Sunday, May 22, 2016


Your head is worth protecting. Any time there are people working overhead, you should be wearing head protection. You don’t want to catch a shackle or a C-wrench on the cranium dropped from a catwalk or the steel without a good helmet. Any head protection is better than none, but there are certain types of helmets for certain jobs. How do you know which helmet is the right one for the job?
If you’re an electrician, then you should use a helmet that will protect you against the hazard of shock and arc flash. Climbing helmets are often vented, but those vents that make them more comfortable in hot weather make you vulnerable to arc flash. In the event of an arc flash, should you be in the arc flash zone, then those vents could allow your to get second-degree burns on your scalp.
Helmets are classified according to national an international standards, and those designed for electricians should be class E or class G according to ANSI/ISEA Z89.1 and CSA Z94.1. A class G provides dielectric protection for up to 2,200 volts and a class E up to 20,000 volts. For the type of work that you and I typically do, a class G is fine.

I just got a new Petzl Vertex Best for $115 with free shipping on Amazon. It’s complaint with ANSI/ISEA Z89.1-2009 type 1 class E. Type 1 means that it is designed to withstand impact from above, but not from the side. I don’t often find myself in environments where I need head protection with class E compliance, but now I’m prepared just in case.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

What is Eurovision Song Contest?

If you're European, then you need no introduction to the Eurovision Song Contest. Otherwise, you may be unfamiliar with the spectacle that dominates the hearts and minds of 250 million Europeans every year, and has been for 60 years. I could make an attempt to explain it, but words would do it no justice. Instead, check out this video where the hosts sing and dance the best explanation of the phenomenon that one could hope for. The answer to the question "What is Eurovision Song Contest?" starts at 06:15 - Click here. Go ahead and watch it. I'll wait...

Okay, now that you have a better understanding of the show, let's talk about the technology and the art.

Yesterday I had a great conversation with Fredrik J├Ânsson, the lighting designer of ESC. He said he received an AutoCAD drawing of the set from the set designer, imported it into WYSIWYG, simplified it, and designed the lighting around the set. He was thrilled that the drawing he received was super accurate because, for the first time in the history of the show, someone went into the Globen Arena, where the 2016 event is being held, and scanned the venue with a laser to get precise measurements.

The set, he said, was very angular and geometric, with sharp corners. He wanted a simple design with straight lines to make a bold statement. At the same time, he wanted it to be big, like the early heavy metal bands he idolized.

"It was time to incorporate a big-ass lighting rig," he said.

The Globen Arena, he said, is the world's largest spherical arena. It's 80 meters high (about 260 feet) and it's 36 meters to the catwalk (about 120 feet). He said he always wanted to illuminate the globe above the catwalk but he never had a show with the budget...until now. And when he lights it up, it's impressive!

The bulk of the design work, he said, came during a grueling tour he was working on, and it was challenging to meet the deadlines.

"It's not supposed to be easy," he said. And when you see the scope of the work, you can almost feel the heavy burden of hours and hours that must have gone into it.

Once he had a 3D model of the lighting rig, it was then built in MA Lighting 3D software for pre-visualization. Three programmers spent four weeks in the studio, preprogramming the show, and then they spent five weeks in the arena tweaking it.

Each song was cued based on a description sent to Fredrik by the artist. Some of the descriptions were very vague, he said, and others were very detailed. In the end, they had 36 pages of detailed information about the cues.

The entire show is run on time-code with the exception of a small manual desk that Fredrik uses to cue the ring lights on the cameras and the followspots. When you see the show, you understand why it's run on time-code. The action is so fast and furious that no ordinary mortal could possibly cue it in real time. There are lots of cameras, some on Cyberhoists, some on telescoping cranes, some on pedestals, one on motorized dollies, some handheld, and one spider cam. I've never seen a camera crane being swung around so fast in my life. Two people are working it on the floor, and three more in the truck. Even the camera switching is automated, as are the set pieces. The show is choreographed within an inch of its life. And it's all to great effect.

There are 1500 lights in the rig, 1000 of which are automated, and about 80% of those are Clay Paky Sharpy's, Sharpy Wash, Mythos, and Scenios.

"Each act," he said, "has to hand in a document called 'Look and Feel.' It explains what kind of production they like, what kind of atmosphere they want to create and even if there are some colors they don't want to use. Most of the acts also give you 'Mood Boards.' That could be a piece of paper with a photo on it or it could be 36 pages of detailed information on the lighting, video playback and camera angles that they want. We try to take in all that information and see what we can do with it – and of course make them as happy as we can."

Fredrik talked about the TourPro Aquabeams. He said he went to LDI in 2015, and when he walked in, the first thing that caught his attention were the bright, narrow beams shooting across the hall. He followed them to the TourPro booth and learned about the Aquabeams. He said he thinks they will be very popular, especially with festivals because they are IP rated. "I absolutely love them," he said.

He also gave props to Anders Wallertz, who calls the followspots. Anders is old school, having toured with many of the heavy metal bands who inspired Fredrik. He said he is "so happy" with Anders' work because it is "full throttle." "He saves my ass a lot," he said.

Fredrik talked about his choice of color temperature, which is almost tungsten but slightly higher. He said it's a compromise so that he doesn't lose the saturation of the reds and yellows and at the same time, it helps make the pinks and purples pop.

Fredrik talked a lot about his programmers and his assistant, Emma Landare, and for good reason. They are working with over 3000 cues on 13 lighting consoles, grandMA Lites. There are four active plus four backups for the programmers, one active and one backup for followspots (controlling color), one active and one backup for video (controlling media servers), and one portable for programming around the venue.

Tonight is the final show and I'm looking forward to being in the house.

Over/Under or Straight Coils?

by Richard Cadena

I can be such a scatterhead at times. A couple of weeks ago, we were loading out on a gig. As we were picking up all of the cabling and coiling it up, I asked the owner of the equipment if they wanted it coiled over/under or just straight coils. I always ask because people sometimes have strong opinions about that, right or wrong. The answer I received took me by surprise.

"Straight coils," he said. "Over/undering is for A/V cables, not power cables."

The answer stopped me in my tracks. Of course he's right. I must have known that at some point and just forgotten. But why, I wondered, is that the case?

Off to the Internet I went as soon as I got home to research the subject. The short answer is that any cable with a shield (or screen as they say in the UK) should be coiled over/under, and cables without a shield should not. The reason is that over/under maintains the twist of the conductors and retains the weave of the shield.

Over/undering cables is effectively creating a figure eight and folding it in half. If you do that to a power cable, it works against the twist of the individual strands of wire. Power cables should be coiled as if they are going back on the reel from which they came. You can feel the natural lay of the cable as you coil it, although it sometimes takes a gentle twist to wind it or unwind it properly.

Coiling cables properly is such a basic skill, yet it's so important for helping to maintain the gear and prolong its useful life. And while you're coiling it, make sure to visually inspect it for signs of damage, which could be cuts, holes, or cracks in the insulation, abrasions, damaged strain reliefs, broken pins on connectors, broken wires or terminations, or any other damage. Exposed conductors or other damage could be a hazard, and taking it out of service could prevent injury or death.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Tax Time is the Right Time for Making Money

by Richard Cadena

Don’t work too many hours or you’ll have to pay more taxes.

That’s the narrative that’s been floating around the workforce for longer than I can remember. I was in college the first time I heard it, and I heard it again today from a stagehand. I’ve always wondered about the validity of the idea, but I never gave it too much thought because I assumed that working more hours would pay for the extra taxes and that would always yield more take-home pay. It turns out that, in the United States, we have a progressive tax system that doesn’t penalize you for working more hours, even if that puts you in a higher tax bracket and taxes take a bigger percentage of your paycheck.

In 2015, there were seven tax brackets in the USA, ranging from 10% to 39.6%, and four different filing statuses; Single, Married filing Joint Return & Widower, Married filing Separate Returns, and Head of Household. Suppose, for example, that you’re a single stagehand and you earn $20 per hour. If you work between 462 and 1875 hours of straight time per year, then you’ll fall into the 15% tax bracket. That will happen if you work between nine and 37.5 hours per week for 50 weeks out of the year, and you’ll earn between $9000 and $37,450 annually if you work no overtime.

But suppose you work just three more hours. Those three hours of pay will put your earnings beyond the $37,450 barrier, and you’ll jump from the 15% tax bracket to the 25% bracket. But it’s a progressive tax, meaning that you’ll pay 10% on the first $9,225, 15% on the portion between $9,225 and $37,450 and 25% on the portion over $37,450. It works out to an increase of only $7. That should make you feel good, not bad, about breaking into the next tax bracket. You’re contributing to society and your take-home pay has gone up, not down, as some people might have you believe.

Still, it’s a good idea to maximize your deductions and minimize your tax bill. Deductions were put in place for you to legally take advantage of tax breaks, so you might as well use them when you can.
If you itemize your deductions, you might be able to save or spend your way down to a lower tax bracket. If you take a look at the IRS 1040 tax form, you’ll notice that your taxable income excludes, among other things, contributions to a health savings account (HSA) or a traditional IRA (individual retirement arrangement). So, if you haven’t already maxed out your contributions, then you might be able to make a strategic contribution to reduce your tax bill.

It’s a good idea, for example, to max out your contributions to an IRA,which, in 2015, was $5500. It will reduce your taxable income and your savings will grow tax-free until you start making withdrawals.

You can also lower your tax bill by buying job-related gear or investing in your education. If you have deductions in excess of the standard deductions ($6,300 for Single or Married filing separately; $12,600 for Married filing jointly or Qualifying widow/widower; $9,250 for Head of household), then you can take deductions on certain job-related expenditures, like tools, software, classes or workshops, or even travel to trade shows. Suppose, for example, that you use a computer exclusively for your work and you buy a new laptop. Then you’ve legally gotten the US government to subsidize your laptop. It’s completely legal, ethical, and moral. Have you been eying a new multimeter? Get a really nice and expensive one and let Uncle Sam help you pay for it. And throw in some training at LDI while you’re at it. It’s almost like printing money.

I’m not an accountant, and I don’t pretend to know the tax code any better than the average stagehand, so don’t take this as gospel. Go to a reputable accountant and make sure you’re making the right tax moves. A good accountant will cost you a few hundred dollars, but it’s tax deductible and it just might put you in a better tax bracket.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Technology Rings Alarms

Yesterday, 5,000 of my closest friends and I were standing outside the Duke Energy Center in Cincinnati, Ohio after being evacuated from the USITT 2015 exhibit show floor. A bit of technology triggered the alarm and sent thousands of us swarming in a new direction (outside the building), and that seems to be the theme of the day. Lately I’ve been working on revising my book “Automated Lighting: The Art and Science of Moving Light” and the rapid pace of technology is set off alarms for me, and that's sent me scurrying in new directions. In the last couple of weeks I’ve gone to Vari-Lite training, ETC Ion console training, I’ve scheduled some one-on-one time with the GLP folks in LA, and I’m in contact with friends all over the world, all in an attempt to re-educate myself about the changes that have occurred in automated lighting from 2010 to 2015.

I worked at High End Systems for 13 years before I wrote the first edition of the book. It was fertile ground for building a foundation of understanding automated lighting. Seven years after the first edition was published in 2003, I updated the book. There were not a lot of changes between those two editions. But in the five years since the last edition, the changes have gone to a new level. What has changed since then?

  1. LEDs are now the dominant light source in the industry. No longer are there doubts about their brightness or their ability to dim smoothly, and most lighting professionals accept that they can render colors extremely well. Since the last edition of the book LED profile fixtures have become a reality, and there are now more and better options than ever before. LEDs have changed everything.
  2. Switch-mode power supplies are now the norm. The cost has gone down enough and the reliability is good enough that the old school magnetic ballast power supplies are not even available except in the very low end of the market, and even there they are being challenged by inexpensive SMPSs.
  3. Networking is not only common in the industry, but in some cases it’s a necessity. More and more consoles are relying on networking to accomplish feats of amazing complexity.
  4. Software is eating the world of entertainment lighting. More and more consoles are developing incredible off-line editors and software versions of their top-of-the-line consoles and these applications are just as powerful, in many cases, as the full console. 
  5. Video mapping and pixel mapping is changing the art and technology of the entertainment lighting industry.

All of these changes are contributing to the rapid advance of technology in the industry, and that’s a double-edged sword. For those who are willing to embrace it, the alarms are a wake up call and they represent an unprecedented opportunity to venture into unchartered territory. The learning curve is sometimes steep but the rewards are handsome. For those who are unwilling to embrace new technology, the alarms are chilling. Don’t hit the snooze button; get up and greet the day.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Don't Be Afraid of Infinity

A long time ago, people were puzzled by the meaning of the number zero. Until around 400 B.C. to 300 B.C., most people thought it was a mysterious idea to imagine a number that meant nothing. It took a while for the concept of zero as a real number to gain widespread acceptance.

“It began to take shape as a number, rather than a punctuation mark between numbers, in India in the fifth century A.D.,” says Robert Kaplan, author of “The Nothing That Is: A Natural History of Zero” (Oxford University Press, 2000). “It isn't until then, and not even fully then, that zero gets full citizenship in the republic of numbers.”

Today, it seems hard to believe that people couldn’t grasp the idea of a digit representing nothing. Yet many people now have a similar incomprehension with the inverse of zero, which is infinity. Are you one of those people?

Here’s how you’ll know. What is 1 (or any other positive number besides 0) divided by 0?

If you answered “it can’t be done” or “undefined,” then you’re among them. But you’re not alone. If you ask 25 entertainment technicians, about three or four of them will give the same answers.

The truth is, you can divide any number by zero, and the answer is the inverse of zero, or infinity. Another way of asking the same question is: If you have a pie and you divide it among zero people, how long will it last? The answer, of course is forever (an infinite amount of time). 

So why is 1 ÷ 0 = ∞ such a difficult concept to wrap your head around? Probably because very early in your life, you were told that you can’t divide by 0. It would have been more accurate to say that, if you think about the concept of infinity at such a young age, you head might explode. But chances are, if you’re reading this now, you’re probably much more mature than you were back then. It’s time you realized the facts—any number divided by 0 is infinity. Just because you can't see it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Your calculator can't express it either, and most people seem to think computers and calculators are infallible. They aren't.

Why does this matter to entertainment technicians? The answer can be revealed by Ohm’s law, which says the current is the voltage divided by the resistance of a circuit or component (I = V/R). Unless there is at least some resistance in a circuit (R is greater than 0), then any voltage at all will cause an infinite amount of current to flow, and it would take a very large conductor to carry it all or the conductor will melt if the fuse doesn’t blow or the circuit breaker doesn’t trip.

Infinity is a big number, but you’re a big person now. You can handle it.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Sorry For Your Luck

I was sitting in meeting of the PLASA Technical Standards when, out of the mouth of Richard Nix came pure gold. We were talking about what's commonly called "best practices" in the entertainment industry and whether or not codes and regulations are followed, and how that all relates to accidents. 

If there's an accident, he said, then the logical place to start asking questions is, "Did you follow code?" If not, then the next logical questions are: "Did you know there are applicable codes? If no, then sorry for your luck. If yes, then sorry for your luck."

I thought it was good enough to make a flow chart, and here's what it looks like:

The bottom line is, know and follow the codes and regulations. Above all, be safe.