on June 29, 2007 I’ve been resisting the temptation of getting one… Mind you getting one in Canada wasn’t an option for quite a while after it was originally released in the US, but even when the iPhone did arrive in Canada I was quite happy not to buy into the ‘God Phone‘ as it was sometimes called.

A little over a year ago I opted to get an iPod Touch instead of buying an iPhone because I reasoned that if I kept my regular phone and didn’t buy the additional data-plan that goes with all smart phones on the carrier I use I’d save enough over the course of the year to more than pay for the fanciest of the iPod Touches and that’s exactly how things played out…

Then back in October, almost a year to the day after I had originally gotten my iPod Touch I accidentally stepped on it at a gig cracking it’s screen and have been staring at a somewhat funky screen for a little over four months… Apple could fix the screen for $250.00 but the funky screen doesn’t seem to effect the playback ability of the audio on the device…hmmmm. It is rather annoying when it comes to doing anything that uses the beautiful touch screen interface for video, games or other apps… Sigh…

A few months back I also upgraded to the latest version of iPhoto and was introduced to a cool new feature called ‘Places’ that allows you to ge0-tag images and track where in the world the picture was taken. I’ve been geo-tagging by hand and love opening up iPhoto and then clicking on the map to see where around the world my pictures have been taken… I’m a bit behind with my iPhoto responsibilities though and one of the most time consuming aspects when it comes to the Places feature is the tagging of the images with a location stamp… Of course, the iPhone does the tagging for you automatically thus eliminating one of the most time consuming aspects of that particular task that I do like to stay on top of… Sigh…

Back in the Summer I was really impressed when my friend, Rick Kunst, whipped out his iPhone, took a picture, connected to Facebook and uploaded the image with in seconds… Moments later people were commenting on the photo and leaving feedback… Crazy! I think it was around that time that I started to see how powerful the iPhone could be in terms of doing stuff like Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. I’ve resisted the Web 2.0 revolution for ages too, but I’m slowly becoming a convert and having an iPhone to use as the interface device would certainly allow me to update my status on the various sites easily from just about anywhere potentially helping me stay more connected to friends and clients…

To make matters even worse my wife who’s as thrifty as I am turned to me the other day and more or less said… Dave, you should get an iPhone… Man… It’s like seeing the most delicious cookies going into the cookie jar and then told you can eat as many as you like… Does it get any better than this?

Everywhere I turn I see people using and loving their iPhones… Hooked up with a friend yesterday who put it this way…

Ask ten different iPhone users if they love their phone and nine out of ten of them will pull out their phone and start kissing it.

Temptation… I’m not sure how much longer I’m going to be able to resist…

Travel Adaptors

Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

Nothing too complicated about today’s post. I travel enough that I’ve run into most of the plug types that are out there and have gotten into the habit of carrying the various travel adaptors with me. I do this primarily so I can plug in my computer where ever I happen to be in the world. Now if I was actually a bit more organized I’d actually swing by a handy dandy on-line resource to check which plug type(s) I’d need for any given trip, but two of the three adaptors in the picture above are small enough so that I just have them tucked into a small case that carries various cables and connectors for the electronics that I fly with.

On a recent trip to India I ended up spending about five hours in Hong Kong Airport on the way over and even longer on the way back. The great thing about the airport in Hong Kong is that you can tap into a free wifi connection which is awesome. The tricky think about a five or more hour lay over is the fact that my computer’s battery was pretty tapped out by about the two hour mark. Hong Kong’s plug (the white one in the picture) is the same as that in England and although I had already picked one of these up in my travels I totally spaced on the fact that I’d need it for the layover in Hong Kong.

Thankfully there was an electronics shop in the airport that sold the adaptors, so I picked one up and was away at the races in terms of charging up my battery and plugging away at the seemingly endless amount of internet-ing that needs to be attended to on a daily basis. Actually it was the layover in Hong Kong on the way home where I was able to catch up on about a week’s worth of blog posts… I seem to have been running a bit behind on my self-imposed blogging schedule, but somehow I seem to be able to get the posts up eventually and am more or less on track with things…

Anyway… Travel adaptors… Check where you’re going before you fly and make sure you pack the right one(s). Most AC adaptors will convert the input voltage so that when you actually plug it into your machine it doesn’t fry the circuitry but I did experience a pretty odd phenomena while I was in India… The voltage coming out of the outlets in India is 230 volts, the voltage in Canada is 120 volts. The increased voltage didn’t have an effect on my computer’s power adaptor’s ability to recharge the battery and run my machine, but the aluminium body of my Macbook Pro seemed to vibrate when I touched it… It was as though the additional voltage was making the whole machine quiver… When I’d unplug the machine the vibration would go away, when I plugged it in I could literally feel the voltage running through the aluminum casing of the computer in this weird sort of way. Imagine running your hands over a velvet surface and that feel of the little hairs of velvet running underneath your hand… That’s about the closest way I can describe it… Very odd to be typing away on my machine and have this sensation occur. It was almost like the machine was alive… I got into the habit of unplugging the adaptor when I was working, working until the battery died, then taking a break while the battery recharged… It was just a little odd…

Anyway… Keep in mind that countries around the world run on everything from 110 volts to 240 volts and although most AC adaptors can accept inputs in this range you’ll need to carry a collection of adaptors to ensure that you’ll be able to keep your electronics juiced up!

Don’t Bring Your Balls on the Plane…

Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

This one really caught me off guard… As I was leaving India on Saturday night I checked my luggage in with Cathay Pacific at the New Delhi International Airport and headed towards security on my way to the departure gate. I went through the regular ‘are you carrying any liquids or gels‘ schpiel and pulled my laptop out and put it in a separate tray for the x-ray machine then walked through the body metal detector thing and when I got to the other side there was an delay in getting my bags…

Now this is fairly normal for me because as a juggler I often put stuff in my hand luggage that the airport security people raise an eyebrow over… Most travellers, for example, don’t carry hat boxes with Top Hats in them… I’m used to having my bags run through the screening process multiple time and questions asked about the content of my carry on cases, but typically once the questions are asked I’m allowed to go on my merry way having suffered only a minor delay.

Such was not the case on Saturday night however…

I get to the other side of the screening and sure enough my bags are run through a second time. Then the bag search… They open up my top hat bag and pull out my five silicone juggling-balls

“We’re going to need to run these through again…”

OK… What ever…

Now I should also point out at this point that the guys who do the security at the International Airport in New Delhi are Indian Military and not your typical TSA guy from North America. They have a slightly more menacing appearance and some of them carry side arms or rifles… Definitely not the sort of guys you want to piss off…

“Can I see your boarding pass please.”

I hand it over and they look at it, then look back at me and say –

“I’m afraid you can’t travel with these balls, they’re a restricted item.”

I’m like – What? – Juggling balls a restricted item???”

“Yes”

“Can you tell my why I’m not allowed to take them on the plane? I mean I didn’t have a problem on my way to India with these and I’m having a hard time understanding what the problem is..”

“They are a restricted item… Can you follow me to the head of security please…”

So I go over to the dude in the picture and he explains to me that I won’t be able to carry these on the plane in my hand luggage. These ‘Restricted items’ will be placed in a special Cathay Pacific box and put in the checked luggage area of the plane…

Huh???

At this point, a representative from Cathay Pacific is there helping and I turn to him in the hopes of getting some sort of explanation –

“I’m sorry for the confusion,” I say, “But can you explain to me why these juggling balls are a ‘Restricted item’?”

The guy from Cathay smiles at me and says…

“Well… You might start juggling and distract the pilot…”

I smile, resign myself to the fact that I won’t see my balls until I get to Vancouver and stop resisting the inevitable.

Flash forward to my arrival in Vancouver on Sunday and sure enough my specially boxed juggling balls were spat out onto the baggage carousel at YVR so the story had a happy ending. To be honest, not having to carry the extra weight of 5 three-inch silicone juggling-balls in my hand-luggage wasn’t necessarily a bad thing… The only reason I normally keep them in my hand-luggage is to keep the weight of my checked luggage below 50 lbs… On this particular trip I could have checked them as I wasn’t travelling with quite as much in the way of props as I sometimes do… Oh well.

Lesson learned… When in India, Check your Balls!

Bounce -No- Bounce Balls

Where in the world am I today?: Mumbai then on to New Delhi, India.

Being in India has been great so far! My shows at the TTF & OTM Tourism Trade Show in Mumbai were a hoot and I was really interested to be in front of crowds in India because they seem to react differently than just about any other audiences I’ve performed for in the world. How? Well I felt like I was as much a curiosity as I was a performer. I gathered large crowds just about every show I did, but the spectators looked on with curiosity and reserve as opposed to the enthusiastic exchange I’ve encountered in other places in the world. I remember having this feeling when I first went to Japan too and over the course of about fifteen years and thousands of show in Japan I eventually figured out how to make my shows really work. Basically what it always comes back to is communication. If you can clearly communicate the basic rules of a game (ie your show) people will usually come along and play. I’ve based my career on this!

The other fun thing about my time in India (and this relates to the point above about communication) is that my employer, Derek Galpin from the CTC, is a guy I’ve worked for a number of times and he’s always pushing me to bring something new… The conversation usually goes something like this. What do you have that’s new for me this time around???

I’m well aware that this is coming before I even leave for one of these jobs and decided to swing by the local magic shop in Vancouver before I headed to India and picked up a set of Bounce -NO- Bounce Balls. I’d been aware of these from having seen other performers use them but had never really spent much time playing with them. I figured the six days of 5 – 8 shows a day would give me plenty of opportunities to play with these balls and experiment with what could be done with them while I was in India and I wasn’t disappointed.

The concept behind these balls is very simple. You have two one inch diameter black rubber balls that look identical – one bounces, the other hits the ground with a thud and doesn’t bounce at all. The simple presentation goes like this… Take the bouncy ball, bounce it a few times, then make the switch and hand the non-bouncy ball to the spectator to bounce… The expectation is that the ball will bounce and when it doesn’t, it gets a lovely reaction.

I had a lot of fun playing with this simple gag while I was in India because the rule of the game required so little explanation. I bounced the ball, I handed it to a spectator, they tried to bounce it, but it wouldn’t bounce. It was just a lovely bit of simple communication with a lovely unexpected outcome which played really well for as a crowd gathering bit.

I had made a note to myself a couple of months back to pick some of these up for the Piazza Sets that I do on Princess Cruises as this sort of gag would be ideally suited to that environment.

I’ve always sort of shied-away from putting too much magic into my show as I feel it’s a much different art form than what I’ve made a career out of, but I was surprised by how much fun I had with this little gag. As I left India I gave the set I bought to my employer because he enjoyed the gag so much too, so I’ll have to pick up another set when I get home, but I’ll happily make the purchase as I really did enjoy the fun of this simple idea and can see getting a lot of milage out of these as a crowd building bit in the right environments. Fun.

‘Migration of the websites…”

2010-02-02

Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

The decision was made recently to migrate my various websites to a single location and the process of making it happen really started today… I gathered all of the passwords, user ids, email addresses, server addresses, blah blah blah, you name it and constructed a master document to help make the move as painless as possible…

I sort of view this like the process of upgrading software or a computer operating system. OK, I’ll admit it, I’m a bit of a tech geek and am easily convinced that upgrades are a good idea even though they sometimes mean re-learning how to do something I already know how to do… Perhaps I view it like a sort of Sudoku puzzle to figure this stuff out… It’s my way of keeping my brain young by forcing it to relearn systems that have worked ‘just fine’ for months if not years…

Does this mean I’m a sucker for punishment? Well… Perhaps…

As much as I’m a bit of a tech geek and would love to know everything there is to know about everything I sometimes get distracted and my focus strays from the things I should actually be working on. To help gain a bit of perspective I’ve started working with a hired gun who’s keen to update some of the systems I have of marketing and promoting my show and help me keep my focus on the things that will actually benefit me more than getting bogged down with minutiae. He’s good! I’m excited about the direction that things are headed in, and this week’s project is the migration of my various websites –

http://www.checkerhead.com

http://www.thecheckerboardguy.com

http://www.checkerboardguy.com

http://www.cbgentertainment.com

http://superstarperformers.com

– all over to a single domain hosting service. It’s all part of the master plan and although change is sometimes scary, the timing of the move feels good or various reason.

The hosting service that Mr. Hired Gun suggested was, etWEBHosting.com which is also the home to my friend David Duchemin’s various projects. Apparently the customer service and support are off the charts – cool… If the migration of the various bits and pieces comes off with out a hitch I’ll be thrilled. If things go sideways and you (or I) can’t access the blog, you’ll have been given a head’s up.

As the logo above says, etWEBHosting is a division of Electric Toad Internet Solutions, so let’s here’s hoping that Electric Toad know’s what it’s doing!

Bits of Travel info worth noting…

2010-01-26Where in the world am I today?: At sea aboard the Emerald Princess

OK… I’ve got a bit of info to hand to you today that I stumbled over in the last week or so that pertains to travel and stuff I could have/should have/might have done prior to take off, but now have successfully looked after.

The First – For those Canadians traveling abroad, a service that’s provided by the Canadian Government for Canadians traveling to exotic destinations who want to have a bit of a back-up in place just in case things go sideways unexpectedly. If you go to this website –

www.travel.gc.ca

You can register yourself as a Canadian traveler. Once you’re registered you can access your user account and provide details of any trips that you might have planned. OK, I’ll admit it, it was my Mom who pointed me towards this because I think she wanted to me to register, so I took the opportunity to take the system out for a little test drive on an upcoming trip that I’ll be doing to India to perform at Travel Trade Shows in Mumbai and Delhi. I’m not anticipating any issues with this trip, but who ever does. I was able to log-on to my account, provide my travel dates and destination and also provide an emergency contact in Canada should the government need to reach my wife if for some strange reason I disappear while on this trip. A nice little safety net, and a completely free service that I wasn’t aware of before this week.

Second – As part of the application process to get a VISA for India for the upcoming trip mentioned above, I needed to hand in my Canadian Passport to have the VISA applied to it. This meant that I didn’t have my Canadian Passport when it came time to leave to join the Emerald Princess where I now find myself. Luckily I was born in New Zealand and have maintained my New Zealand Passport and am using it for this particular voyage. As I entered into the United States I was told by the custom’s official that people who are traveling on Passports from countries eligible for a VISA Waiver Program (You fill in the Green I-94 Form as you cross the boarder) need to register on-line that they’re entering the United States. This doesn’t apply to Canadians and it’s the first time I had encountered it, but for anyone who is eligible, the online procedure is a breeze and you get an approval number that they suggest that you travel with. More information about all of this can be found here –

https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov

The Third and final piece of travel information that I came across this week came in the form of an email from Air Canada who informed me that –

Effective January 20, 2010, you may bring one standard bag and other necessary items into the cabin on flights from Canada to the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

This is a huge relief because after the attempted bombing in Detroit at Christmas time the Airport security two-step was getting a bit ridiculous and I was wondering how on earth I was going to successfully travel with my normal performance gear given the changes… I had already worked out my system to reduce things as much as possible and here they were wanting me to drop it down even more… Thankfully it seems like we’re more or less back to where were were before the incident in Detroit… Phew!

Happy traveling everyone!

Staying Connected…

2010-01-19Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

It was one of those days when I seemed to be reaching out and staying connected with various clients, friends, potential employers, service providers, you name it – I had a crazy busy day, but as with so many things in business, it was all about creating, maintaining and nurturing good relationships with people.

The work I’ve done with the PNE Street Stars Program over the last five years has kicked up a gear or two as I’m looking at what I want my role in that position to evolve into… I have the sense that there’s something bigger on the horizon, but I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. I do think it’s important to continue to gather names of people interested in performing at the event and keep the names organized  so I can successfully find those ‘connections‘ when I need them, so part of my day was spent working on the systems for that and starring at my computer screen…

Had a meeting with a performer who contacted me as we have several mutual friends and it just felt like we needed to meet face to face and ‘connect.’ It was an awesome meeting during with the conversation flowed incredibly easily and what I first thought might have been a chat that would last an hour or so ended up not being done when we absolutely had to pull the plug on it two and a half hours into the yap-fest. We talked about a huge variety of things and I felt like we had a lot to offer each other though what would very clearly become not only a business relationship, but a friendship.

Yacked on the phone for about a half hour with (and I have to admit it feels weird to say this on some levels) my new MANAGER. I originally met Corwin Hiebert through my friend David Duchemin. Corwin then asked me to be involved with the Creative Mix conference back in October and I was so impressed with the job he did running that event and with some of the work that he’s been doing with creative professionals in Vancouver that I knew this was going to be a guy who could help me stay current, revamp some of my systems and help me stay ‘connected’ to clients and friends. We’ve got a few projects in the works already, and many more floating around in the percolating stage as we like to call it. Fun stuff.

Touched base with Lee Zimmerman and Martin Ewen about writing guest blog spots for this blog and have a sneaking suspicion that I may end up migrating this blog over to it’s own web presences that is less branded by my Checkerboard Guy persona… As I wrote in an email to Lee, I’d love to morph this blog into something like the Rolling Stone Magazine for Street and Variety performers… Have guest bloggers contribute content, continue to generate content myself, but build this into more of a community so that I have a vehicle for staying ‘connected’ with the industry that I get so much from.

Sent a Facebook message back to a guy who has asked me to be an administrator for the facebook Jugglers and Magician group on Facebook. In his message to me he talked about wanting to grow the group so that we’d have a stronger presence in numbers. That all being ‘connected’ could bring some very real benefits, and as I both agree with and support this sentiment I indicated that I’d be happy to be a part of the admin team.

I think in this day and age when social networks like Facebook and Twitter have become semi-addictive, people’s need for these connections has grown and will continue to grow. Successfully finding ways to grow these connections and build relationships will mean greater success in both your personal and professional pursuit, so here’s to saying connected!

Connecting to the Internet while on Ships…

2010-01-12Where in the world am I today?: At Sea in the Caribbean aboard the Emerald Princess.

The two biggest things you need to know about connecting to the Internet when you’re aboard ships is that it’s Slow and it’s reasonably $pendy. Now my experience of connecting to the internet while on ships has been limited to three lines, Princess, Royal Caribbean and Carnival, so I can only really talk about my experience on these three lines, and some of this information may not be current because I haven’t been on a Carnival Ship in a while. If anyone reading this knows more about the situation on other ships and cares to add information to the comments section it would be a welcome addition to this particular technical issue that performers face when performing on ships.

On both Carnival and Royal Caribbean I connected to the Internet using the wifi connection and pricing plan that was available to passengers. The log-in procedure for both was fairly simple. On Royal Caribbean I went to the ‘Internet Café’ onboard and set up a wifi account by swiping my cruise card (the card you receive when you join the ship which you use to charge all of your expenses to) and following a fairly straight forward log in procedure. Basic pricing started at 55¢ a minute for the wifi connection but if you wanted to buy a chunk of time there were plans that offered a slight discount depending on the number of minutes you wanted to purchase. In this situation I opted for the by the minute rate and really tried to limit the amount of time that I was connected to simply darting online, grabbing my emails, sending anything that needed to be sent then disconnecting. If you’re not careful, it’s really easy to let this sort of plan run up a significant bill… Especially if you inadvertently forget to disconnect – Ouch!

When I got to perform as part of the Barenaked Ladies Ships and Dip cruises (I did them in 2007 and 2008) I was on a couple of different Carnival Ships and their Internet connection policy was much the same as it was on Royal Caribbean. Log on, set up an account and pay by the minute of connection time…

Princess (which I seem to work on the most) has a slightly better deal. For what ever reason, I’m able to connect to the Internet on Princess Ships at the crew rate. To do this I go up to the crew internet cafe, pick up a $20.00 internet access card (pictured in the image that accompanies this post) and get 180 minutes of internet time. This works out to a little over 11¢ a minute which represents a significant savings. On many Princess ships you need to go up to the Crew Lounge to connect to the crew wifi signal, but on some ships like the Emerald Princess which I’m sailing on at the moment the signal reaches all the way to your cabin so you never have to leave the comfort of your cabin when you want to connect to/surf the net and at 11¢ a minute you can actually do a bit of surfing with out the threat of having to mortgage your house or sell your children for lab experiments to pay for the cost of it… Princess has however put some blocks up in the system… You can’t connect to YouTube for example because the bandwidth required to play streaming videos is such that it really slows down the system.

Speaking of the speed of the internet on ships… It’s slow… Really slow compared to what it’s like on land. This is because the internet connect is set up through the ships satellite communication system and as a result you’re limited to what the ships communication system is capable of. You’re also sharing that capability with not just your fellow crew members, but also all of the passengers on the ship. So even if Princess hadn’t put a block on YouTube, chances are you wouldn’t want to watch any videos via YouTube anyway because they’d take so long to download that the ‘free’ nature of what YouTube offers would end up costing you far more than it’s worth.

What I often end up doing is keeping emails in my inbox that require some sort of longer internet connection to deal with until I’m either at a port where there’s an Internet Café or just wait until I get home and breath a deep sigh of relief when I open my laptop and my computer finds the home signal… Ah the joys of a nice fat pipe to the wonderful world of the Interweb!

Accessibility…

2010-01-05Where in the world am I today?: YVR to Toronto…

Spent a good chunk of the day checking and re-checking contract details for the performers who will be involved in the corner of the upcoming Winter Olympics that I was brought in to consult on… Can’t really talk too much about who was selected and intentionally blurred the image to make the names next to impossible to read, but it was one of those days where I just stared at my computer screen, copying, pasting and assembling information that I’ve been slowly acquiring over the past few months into one master document which was requested the powers that be that hired me for the consulting gig…

I seem to be collecting information in various software packages and ended up copying and pasting things out of Scrivener files, Microsoft Excel Files and Microsoft Word Files and in the end assembled everything in one Word Document as it seemed like the file-format that was going to be most compatible on the other end of the connection…

I think I’m still figuring out the best possible work-flow for this sort of work, but in the end, even if you figure out the work-flow that works best for you there’s always the other end of the equation to consider as well… What will work for the client you’re working for? I’m not a huge fan of Microsoft per se, but they do have the de facto word processor, so when preparing a document for general consumption Word seemed like a pretty safe bet in terms of a file format. Especially if you save it in a legacy file format that’s compatible with earlier versions of the software.

This idea of ease of access to information creeps in to a lot of other aspects of the entertainment industry as well… I think part of the reason that I’ve had the degree of success that I’ve had is because the content of my show is easily accessible to a pretty broad spectrum of demographics

I remember a story I heard from a Festival Producer a few years back. The producer had received some complaints about one of the performers that had been invited to participate in the event and instead of telling the performer that they had to change the content of their show, the following question was posed…

“Did you come here to expose the audience to your form of ‘Art’ or did you come here to make Money? If you came here for your Art then I’m happy to back you up in your artistic choices, if you came here to make money, I have a few suggestions for you…”

I’m well aware that some of my ‘artistic’ decisions are actually ‘financially driven’ but what’cha gonna do? Wife and kids need to eat, bills need to be paid.

Gee… I seemed to have strayed a fair bit from my original thought of staring at a my computer screen checking contract details, but I think that’s to be expected – especially after staring at a computer screen all day.


 
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