The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 19: Work hard, play hard #COVID19

I think it’s pretty safe to say that many of us are suffering from pandemic fatigue. I know I sure am. I’ve written a few times about my job search frustrations, and quite frankly, it’s wearing on me. I’ve mentioned in my job hunt presentation (which I’ll be presenting on October 3 </ShamelessPlug>) that looking for a job is, itself, a full-time job. It easily occupies most, if not all, of your working day. And it can be very wearing… not to mention stressful — and frustrating.

With that, I’ve been turning to my activities to keep myself sane. Now that New York State has allowed gyms to reopen, I’ve been going to CrossFit classes (whenever my schedule and my aching back/shoulder allows it). I’ve also tried to stay on top of professional endeavors; last Monday, I attended a very good user group meeting in which Mindy Curnutt talked about spatial data. (I had no idea that you could do stuff like that in SQL Server!) And I’m looking into other ways to keep on top of my professional skill sets; I’ll be speaking at (and attending) Memphis virtual SQL Saturday two weeks from this Saturday, as well as virtual PASS Summit in November.

However, staying on top of skill sets isn’t just limited to professional endeavors; they apply to my extracurricular activities as well. I mentioned earlier that I’d gotten back into songwriting and music recording again. While this is primarily a hobby and not something I do professionally, it is, nevertheless, a hobby that I take very seriously — to the point that I treat it as though I do it professionally. I’ve invested time and money into equipment and software. I’ve attended songwriting workshops in the past, and I’ve even spent time in professional recording studios. And I’ve started looking around on Google for courses in audio engineering and multitrack recording; while I’ve learned a lot working on this on my own, I realize that there’s also a lot I don’t know, and while I’ve gotten better at my craft, I also recognize that there’s a lot of room for improvement.

If you have an activity that you’re passionate about doing, I think it’s just as important to work just as hard at it as you would your profession. You’ll sharpen your skill sets in a number of ways — even your extracurricular activities can often benefit you professionally. And you’ll also gain a greater deal of satisfaction and appreciation for your art — whatever art that may be.

#TheBestOf… Bringing the world together by telling us about your special world

A wandering mind can be a dangerous thing. 🙂

If you’re a ‘blogger who’s looking for something to write about, read on. Perhaps this will give you an idea.

This afternoon, I was doing a mundane, household chore (specifically, I was washing dishes and doing some cleaning in the kitchen), and whenever I do mundane chores like that, of course, my mind tends to wander. So today, I decided to write about what my mind was wandering about.

I don’t know what sparked this idea — maybe it was because I had Andrew Zimmern’s Delicious Destinations on the TV in the background. First, a little background. As a first (or maybe it’s second — I never know how these things work) generation Korean-American, I tend to appreciate cultural diversity. I love experiencing cultures and traditions that are not my own. I enjoy traveling, and I wish I could do more of it (only the lack of time or money — usually both — and these days, the COVID-19 pandemic — keeps me from doing so). I have friends and family around the world — maybe not as many as other people who’ve traveled more than I have, but nevertheless, I have friends I’ve made either by friends I already knew who have relocated to other countries, people whom I’ve met through my association with SQL Saturday or other PASS-related endeavors, or through work or school.

I also thought about things to bring the world together. I don’t need to tell you how divisive the world is these days. A while back, I wrote an article about bringing the world together. I started thinking of a way to do that.

So with all that said, here’s the idea that my wandering mind cooked up.

Let’s say that you have a friend from a foreign country or culture — one that is not your own — over to your home area for a visit. You want to show him or her the best of what your culture or your home turf has to offer. What do you show or tell him or her?

Personally, I would like to show my friend everything that my home state of New York has to offer — New York City, Niagara Falls, the Finger Lakes, apple picking, the Adirondack wilderness, Buffalo chicken wings, the Baseball Hall of Fame, music, county fairs, festivals, historic sites, etc. There’s a lot here to show off.

So, I’ll write an article now and then (usually whenever the mood strikes me) in which I talk about something — whether it’s a place, an art, a sport, a food, whatever — that is significant to me, and I’d like to show off to a visiting guest. I’ll precede these articles using the hashtag #TheBestOf followed by whatever I’ll write about (e.g. “#TheBestOf… Baseball” or whatever).

Here are some ground rules for this project. The topic — whatever it is — is something special or unique to me that I think a visitor would appreciate. It can not be divisive, disrespectful, or disparaging — partisan politics, for example, is verboten — unless it’s within the context of something historically or culturally significant (e.g. Benedict Arnold’s role in the American Revolution, etc.).

And if you’re a ‘blogger and would like to take part, knock yourself out. The best way to think about this little project is to pretend you’re a travel writer describing your home turf or culture. I would enjoy reading about what makes your world special, and what you’d show off if I came over to visit. If you’d like, feel free to refer to this article for reference or context.

Let’s see how this goes. If you’d like to take part, great. If not, no worries. For all I know, this might be the only article in which you’ll see this hashtag.

Have fun!

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 #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.

Mental health and effects in the professional world

On Wednesday, I attended an online webinar, presented by Tracy Boggiano for the Professional Development virtual group. I actually wanted to attend her session at SQL Saturday Rochester, but it conflicted with one of my own sessions.

Tracy does a great job (as she always does) talking about a subject that is often the elephant in the room. Mental health is a subject that is rarely discussed openly, and it often has a adverse effect within the workplace (although Tracy frames her presentation as “mental health and IT,” I expand it to say “workplace,” because it likely encompasses more than just IT).

Everyone deals with mental, emotional, and psychological issues in some form, whether we acknowledge them or not. Addressing those issues can often improve upon your day-to-day issues, and perhaps even turn your life around.

I highly recommend Tracy’s presentation. Check out her presentation on YouTube (it’s about an hour long). It might just turn your life for the better.

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 13: Running for my life #COVID19

I’ll admit that the COVID-19 crisis has had me fall into some bad habits. This morning, I decided to address one of them.

Since gyms have been shut down due to the crisis, I have fallen off the wagon when it comes to my CrossFit workouts. I’ve been doing a lot of sitting on my duff. Since I work in IT, it’s the nature of the beast and a job hazard. I woke up this morning to a sunny morning (for once — we’ve had a lot of rain, sunny days have been few and far between, and it’s directly affected my mood, not to mention my motivation), and decided to do something.

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It may not be much — I just went around the block a few times — but you gotta start somewhere.

I went to the Couch to 5K website and did a little reading. I’ve toyed with the idea before, but never pulled the trigger on it. For whatever reason, this morning was different. I downloaded the C25K app to my phone, put on my shirt, shorts, and CrossFit shoes, and followed the instructions for Day 1 as I went around the block several times. Day 1 is essentially a 20 minute AMRAP (or maybe EMOM might be more accurate — I’m not sure) that alternates between 90 seconds of walking and 60 seconds of jogging (not including a 5 minute warm-up and cool-down walk at the beginning and end). It sounds pretty easy, but I was still winded by the time I was finished.

Will I keep this up for eight weeks? We’ll see. Right now, the jury’s out. For all I know, I might wake up tomorrow morning and decide that I want to stay in bed. But hey, we all need to start somewhere. Maybe at the very least, when the COVID-19 crisis is over and I’m allowed to go back to my gym, I won’t cringe when the coaches tell me that the WOD is a 5K run.

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 10: We’re having a parade! #COVID19

This morning, the local grammar school put on a car parade by its teachers. I took some photos, and I wanted to share! Good things happen in neighborhoods, and I have good neighbors!

First, my neighbors wanted to show their support! The chalk art was by my neighbors across the street. I could also see other people out in front of their houses with balloons and signs to show their support as they drove by.

I figured it was a good excuse to take out my horn, so on a whim, I grabbed it and serenaded the cars as they went by. I figured, what’s a parade without a band!

Here goes the parade! I guess-timate that there were about a dozen or so cars, maybe more. I only got a few of them because I was busy playing my sax as they drove by!

Despite the COVID-19, everyone is making the best of the situation. This put a smile on my face today.

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 7: Creating my own college football conference #COVID19

One of my admitted addictions is my Xbox 360 and EA Sports NCAA Football 2013. With all of us shut in during the COVID-19 crisis, I’ve had a lot more time on my hands lately, and I’ve been playing football on the Xbox a lot more than I care to admit.

One of the things that NCAA Football 13 allows me to do is align my own conferences. So I decided to have some fun with it.

With conference realignment, we have teams that, geographically, don’t make much sense. West Virginia in the Big Twelve (a conference whose easternmost school was once Missouri)? Seriously? Also, college sports conferences often have their own identity relative to their geography. With no Eastern conference, that identity no longer exists.

When I was a student at Syracuse, there was no eastern football conference (at that time, the Big East was basketball-only). Instead, there were a bunch of eastern independent football programs under the umbrella of the ECAC (not an organized conference) that pretty much played each other every year, so for all intents and purposes, they informally made up their own conference, even though there wasn’t one at the time.

The late Joe Paterno once said that we need to have an all-sport Eastern conference (this was before Penn State joined the Big Ten). I’ve often thought, if we had an Eastern conference, this is how it might have looked. Well, since NCAA Football 13 allows me to align my own conferences, I could make that happen. I decided, why not!

NCAA Football 13 represents the 2012 season, which is the last season of the Big East conference and the year before Syracuse and Pittsburgh joined the ACC. It means that, in this gameplay universe, there would always be a Big East conference, and the American conference doesn’t exist. Additionally, the four-team FBS championship hadn’t yet been implemented, so I’m stuck with the BCS (boo!). It is what it is.

So in setting up my all-Eastern dream superconference, I decided to kick out any non-traditional Eastern football teams (so long, USF) and bring back the old, traditional Eastern independents (hello, Boston College, Penn State, Pitt, Rutgers, Syracuse, Temple, and West Virginia), as well as pilfering other traditional conference teams and independents (looking at you, Maryland and Notre Dame — in this fantasy world, Maryland leaves the ACC, where they were at the time; in 2012, they hadn’t yet joined the Big Ten — and Notre Dame relinquishes its independence. Hey, before you Golden Domers yell at me, this is my setup, and I can do what I want!). I also kept other Big East teams that weren’t “traditional” — Cincinnati, UConn, and Louisville.

Of course, since I took teams from other conferences, I moved some teams around in order to balance them out. It’s interesting how your own fantasy conference realignment affects the other conferences as well! So, among other things, UCF and USF became ACC schools, Missouri went to the Big Ten, and Texas A&M went back to the Big Twelve. (I might have made some other moves as well, but I don’t remember what they were off the top of my head.)

Including twelve teams allowed me to split my conference into two divisions, along with an end-of-season championship game, so I created Eastern and Western divisions. When all was said and done, my new Big East conference looked like this.

Big East (Eastern Division)

  • Boston College
  • Cincinnati
  • UConn
  • Maryland
  • Rutgers
  • Temple

Big East (Western Division)

  • Louisville
  • Notre Dame
  • Penn State
  • Pittsburgh
  • Syracuse
  • West Virginia

(Note: yes, I know Cincinnati is further west than West Virginia. I wanted to keep as many of the traditional Eastern powers together as much as possible. Hey, my scenario, my rules!)

When all was said and done, here’s what my new “Eastern Football Superconference” looked like!

I also set up cross-division rivals, similar to what the ACC currently has — Syracuse (Atlantic Division) plays Pittsburgh (Coastal Division) every year, and so on. So in this setup, Notre Dame plays Boston College every year and Louisville plays Cincinnati. (I don’t remember what other pairings I had; I think I paired Penn State with Maryland, Pitt with Temple, West Virginia with Rutgers, and Syracuse with UConn.)

(Speaking of which, EA Sports keeps insisting that SU vs. UConn is a major rivalry. As far as I know, that rivalry only existed in basketball, and it wasn’t all that heated, like SU vs. Georgetown. Personally, I have nothing against UConn, except when we play them!)

I set up a championship game played at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. I actually wanted to set it up at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, but unfortunately, NCAA Sports 13 doesn’t offer that as an option, so I tried to pick the most centrally located stadium in a big metro area (so Penn State was out) that was offered by the game.

(Okay, maybe Pittsburgh is more centrally located. The game does allow me to change it at the end of each season. We’ll see.)

It makes for an interesting setup. I keep the geography of the former Eastern independents, and it has its own Eastern identity. If I could imagine what a geographically-sensible college football realignment might have turned out, this is how it might be organized. Oh, what might have been.

By the way, I just finished playing a season in which I took my 14-0 Syracuse team to the national championship.

Hey, I can dream, can’t I?

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 3: Downloads and resurrecting an old hobby #COVID19

How To Play A MIDI Keyboard? – The Complete Guide!

Last November, I bought a new laptop. My old HP had served me well for a number of years, but it was showing its age, and I decided to get a new one.

In the last couple of days, I’ve used it to download some things and make more use of it. The first was SQL Server 2019; yesterday, I wrote about installing it (ed. note: I started writing this ‘blog article on Friday, but didn’t get this out until Monday). I intend to do more with it, and I’ll write about it later as I go along.

The second is resurrecting an old hobby, and it’s directly related to my music.

As many of you are aware, I’m a musician in my spare time. When I’m not trapped at home by COVID-19, I play piano in a Catholic church on Sunday mornings, and I play clarinet with a symphonic concert band on Wednesday nights. I used to do a lot more, but increasing demands on my time forced me to cut back.

One thing about me that a lot of people might not be aware: I’ve written and recorded songs. I have a page on which I have demos. Feel free to click the link and give my songs a listen, if you feel so compelled.

However, I haven’t done anything with my music in a long time. There are multiple reasons for this, first and foremost being that “life happens.” I’ve been busy doing a lot of other stuff, my life has rolled merrily along, and my dream of becoming a rockstar (literally!) had to be put on hold. By now, a number of the songs I’ve written are coming up on about thirty years old. I like to think that my music is still relevant, but I encourage you to check out the link above and listen for yourself.

Another major reason I haven’t done anything with it in a while is frustration. I used to work a lot on MIDI sequencing. Much of that work was done on an old Macintosh computer using Trax sequencing software. Laugh about the ancient setup all you want, but it was easy to use, it worked very well, and it got the job done.

Unfortunately, that changed after I decided to switch out my aging (and slowly-dying) Mac for a PC. After making the switch, I constantly had problems. I discovered, much to my chagrin, that my PC would blue-screen as soon as I tried the MIDI sequencer. And after that, I experienced latency issues that I was unable to correct. I would hit a key on the piano, and I would hear the sound a couple of seconds later — completely unacceptable when you’re trying to do MIDI sequencing work. I wanted to work on sequences, but it frustrated me enough to abandon it — and return to it only sporadically, if at all.

With me being home due to COVID-19, and looking for projects to work on, I figured it was a good time to revisit my music and MIDI sequencing endeavors.

I first downloaded and installed ACID Music Studio on my laptop. I had bought the software a long time ago. It used to be a Sony product, but Magix has since taken it over. I was happy to see that my software license was still valid, so I was able to install it on my laptop with little trouble.

I then took my old recording project files and restored them on my laptop. I’m using ACID to play some of my projects as I write this, and I’m happy to see that they’re still there.

Okay. The next step was to see if my computer would work with my MIDI setup. The piano I use as my controller is a full-sized Kurzweil Ensemble Grande. I have a MIDI Out cable attached to the back so that I can install it to a MIDI interface. I took my laptop to the living room and started setting it up.

Alas, this is where I ran into a problem. My E-Mu XMIDI 1×1 interface did not appear to be compatible with my laptop running Windows 10. When I checked the website, I saw a message saying that the interface had reached end-of-life and was no longer supported. Foiled. I ordered a new MIDI interface from Amazon. My new MIDI setup would have to wait.

So, until I get my new MIDI interface, the rest of this experiment will have to wait. I’ll pick this up again when my new hardware arrives.

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 1 #COVID19

Quarantine: How to prepare to isolate due to possible coronavirus ...

I’ll admit that I haven’t been doing a very good job of staying on top of my ‘blog lately. This is an article I’ve tried to start several times during the past couple of weeks of confinement, but I’ve fallen into some bad habits during this ordeal. I won’t get into them right now; it’s not a subject I care to delve into, although I might write about it another time (there’s a reason why I’m titling this article “part 1;” I suspect this won’t be my first article about COVID-19).

I suppose a good way to start this article is the start of my personal COVID-19 experience. The crisis hit home for me when this news bit appeared. I play the piano for OLA, so of course, I was there. Upon hearing about this, I immediately left my office for home, where I self-quarantined until this past Sunday.

Even after my quarantine period expired, however, I didn’t really leave home. I haven’t had much reason to do so. My office is closed through at least April (thankfully, I have the ability to work from home). The Albany Catholic diocese has shut down churches, so I have no reason to go on Sunday mornings (disclosure: I am not Catholic; I only go because I play the piano for a Catholic church on Sundays). My gym is closed, and the band I play in is shut down until further notice. Even if I can go anywhere, I don’t have any place to go.

A number of my events have been affected. SQL Saturday Philadelphia and a concert I was supposed to play with my band have been canceled. I was supported to go to Chicago for another SQL Saturday a couple of weeks ago, but that’s now been postponed, if it ends up happening at all.

As of right now, I don’t have anything of note to write about. My days at home are spent writing documentation, watching TV, and playing Xbox (in case you’re wondering, my main Xbox addiction is EA Sports NCAA Football). There are a lot of other things I can and probably should be doing during our period of confinement, including (but not limited to) spending more quality time with my wife, taking advantage of the time to learn things, and work out. I wish I could tell you that I’ve had a great revelation during my time in isolation, but that moment hasn’t happened yet. When it does, I’ll make sure I write about it.

Some advice to myself (and maybe you) as we experience this crisis.

So for now, the main reason for this article is to let my regular readers (both of you) know that I’m still alive. I’ll try to get better about writing any insights I might have. Until then, carry on (my wayward son)…