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2011 Week 8 recap

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2011 Week 8 recap

Pretty quiet week here at Creative Conners.  A few bids went out, but nothing shipping.  We spent our free time continuing to build up stock in order to hit our 2nd quarter goal of next-day shipping on all control products and working on the next version of the Creative Conners site.

In addition to building stock and working on the web site, I’m starting to prepare for my trip to North Carolina.  While we won’t be an exhibitor at the USITT Expo this year, I will be demonstrating our system at a pre-conference class hosted by North Carolina School of the Arts.  The class will take place on March 8th and will run 45 minutes, just enough time to show how to setup a motor and write some cues.  I’ll be bringing swag with me for anyone who attends Winking smile

Handy Tools

There’s a couple of pieces of gear that I take with me to almost any shop or show.  The tools I carry range from mechanical to electrical to networking, but each gizmo helps when setting up or troubleshooting automated scenery.  It dawned on me that perhaps I should share the list.  If you have a favorite widget that helps when working with our automation gear (or any automation gear), add a comment so I can add it to my toolbag.

Super Looper Crossover Adapter

This is a great little gadget that can turn any regular network cable into a crossover cable.  Why is that cool?  Well, a normal cable can only be used to connect a device to a switch, so to connect a SpikeMark laptop to a Stagehand you need to have 2 cables and 1 network switch.  With the SuperLooper, you can connect directly from a laptop to a Stagehand without a switch.  I used to purchase special crossover cables to do the same thing, but now I just carry a SuperLooper in my bag.

Encoder Display

Sometimes I just need to test an encoder to make sure I solder the encoder correctly, or my cabling is good, or that my encoder is functioning.  In those situations, setting up a Stagehand and firing up a laptop with SpikeMark to read encoder position feels cumbersome.  This Encoder Display is a great little device for less than $150 that will just count and display encoder pulses.  It’s made by the good folks at US Digital, who make a wide range of excellent encoder products.  If you get one, make sure you order it with differential inputs.

Pocket-sized Wifi Access Point

Stagehands and SpikeMark communicate over plain-old Ethernet which means that you can use a WiFi gizmo to cut the cord between the computer and the Stagehand.  The Asus WL-330gE is a fantastic little WiFi device.  It can act as a router, access point, repeater, or wifi adapter.  That means you can use to free your laptop from the wired network, or using 2 devices you can replace any chunk of cable connecting a Stagehand to the network switch.  We use the WL-330gE in both scenarios.

Sometimes it’s great to be able to wander around the stage with a TabletPC running motors, and sometimes the show needs a wireless wagon with a Stagehand onboard and you have to transmit control signals from the wired network out to the wagon.  For ~$40, this device hard to beat.  As you can see in the photo, it’s roughly the size of an Altoids tin so you can throw a couple in your bag without any trouble.

Brake Circuit Tester

Even simple tools can be useful.  If you suspect that a brake isn’t releasing on a winch, it could be that the brake is having trouble, or that the Stagehand isn’t powering the brake.  This is a 240VAC neon indicator wired into a brake plug to make a dead-simple brake-circuit tester.

Encoder Crossover

Which way did we rig that winch…?  I’m a simple-minded guy, and rarely can I effectively think about two things at once.  I hate having to think about encoder polarity wihle rigging a winch.  Undoubtedly, I’ll get done stringing all the wire rope, run the motor and then discover that FWD on the motor is moving the scenery in the wrong direction.  Flipping motor direction is pretty easy, but then you have to flip the encoder wiring to match.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to break out the soldering iron during load-in.  Instead, we make these 12” jumpers that flip the encoder wiring around to reverse the encoder counting direction.  You can also use these do-hickeys to make an encoder polarity match a motor (of course, if that encoder and motor are going to spend a lifetime together I’d probably bust out the solder).

Motor Crossover

Alright, I kind of lied in the description of the Encoder Crossover above, I don’t really even like to muck around with motor polarity that much.  So we make 12” jumpers that flip motor polarity too.  When used with the Encoder Crossover, this jumper can make a motor reverse direction and maintain the correct encoder counting behavior.

Limit Jumper

Need to bypass a limit switch?  Who doesn’t!  This is a ML1 limit plug with the pins shorted together using a 4” piece of wire inside the connector body.  Terribly simple, but truly effective.  I have a couple stashed in each tool bag.

E-Stop Jumper

Need to bypass the e-stop?  Why!?! Oh, alright, sometimes there’s good reason.  This is a 24vdc wall wart with a 5-pin XLR connector soldered onto the end.  Plug it into the wall, and plug it into the Stagehand and magically the e-stop is released on that Stagehand.

Chain Breaker

Last, but not least, the lowly chain breaker.  I really love this style of breaker, it clamps down on the entire chain link and pushes the pin out.  Other chain breakers only grab one cheek plate on the chain which often results in a slightly mangled chain link and a half-stuck pin.  This style requires a 1/2” wrench, but it works beautifully every time.  McMaster #6669K11 & #6669K12 for small & large chain respectively.

That’s it for my list, what have I missed that you can’t live with out?

(p.s. for the products listed on this page that we make, I haven’t posted links ‘cause…er… we don’t have them listed on our site.  If you want something right now, give me a poke, but we’ll be getting them up on the new site soon)

2011 Week 7 Recap

Spring is teasing us with a preview this week.  The weather in beautiful Barrington RI has been warm and sunny, can’t wait for the “real” Spring to arrive.

Building and shipping

We sent out:  the rest of the Stagehand motor controllers for an 8-axis rental package to Savannah College of Art and Design, a little rental to Purdue University, and finished the orders for both UConn and the Long Wharf Theatre.

Testing for LaJolla

LaJolla Playhouse is a long-time customer, and they were reporting trouble with a few of Stagehands not tracking encoder position properly.  On Tuesday, we received 3 Stagehand OEM Boards to examine and stress test.  One of the boards had a blown encoder chip and would not register any encoder counts at all.  The other two boards showed no signs of trouble.  After replacing the single blown encoder chip, all 3 units were tested for 48 hours of constant cycle-testing and performed without a hitch.  While it was good to find a fault with one unit, it’s not so great to be unable to reproduce any fault in the other 2.  That means that if problems persist when these circuit boards are put back into service on stage that the troubleshooting will have delve deeper in environmental issues like grounding, electrical interference, etc.  Ugh!  Those problems are pretty rare, but can be a real pain to hunt down.

New Video from Geffen Playhouse

Matthew Carleton and the gang at the Geffen Playhouse took advantage of our $250-discount-promo by sending in a video of their automation in action on stage.  There’s a turntable and several traveler panels all moving in slick, coordinated motion.  After a quick edit, I posted it on our YouTube channel, but you can see it here too:

Geffen scene shift

More Revolver Rentals

Cushing Academy in Massachusetts is renting a Revolver for a turntable in their upcoming show, so Friday was spent prepping one of the newly-returned rental Revolvers to go back out.  I’m not sure if our lower rental prices are directly responsible, but I am happy to see that we are keeping our rental inventory out on the road almost all the time now.  We’ll see if the trend continues, but so far I feel very encouraged!

Have a great week!

2011 Week 6 Recap

Great week here at the shop, busy pushing a lot of gear through the pipeline.

McGuire Scenic wraps up another car show

The good folks at McGuire Scenic finished another successful car show this week using a combination of rented Stagehand control and turntable machinery that was built in-house by the scene shop.  If my counting is accurate, I think that makes 3 events in two months with similar gear.  Those guys must be doing a great job!

Savannah College of Art and Design

We shipped the first installment of an 8-axis rental package to the Savannah College of Art and Design.  The gear isn’t due on-site until the 18th of Feb, but we had a couple of units sitting around the shop and so I wanted to get them to the school a little early.  It’s the first rental for the SCAD, and they will be integrating some of their own machinery with our Stagehand control so hopefully a few extra days will give them a little more time to sort out any integration issues and insure smooth load-in.  I believe that they are building a bunch of roll drops for a new production, and can’t wait to see some clips of the scene changes.

Skunkworks project

Even though the week was filled with production work, both for existing orders and to fill the stock inventory, I couldn’t help my mind from wandering about a new accessory that we really really need to make.  We’ve got a box of prototype parts sitting on the shelf now for a Creative Conners Ethernet switch that I think will be a great addition to many shows.  Nothing earth-shattering, but a lot of nice touches to make network connectivity a little more bullet-proof backstage.  More on that when I get some time to play with the hardware in the coming weeks….

Have a great week!

2011 Week 5 Recap

Another week wrapped up, and I’m trying to get this posted before week 6 slips away Winking smile

New Orders

Another pair of long-time customers, University of Connecticut and the Long Wharf Theatre, are adding more gear to their inventory.  We’re not yet stocked on the specific parts, so unfortunately those orders are going through our old production process with a lead time, but thankfully our shelves are filling with some of our products so future orders should be shipping same day.

I am really excited at the soon-to-be-reality prospect of shipping orders immediately.  I hope the new process will make our customers’ lives easier and a little less stressful.  As a guy that spent many years building scenery and putting shows onto trucks, I always disliked products that required lead times.  A product with a lead time meant I had one more item on my to-do list, “Check up on delivery of widget-made-of-unobtainium.”

Successful run at James E. Taylor High School

We received the return of a Revolver rental from the James E. Taylor High School production of Into The Woods.  From all accounts the production was a success and the Revolver, Stagehand, and SpikeMark combination proved to be easy to use while adding an exciting automated effect.  While I am proud of every production we get to be a part of, the recent trend of high school shows adopting our gear is especially heart-warming.  We ship our systems across the country with just the printed manuals and a promise of phone support if needed.  I think it speaks well of the gear when a TD for a high school show can install, configure, and program an automated effect without any prior training on our system.  Of course, these are smart technicians, but that’s always been our point:  a smart technician with no prior experience in automation should be able to make scenery move.

Seminar at University of South Dakota

Finally, the highlight of my week was traveling out to Vermillion, South Dakota and giving a one-day seminar on stage automation.  These training sessions are a great opportunity for me to get out and meet the next generation of technical directors and automation technicians.  While I use Creative Conners’ gear to demonstrate, the focus is on gaining knowledge about the principles of automation that could be applied regardless of whose gear is on stage.  My hope is to cover enough fundamentals that a motivated student could dive into a project with a moving scenic element and know how to get started and where to look to put together a system.

The students and faculty at University of South Dakota were just great.  We had a fun day discussing automation, rigging up a couple of winches, and then writing some cues.  We had one of our Pushstick winches with a Stagehand AC and also a winch they built earlier in the week which we connected to a Stagehand AC controller.  There were a lot of great questions to help lead the talk, and the interest level was really high which made the experience energizing.  The group was a mix of graduate students who had studied automation and undergrads who hadn’t had much exposure yet to the topic.  I think we hit a good balance of covering enough material to be interesting without diving too deep into the esoteric details during the 6-hour class.  Here’s a couple of shots from the class…

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