The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 18: Revisiting MIDI sequencing and songwriting #COVID19

Years ago — another lifetime ago, it seems — I was a songwriter. I actually had several demos that I put together (you can listen to them here), and I had a few friends who helped me put them together (mostly because I don’t play the guitar, and I can’t sing worth a damn). My idea was to put together songs in my own living room under the guise of a “band,” similar to what Tom Scholz does with Boston. I attended songwriting workshops, and I even entered a songwriting contest in which I received Honorable Mention recognition.

Had I pursued this endeavor more vigorously, it’s entirely possible that I could be making a living off my music, rather than pursuing a career in IT and writing professional development ‘blogs. Alas, as John Lennon once famously sang, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” My “band” lost touch with each other and went on with their own separate lives (one of them actually died tragically). I went to grad school, got my Masters degree (in a field unrelated to music), got married, and went down the technical career path on which I continue to this day.

Although it’s not the main reason why I stopped making my own music, one of my big deterrents was the tools at my disposal. I had a MIDI sequencing setup that utilized a Kurzweil Ensemble Grande piano (the original model), a Kawai G-Mega sound module, and a Macintosh SE running Trax. It was a setup that worked very well. It was very easy to use, and it did what I wanted it to do.

Unfortunately, it also started showing its age (when was the last time you saw a Mac SE?). I still have the Kurzweil piano and the Kawai module, and even though they’re about thirty years old (maybe more), they still work. The computer, however, was another story. The screen built into it was starting to fade, and it was clear that it would eventually get to the point where it would become unusable. So I pulled as many MIDI files off of it as I could and transferred them to my PC.

I also managed to get a copy of Trax for the PC, but as I upgraded my PCs, my version of Trax became incompatible. I looked into getting another MIDI sequencer — and that’s where my problems began.

I had purchased a copy of ACID Music Studio (at the time that I bought it, it was a Sony product). I liked (and still like) using it for mixing and mastering, but I still preferred using Trax for creating my MIDI sequencing data and importing them into ACID.

When I tried recording MIDI data, I kept running into problems, neither of which I was able to resolve. Either…

  1. my computer kept blue-screening, or…
  2. I kept having massive (and very nasty) latency issues.

Unfortunately, these issues (especially the latency) became so bad that it discouraged me from working on them. I set them aside and never got back to them…

…that is, until last night. Last November, I bought a new laptop, much better than any machine I’ve previously owned (although I did need to install a new hard drive in it). Additionally, I bought a new MIDI interface a few months ago; it turned out that my old one was not compatible and no longer supported. And I upgraded my copy of ACID a while back; even though I had originally bought it 20+ years ago, when I went to the vendor‘s web site, I was happy to see that my software license was still valid, which allowed me to download an updated version.

So now, my setup consists of the following.

  • HP Pavilion x360 laptop running ACID Music Studio v.10.0 on Windows 10 Home
  • Roland UM-ONE MIDI interface
  • My thirty-year-old Kurzweil Ensemble Grande piano (hey, don’t knock it — it still works, and I love that I can use a full-sized piano as a MIDI controller)
  • My nearly-as-old Kawai G-Mega MIDI sound module

I spent last night (I was up until 1:30 am!) experimenting with my setup. The computer remained stable, and I did not experience any serious latency issues. After being away from it for several years, it looks like I have a working MIDI setup once again!

However, the setup wasn’t without its problems.

  • As I mentioned above, I created my MIDI sequences in Trax and imported them into ACID. I’d forgotten about this when I tried creating and editing MIDI sequences directly in ACID, and couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t able to (easily) do what I used to be able to do. It turned out that I was accustomed to creating them in Trax. I should be able to do them in ACID, but I’m finding out that there is a steep learning curve involved. I might look into getting another easy-to-use sequencer; the thought of investing in a new version of Trax has crossed my mind.
  • One thing missing from my setup: a good audio interface. As anyone involved in recording can tell you, you don’t want use the default input to record audio directly into your computer; it makes for poor sound quality. I have a Lexicon Alpha which has served me well, but while tinkering with it last night, it suddenly stopped working. I reinstalled the driver and rebooted the computer (several times), all to no avail. The website says the Alpha has been discontinued, and although the driver is supposedly Windows 10-compatible, my machine would not recognize it after several restart attempts. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I may need to invest in a new one. If anyone has any suggestions for a good audio interface, feel free to comment below.
  • I still can’t sing or play the guitar to save my life! Anyone who can do either (or both) want to help me make demos?

It’s been several years since I worked on my own original music. Now that I have a working (albeit clunky) MIDI sequencing setup once again, I can return to a hobby that I once loved but abandoned years ago.

The #SQLSaturday All-Star Game #PASSSummit

After my surprise selection for PASS Summit, I went poking around the speakers list. I’m pleased to see that a number of good #SQLFamily friends that I’ve made throughout my years as a SQL Saturday speaker were selected. I’m also awed that my name and photo are listed along with a number of SQL rock stars in the industry.

It prompted me to tweet this.

As people who know me are aware, I am a huge baseball fan. I’ve often heard people refer to PASS Summit as being “the Super Bowl of SQL Saturdays.” Looking at the speakers list (and being the baseball fan that I am), I equate it more as being the “SQL Saturday All-Star Game.”

People such as Bob Ward, Steve Jones, and Grant Fritchey (yes, you, Steve and Grant!) represent the big hitters. They are Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., and Mickey Mantle, people who are perennial SQL stars and are pretty much shoo-ins for being selected to Summit year after year. (And I’m sure that if my friends Steve and Grant are reading this, they might give me an “aw shucks!” for equating them with Junior and The Mick!) On the other hand, people like me are more like Willie Randolph or Kent Hrbek — players who had solid careers and made an occasional All-Star game now and then, but weren’t necessarily household names outside of their home teams’ markets.

When I gave my first SQL Saturday presentation, never did I think that it would end up getting me to PASS Summit!

I’ve seen interviews with ballplayers who talked about how humbled they were about being selected to play in the All-Star Game. Having been selected to speak at PASS Summit for the second time, I understand how they feel. I am awed and humbled with being associated alongside some of the great players in the business.

Putting the “professional” in professional networking

I recently saw a couple of posts that left me shaking my head.

The first was a tweet from a couple of weeks ago. This came from a #SQLFamily person whom I follow on Twitter. I don’t really know her well, but we do have several mutual friends, and I know her by reputation. She posted the following tweet.

And if that wasn’t enough, earlier today, I stumbled across the following post on LinkedIn.

When it comes to professional networking, do people really need to be told not to do this? Apparently, the answer is “yes.”

I specifically mention this in my networking presentation. I dedicate a few slides to talk about how to break the ice — probably the most difficult thing to do when trying to initiate a conversation, especially if you consider yourself introverted. I list dos and don’ts when trying to break the ice, and this qualifies as a don’t.

Professional networking is exactly that — it’s an opportunity to connect with people professionally. It is not an opportunity to pick up members of the opposite sex (or the same sex, if that’s what you’re into). This kind of behavior is unprofessional and immature, and it does not belong in a professional environment — ever.

There are certain manners that need to be upheld when you’re trying to connect with people professionally. Things like this will do more to repulse people from you than connect with them. Save the cheesy pickup lines for the dive bars. Better yet, don’t save them at all.

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 18: Exploring your backyard (and places to visit near Albany, NY) #COVID19

(Photo credit: U.S. Grant Cottage State Historic Site)

This morning, I saw a Facebook post from a friend of mine who visited the Ulysses S. Grant cottage. He posted about its historic significance, and included a number of photos that he took around the site. It was a neat post, and it made me want to visit the site.

I looked into it to see where it was located, and was surprised to find that it was just north of Saratoga — less than an hour’s drive from my home!

It got me thinking about traveling to places that are nearby. It’s been often said that some of the best places to explore are right in your own backyard. It’s especially important now with the pandemic restricting travel. My wife has complained to me about the need to de-stress and take some time off, and I’ve suggested doing a weekend (even just one night) up in Lake George — not too far from my home (it’s easily do-able as a day trip), but just far enough away to warrant a weekend.

It also got me thinking about what places are worth the trip for those who aren’t from around here. Granted, the Albany metropolitan area doesn’t exactly pop up on most people’s radars when they’re considering vacation spots or places to visit. Even I’ve been occasionally at a loss for words whenever friends ask me about things around my home that are worth the trip. But when I stop to think about it (as I’m doing right now for this article), there are a number of places around here to visit.

So, here’s a not-so-comprehensive list (really, just things that come to me) that are within an easy day trip from my home in the Albany area (including a few places that I’ve already mentioned above).

(There are probably a lot more things that I’m missing, but that would make for a very long list. This isn’t a travel ‘blog, and I am not a travel writer.)

What are some good places to visit in your own backyard? (Feel free to comment below.) If you’re itching to check some places out, go out and do so.

#PASSSummit 2020 — I’m speaking after all!!! #SQLFamily

This evening, I received a very pleasant surprise!

After not making the cut for the initial list of speakers, and with the state of my finances being directly related to my current employment situation (or lack of), I had resigned myself to the fact that attending PASS Summit 2020 was likely not in my cards for this year.

That changed this evening! I will be speaking at this year’s PASS Summit after all! I received an email from PASS asking if I would present my session on ‘blogging! I am thrilled and excited that I will be a PASS Summit speaker for the second year in a row!

With the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Summit is being held virtually, so I don’t have to worry about making travel plans for Houston, TX (which is where PASS Summit 2020 was supposed to be held). Instead, I will be presenting — and attending — from the comfort of my own home office.

To be selected to speak at PASS Summit just once is a great honor. To be able to do it twice (or more) is downright amazing. I’ve had a number of #SQLFamily friends who’ve spoken at multiple PASS Summits, and I’m amazed (and humbled) that I am now in their company!

I’ll see you at virtual PASS Summit in November!

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 17: Check out virtual user group meetings #COVID19

With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting just about every aspect of our lives, we’ve had to adapt. A couple of weeks ago, we hosted SQL Saturday virtually. Likewise, a number of user groups, including our local SQL group, have resorted to holding virtual group meetings.

I wrote a while back that there are benefits to being involved with non-local user groups. That was before the pandemic. Now that many user groups are holding virtual meetings, geography is no longer a factor. You can attend nearly any user group meeting that is held virtually.

During the pandemic, I’ve received numerous notifications for virtual SQL user group meetings. Most of them arrive in my inbox via Meetup, and I’ve gotten them through my involvement with these groups or through their local SQL Saturdays. Here are some of the (mostly SQL, unless noted) user group Meetups emails that I receive (note: the Philadelphia groups use Eventbrite, not Meetup, and Rochester uses the tools supplied by PASS).

If you’re interested in doing some networking and learning new things, check out a user group. Now that many of them are holding virtual meetings, your location is no longer a factor.

August CASSUG Monthly Meeting @CASSUG_Albany #SQLUserGroup #SQLFamily

Our August meeting (Monday, August 10, 6 pm) will again be online. Use the Meetup URL (https://www.meetup.com/Capital-Area-SQL-Server-User-Group/events/271750998/) to RSVP. NOTE: you MUST RSVP to the Meetup to view the Zoom URL!

Our August guest speaker is Deborah Melkin!

Topic: Single Statement, Many Changes: How One Statement Can Modify Multiple Tables

You can only insert, update, or delete from one table at a time. At least that’s what they tell us when we first learn to write SQL statements. However, that one statement could modify multiple tables, and we may or may not even realize it is happening.In this session, we will examine how a single data manipulation (DML) statement could change data for many tables. We will approach these from two different angles: implicit database design & explicit SQL code and objects. Syntax, performance gains, and gotchas of these different methodologies will be discussed. Finally, we will explore often overlooked changes that occur further downstream as a result of our DML statement.When you leave, you will understand and appreciate how a DML statement against one table affects not only that table but how it can have a ripple effect of changes throughout your entire database.

About Deborah: Deborah Melkin has been working as a database professional with SQL Server for almost 20 years. She spends her days helping programmers with all aspects of database design, queries, performance, and deployment. In 2016, she began her blog, Deb the DBA. Soon after that, she began speaking at SQL Saturdays and user groups. Deborah is a board member of the New England SQL Server User group (NESQL) and was recently named as an IDERA ACE Class of 2020. She also won Speaker Idol at PASS Summit 2019. In her spare time, Deborah can usually be found doing something musical.

Our online meeting schedule is as follows:
6:00: General chat, discussion, and announcements
6:30: Presentation

We usually wrap up between 7:30 PM and 8:00 PM.

Please RSVP to this Meetup (https://www.meetup.com/Capital-Area-SQL-Server-User-Group/events/271750998/), then use the online event URL to join (note: you MUST RSVP for the Zoom URL to be visible). We will send out a meeting password as we get closer to the event.

See you there!