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2011 Week 4 Recap

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2011 Week 4 Recap

The past week was filled with a lot of work-in-process projects, but almost all of those projects are on-going.

Upcoming work with Show Distribution Hoists

This week we started looking at a possible job that requires some easily tour-able lifting motors. Our Pushstick winch isn’t the right choice for such a job, it’s a meaty piece of machinery, but somewhat large and heavy. More importantly, it’s not rated for overhead lifting so I began looking at other options. I’ve mentioned Show Distribution in the past when our Stagehand Mini was used to control their Tour Trolley. They also make a nice chain hoist, the Tour Lift, for lifting applications. It’s a neat machine with the inverter built into the motor housing making a very compact and clean package. After a couple of days of conversations, I think we’ve conjured up a good plan to get our control gear playing nicely with their hoist. Since our control signals are not instantly compatible, we’ll build a little black box of magic to translate between the two systems. Our SpikeMark software will provide an easy and versatile control interface to the hoist which should be a great match for this unnamed potential project.

Without getting too esoteric, the problematic points of integration were:

  • Speed signal: They use a 4-20ma signal for speed with separate inputs for direction. We use a bipolar +/-10vdc speed signal. For long-distance runs between controller and drive, there are some good reasons to use 4-20ma as the signal. Typically, we keep our controllers very close to our drives and the bipolar 10v signal has proven to be a little more versatile. In the past, when interfacing with pumps from Stage Machines, we’ve developed a little converter board to convert between a bipolar 10vdc signal to a unipolar signal with separate direction switches for valve control. Moving to a 4-20ma signal just requires an additional signal conditioner in that circuit.
  • Limit signals: They use a 24vdc signal to signal limits, and we require Normally Closed dry contacts so an additional relay will be needed to provide the dry contact closure.

SpikeMark Documentation

Last spring I hired a freelance technical writer to start updating our user manuals. The first manual to get updated is the SpikeMark manual. Catherine has been working part-time for months and this week we put final edits into the book. The new version of the manual weighs in at almost 200 pages and has lots of new details and diagrams. The manual also now documents ALL of the features in SpikeMark, including those features that used only be briefly mentioned in the release notes.

When I started the company, one of my goals was to create an automation system that came with a manual and a tech support phone number which may sound like modest goals, but for anyone that has struggled to use equipment that doesn’t have either a manual or a live person on the telephone you will recognize how important it is! So, I’m very excited to have a new version of the manual and really pleased with the great work that Catherine has done. The new manual should be available in PDF form on our site in the next week, so watch for an announcement. Of course, all new copies of SpikeMark will be sent out with the freshly printed version of this tome.

New Web Site

Work continues on the next version of the Creative Conners main site. While the current site has served us pretty well since it was revamped in 2008, it’s lacking some infrastructure to make it great. The current version is a collection of hand-coded HTML with some XML files for data storage. This is a great example of “build the simplest thing that could possibly work”, but makes some tasks a real chore. So at the beginning of the year we decided to start building out the next version of the site (v3). The Big Goals are:

  • Make it easier to add and edit products. We currently sell 104 products. There are only 14 listed on our site. Hmmm….
  • Create a good overview page where folks who are new to our products and new to automation can get some advice about how to put together an automation system. We have a lot of detail information available for our main components, but I think we really fail to show people how these components integrate together and how they can be used effectively to make stuff move on stage. For the T.D. that comes to our site and says, “I need to make a moving pallet.” I want to help him find the parts he needs and show him how to get started.
  • A better gallery with lots more movies and pictures of our gear in action. Our gear is pretty easy to use, which is great! However, because it’s so easy to use, we almost never travel on site to theatres to help install the equipment. As a result, we have very little footage of our gear in shows, even though well over 100 theatres use our system. We’re hoping to inspire folks to submit videos of their moving scenery with our $250 coupon, we’ll see how that goes…
  • Online ordering. Finally.
  • System configuration tools to help customers select the components they need and interactively try various “what if” scenarios to figure out how much gear they need and how much it will cost to buy vs rent.
  • Online rental reservation.
  • Customer reviews.

That’s a BIG list. Will it all happen. Yes. Will it all happen at once. No. We’re going to start modestly and build it out throughout the year. The first wave should go live in February and if all goes well, it will look exactly like the old site, with more products. I had intended to delve into the details of *how* we are building this site, but this week’s post has already grown a bit long so I think I’ll save that discussion for another day.

Have a great week everyone!

2011 Week 3 Recap

We’ve come to the end of another week, and here’s the weekly news wrap up.

Gala Hispanic Theatre

Revolver rentals are moving quick this year! The good folks at Gala Hispanic Theatre in Washington D.C. ordered their first rental package and will be using a Revolver machine to power an existing stock turntable.

San Diego Area

We shipped out more gear to two of our best longstanding customers, LaJolla Playhouse and The Old Globe Theatre. A little bit of trivia, The Old Globe Theatre was the second theatre ever to purchase a system from us and were the impetus behind the Stagehand Mini product. They needed a way to use our control gear but keep their existing investment in their stock of motor drive cabinets. As the temperatures plummet in Rhode Island, I’d love to have reason to personally check-in with our West Coast customers!

Building an Inventory

Financial resources are almost in place to begin executing our plan to build an inventory of products. We’re on track to build up stock in February and March, so starting in April many of our products will be able to ship within 24 hours of ordering.

Fun Future Brainstorming

When I first came up with the idea of the Stagehand Motor Controller around the year 2000, I was trying to find a way to embed a little network-enabled motion computer and motor drive into a single box for a reasonable price. At the time, the most practical solution was to use an 8-bit microcontroller with ethernet capabilities (the Rabbit RCM2100) and a dedicated motion control chip (the National Instruments LM628). Those components still form the foundation of our product (with a lot of code and other bits).

I’m a constant tinkerer though (for better or worse) and always looking for neat new stuff. With all the cool new chip architectures being launched at CES this year, and the proliferation of netbooks and tablet devices, I was curious to see how cheaply you could stuff a full-blown PC into a Stagehand these days. The answer? Pretty darn cheap. The picture above shows an Intel Atom motherboard (center) with integrated CPU (N425) that’s retailing for about $65. As you can see, the motherboard is only slightly larger than our current motherboard that we manufacture (left). Obviously, there’s more to it than just a motherboard, but the powerful possibilities get me excited. In the coming few years it wouldn’t surprise me to see something like this in the next-generation Stagehands. Or maybe not, who knows…

2011 Week 2 Recap

Things got a little snowy here this week in sunny Rhode Island.  We only saw about 8” of snow here, but most of New England got a bigger helping.  It was still enough to shut down businesses and schools for a day.  Despite the short week, we managed to squeeze out a few more orders while enjoying the winter storm.

PLASA Membership

We are proud to announce that Creative Conners is now a member of PLASA, which has merged with ESTA to form the leading professional organization for folks like us that make products and serve the entertainment industry.  My personal interest in joining PLASA is to be involved with their work developing standards for theatre technology.

University of Nevada Reno

We put the finishing touches on Pushsticks and Stagehands for the University of Nevada Reno.  It’s great to have another school using our gear and we wish them great success on their upcoming production.

University of South Dakota class coming up in February

Gareth Conner (that’s me) will be traveling to the University of South Dakota in February to teach a one-day class on stage automation.  The class takes place on Saturday, February 5th in Vermillion, South Dakota.  We’ll have some motors, control, software, and a bunch of fun stories.  If you’re interested in attending shoot us an email.

That’s it for this week, looking forward to week #3.

2011 Week 1 Recap

The first week of the New Year has been a busy one. While I love the Christmas season and feel a twinge of sadness when the decorations get packed up every year, I am excited to start another Bargain year. We have big plans this year, and put some of those plans in motion this week.

  • Our new pricing for both rentals and purchases were posted on the Creative Conners site. As promised, purchase prices have increased and rental pricing has decreased.
  • Starting in 2011 we will be building up an inventory of stock items. This will allow us to schedule production time more efficiently and deliver products more quickly to customers. Since 2004, we have built our products on demand to meet incoming orders. In other 2016 words, we keep very little on the shelf and build gear when it is ordered. When a theatre ordered some equipment it took us anywhere from SpikeMark 1 to 6 weeks to ship depending on the size of the order and the specific product being built (e.g. Pushstick winches take longer to build than 2010 Showstopper control panels). Moving toward an ahead-of-time model should be an improvement for cheap nba jerseys our customers and us. By the second quarter of this year, we intend to offer same-day shipping on all our control products. Machinery like the Pushstick and Revolver will still have some lead time, but should ship quicker than in previous Honda years.
  • After some much-appreciated prodding, wholesale nfl jerseys we started a Facebook page and Twitter account.
  • The good folks from Adirondack Studios are starting to install their automated scenery for the upcoming production of Lucia di Lammermoor at the Houston Grand Opera. The automation uses a blend of our Stagehand Mini control, motorized trolleys from Show Distribution, and hoists from ASM. The team at Adirondack Studios integrated all the components to create a cool posts effect, can’t wait to see it in action!
  • Keeping with the Texas theme, we shipped out a Revolver rig to the James E. Taylor High School in Katy, TX for their upcoming production of Into The Woods.
  • And lastly, while listening to one of cheap nfl jerseys this week’s episodes of Dot Net Rocks, I heard a good interview with the founder of GHI Electronics. GHI appears to be the most inspired manufacturer of .Net MicroFramework hardware. grave I quietly lust after the .Net MF as an embedded development platform, and hope one day to release a version of our Stagehand based on that technology and motion chips from PMD. While our current hardware, based around Rabbit microcontrollers and wholesale mlb jerseys National Instruments motion chips, I think that it would be great to develop both the SpikeMark software and our Stagehand firmware on the .Net platform. Someday…
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