Gas station without pumps

2017 December 1

Unproductive day

Filed under: Robotics — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 16:35
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I’ve had a very unproductive day today.

  • I spent all morning responding to an IRS letter about my 2015 taxes—they wanted an extra $4000 from me, but they were wrong on everything they were asking for.  They claimed I hadn’t reported some of my income: it was on Schedule C (they may have been expecting it on Schedule D, where it would not have been subject to self-employment tax).  They wanted to charge me tax and penalties for withdrawals from my 529 college savings plan, though the qualified expenses (counting just what I paid directly to UCSB) exceeded what I had withdrawn. I had documentation for everything, but it took hours to find it all, print it, write a letter, and mail it.
  • I spent an hour trying to buy tickets to the Actors’ Theatre performances for 2018. The purchase was a simple one: I wanted 2 season tickets to all their shows, plus an extra ticket for the two opening nights of 8 10s @8.  When I went to Brown Paper Tickets, I couldn’t figure out how to specify which shows I wanted tickets to (the subscription purchase had a menu with only one date selectable).  I called their help line (twice—the first time I had not moved up at all in the queue after over 5 minutes), and found out that the subscription tickets only allowed selection of dates after the subscription had been purchased, as something called “pass management”.  There was no indication of this anywhere in their brochures or on the Brown Paper Ticket site.  So I tried again, but when I got to pass management, it told me that I was selecting dates just for the 8 10s @ 8 2-show package, and did not have the number of tickets I needed.  So I called their help line again.  It turns out that the 2-night package for 8 10s @8 doesn’t use pass management—instead you have to buy the ticket twice, with the different dates.  I had the person on the phone cancel that order (it had already been charged to my card) and made a third attempt at purchasing the tickets.  This time I managed to get the tickets I wanted, though there was no e-mail sent acknowledging the dates that I had selected and no e-mail sent for the cancelled order.  This has got to have been one of the worst ticket-ordering experiences I’ve ever had.  Both Brown Paper tickets and Actors’ Theatre are at fault for a very user-unfriendly experience.

In other news, yesterday I got a new third layer laser cut for robot and I soldered up the processor board.  The third layer probably should be cut once more, because one of the mounting holes for the beacon board is partly blocked by the supports from the 2nd layer.  But the beacon board can be mounted with just one screw holding the other standoff and a bit of tape to keep the standoff that can’t be screwed down from rotating, so I probably won’t bother.

I also got the processor board soldered last night:

The processor board was much easier to solder than the other board, because most of the wires are just short jumpers from header pins to the female headers holding the Teensy 3.2.

I do have a diode separating the 5V on the Teensy board from the 5V input from the first layer. This is to prevent power-supply fights if a USB cable is plugged in for reprogramming. I am a little worried that I hooked up the post-diode 5V to the interface pins for the beacon-detector board, which also has a diode to prevent power-supply fights. The double diode drop may be too much—I should probably rewire that pin to be connected to the input 5V instead.

The SPI interface is on the left in this picture, the bumper switch connections are the 3 pairs of pins at the top (though only two are connected to Teensy pins), the run of 4 yellow pins are the encoder connections, and the 4 white pins next to them are the motor-control pins.  Power and gnd come in adjacent to the motor-control pins. The two white-red-black triples on the bottom are for the track-wire detectors, and the 4 white pins next to them are the selection and mux pins for the tape sensors.

Note that this processor board has connections for all the sensors (motor encoders, tape sensors, track-wire detector, and SPI to beacon detector) but the only actuator connections are the drive motors. I have four unused pins that could be used for the ball launchers, but I’m not planning now on building any launchers—there just isn’t enough time left. I’ll be happy if I can get turtle graphics and tape following implemented by next week.

I still need some cables (one 6-wire for power and motor control, one 4-wire for encoders, and one 4-wire for tape sensors), which I was going to make today, but the IRS thing and the hassle with the Actors’ Theatre ticket purchase sapped me of my desire to do anything.

2016 January 18

Theatrical weekend

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 19:59
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This weekend has been a busy one for me—I went to three different theatrical performances:

Saturday night: 8 tens @ 8
Each year, the Actors’ Theatre puts on a show consisting of 8 10-minute one-act plays, which they select from submitted manuscripts.  (I wrote a little of the history in 8 Tens @ 8 in 2016). My wife and I went to see the A show on Saturday night—we’ll go to the B show in a couple of weeks.  The plays were not all of equal quality—not in the writing, not in the directing, and not in the acting.
Our favorite of the A show was You Too, by Tim Woods, directed by Scott Kravitz.  The lines were good, the characters believable, and acting and directing spot-on.
Also excellent was A Shared View, by Mary Caroline Rogers, directed by Audrey Stanley.  The script was a little less strong, but the acting and directing were excellent (both MarNae Taylor and Marcus Cato were well cast).  Good Medicine by Rod McFadden was fun, but very predictable. Flirting with Age, by Jack Spagnola (the only author without a blurb in the program), was a pretty predictable farce, but we enjoyed seeing MarNae in a very different role than she had in A Shared View. It is always a good idea to end with a farce (or at least a comedy), so that people leave feeling good about the show. Flirting with Age was a good choice for this position (though Good Medicine might also have worked, it wasn’t quite as fun).  
Threatened Panda Fights Back was too silly for the somewhat serious theme of extinction—the costuming was fun, but I was not otherwise impressed with the play. The Italian Prisoner by Paul Lewis had directorial problems (the singer was much too loud relative to memory of the boy Joey Rosen), the acting was a bit wooden, and the script too obviously borrowing from Tosca. Following Ms. Sergeant was a good effort with a rather flawed script—the sudden confessional mood seemed out of character for both characters, and the resolution too forced. Janis Gives Comfort was trying to handle “death and sex” as a theme in a nostalgic vein, but it didn’t resonate at all with me—perhaps I just didn’t care enough about Janis Joplin, who the main character was obsessed with.
Sunday morning: Winter’s Tale
The Del Mar Theater had the broadcast of Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale performed by the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company from the Garrick Theatre.  The Winter’s Tale is not often performed, because it is a somewhat muddled combination of a number of themes (jealousy, young lovers in disguise, rustic merriment, …) better handled in other plays. Branagh assigned himself the choice role of Leontes, but then over-acted the part. OK, it isn’t the subtlest part Shakespeare ever wrote, but it doesn’t call for crumpling up on the stage with stomach cramps all the time.  Setting the initial scene at a Victorian Christmas party exchanging token presents also seemed rather forced. Judi Dench as Paulina was very good, though, and the dancing in the rustic scenes quite impressive (if a little more balletic than country).  It was worth going to see The Winter’s Tale, but there’s no reason be sad if you missed it.
The Del Mar had put the broadcast in one of their small upstairs theaters, which sold out—I think that there was a high-school class getting credit for attendance. It would have been better in the larger theater downstairs.  But the Del Mar was definitely the right theater to show the broadcast in, as it has the closest that Santa Cruz gets to the gilt plaster ornamentation of the Garrick Theatre.
Sunday evening: Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard
West Performing Arts did a theatrical performance of Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard, using only 6 actors (5 female, 1 male) and 3 musicians. The actors were fairly young (middle school or early high school, I think). One review on a homeschool mailing list said “Very different from everything else I’ve seen going on locally in this age group,” but it seemed to me to be pulling together many of the theatrical techniques I’ve seen WEST developing over the past few years with their teen actors. 
They did a lot of chorus work, like at the Shakespeare conservatory; they did a lot with solid colored lights and backlighting (using their LED floods); they had movement pieces like the ones S. Kate Anderson had done for Call of the Wild; there was a “seduction” scene done in single-word lines, inspired by a Carol Burnett sketch that my son and another teen actor had performed at AFE (under WEST direction); and the actors kept changing roles, with a hat or a shawl to mark the characters (also from a Shakespeare conservatory). They had a dance scene under blacklight with fluorescent makeup (WEST has learned something since the days they tried Star Wars with glow-in-the-dark paint—fluorescence is much more visible and controllable than luminescence).
They were pretty true to the plot of the book, while making a very theatrical production, and I was impressed by how well they pulled off a rather difficult bit of theater.  The next generation of WEST actors is going to do well. I was only sad that the light rain had kept people away, and the house was only about 80% full—the performance was good enough that they should have been selling out every night.  (Of course, with only 6 actors, the built-in audience of family and friends is smaller than when they have a larger cast.)

My weekend was busy (in addition to the theater, I did a bit of blogging and spent most of a day putting together a course fee request for two-quarter version of the Applied Electronics course), but my wife was even busier, as she went to a Metropolitan Opera broadcast on Saturday morning, at a different theater chain than the Shakespeare broadcast on Sunday morning.

2016 January 7

8 Tens @ 8 in 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 22:13
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I just bought my tickets for the 8 Tens @ 8 shows for this year. I did not manage to get opening-night seats (sold out), but had no trouble getting other nights I wanted, even though the performances will be at Center Stage, which has a tiny house (89 seats).  They’re scheduled to perform from tomorrow 2016 Jan 8 through Sunday 2016 Feb 7, with six shows a week (a total of 26 shows).  The shows usually sell out, so the total audience will be about 2300.

This is an annual event for Actors’ Theatre, consisting of 8 ten-minute one-acts.  Each year they solicit scripts and produce the eight that they like best. A few years ago they started doing another 8 semi-staged readings of another 8 runners-up (“The Best of the Rest”), and last year they started doing two full sets of 8 plays each, as they are doing this year. So there will be 13 performances of the A set and 13 performances of the B set.

They started with 53 plays submitted in summer of 1999 and have grown to almost 300 submissions this year (so each entrant has over a 5% chance of their play being selected to be produced—not bad odds for a $10 entry fee). [Numbers from a Good Times article, info about submission fees from http://www.sccat.org/#!play-submissions/cxkq]

They’ve managed to get 17 different directors for the 16 plays this year (two directors for one of the plays) [http://www.sccat.org/#!auditions/c21ka], so the styles of each play will be rather different, though the sets can’t be very different, as they only have one minute to change sets between plays.  If it is like previous years, several of the directors will also be acting in other plays and many of the actors will be in several plays (probably just as well, as Center Stage has only a tiny backstage).

I understand that Jewel Theatre is still managing Center Stage, as well as the new Colligan Theater at the Tannery.  It’s good that they have two stages to manage now, as the 8 tens @ 8 performances are on some of the same nights as Jewel Theatre’s performances of Fallen Angels.

Picking 8 tens @ 8 performances we could go to was a bit tricky, because we had to avoid conflicts with Jewel Theatre’s Fallen Angels, with West Performing Art’s performance of Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard, and with the Santa Cruz Symphony’s performance of Mahler’s 1st. In order to fit everything in, we’re having to double up one weekend, with performances to go to on both Saturday and Sunday night.  (Weekday nights with work the next day are a bit tough for us.)

2014 February 3

More theater

Saturday night, my son and I went to see “the Best of the Rest”, which was a staged reading of the 8 runner-up one-act plays for “8 tens at 8” done earlier in the month by Actors Theatre.  We thought that there was one awful play (bad script, bad directing, bad costumes, bad voice work), and one so-so play, but that the other 6 were better than four of the eight chosen for the main performance. It must be very difficult to select new plays based just on reading the scripts, trying to guess what will work on stage and what will fall flat when the parts haven’t been cast—I’m surprised that they do as well as they do at selecting them.

Last night wrapped up the end of my son’s performances that I listed in Theater month, with a Dinosaur Prom Improv performance.  The troupe was not at full strength with only 6 of the 10 troupe members performing—two were away for JSA (Junior State of America, which I keep wanting to call by its old name, Junior Statesmen of America), one had a broken ankle, and one had not been able to rehearse for several weeks, so just worked tech.  The smaller troupe resulted in a somewhat shorter and less varied show than usual, though my perceptions of the show may have been colored by the bad cold I’ve picked up this weekend.

I must be getting old—I think was close to the median age of the audience at the Best of the Rest performance, and I may have been the oldest at the Dinosaur Prom performance. My wife and I had gotten used to being among the youngest audience members at most theater performances (other than Shakespeare Santa Cruz and shows by kids), looking out over a sea of white hair. So it was a bit strange seeing so many people at the Best of the Rest who were younger than me.

Dinosaur Prom has a loyal following of teens (mostly ones involved in acting themselves), and the audience was almost sorted by age from front to back.  Well over half the audience was under 20. It is good to see youngsters enthusiastic about live theater—it makes me feel that the cultural tradition will not die out.

I spoke too soon in Theater month, though, when I said

Things should quiet down after next week, with just “Much Ado” rehearsals (3 hours a week) and Dinosaur Prom (1.5 hours a week), though there will be a workshop on doing auditions sometime this spring.

All the theater things I listed in the post did happen, but it turns out that WEST is having teen auditioning workshops twice a week for the next three weeks (not later in the Spring), so my son will mostly likely be doing four theater things a week, not just two. I’m one of the parents who has been advocating for an auditioning workshop (WEST doesn’t do traditional auditions for their classes, so the kids don’t have much experience with it), so I’m certainly supportive of my son taking the workshops. WEST has gotten John Pasha to teach the workshops, and he’s done a fantastic job with the summer teen conservatory that WEST and Shakespeare Santa Cruz have co-operated on for the past few years.

There are actually two separate workshop series that John Pasha will be teaching: one for traditional theater auditions, the other for commercial and video auditions, which are done differently.  I think my son should probably do both, but if he’s feeling overwhelmed with theater after his whirlwind month of performances, I could see him opting to do only the traditional audition workshop.

Community-wide the big theater news is that Shakespeare Play On has raised enough money to have a summer season in Santa Cruz.  They’ve not announced the plays yet, but my wife is betting on Hamlet and Merry Wives of Windsor, because Cabrillo College Extension is having a course on understanding those two plays, and the teacher is on the board of Shakespeare Play On.  One further clue: Shakespeare To Go, which usually tours a condensed version of one of the summer plays to local schools, is doing Hamlet this year.

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