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 6: Keeping spirits high #COVID19

When I first started posting to Facebook — probably about twelve years ago, give or take — I remember getting up on a gray, blustery Monday morning, and I innocuously posted a song lyric: “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.” A week later, I posted another: “Just another manic Monday.” Mainly, they reflected what was on my mind. I posted them sporadically, until some friends of mine told me, “we enjoy when you post those — keep them going!” That started my tradition every morning of posting a “Lyric Of The Day” (which I now abbreviate as “LOTD”). I post them each morning before work (and I generally only post them on a work day). Nine times out of ten, what I post is simply something stuck in my head, but every once in a while, I’ll post something related to a current event or something that’s on my mind.

Every once in a while, I’ll have a morning where nothing comes to me, in which case I’ll post something inane like the lyrics to “Happy Birthday” or “The Wheels On The Bus.” Sometimes, what’s in my head doesn’t have lyrics, in which case I’ll post a YouTube link to the song that’s in my head.

I only do this on my Facebook account; I don’t do this on my ‘blog or on Twitter. If you want to see my daily LOTD, you’ll just have to Facebook-friend me! 🙂

I have a couple of other friends who post a lot of puns. I refer to one of them as “the king of puns,” and the other has taken to posting, during the COVID-19 crisis, what he’s been referring to as the “dad joke of the day.”

Other friends post more serious, inspirational quotes or memes. Some are religious, while others quote famous people throughout history.

Whether it’s music, humor, inspirational quotes, or something else, they all serve the same purpose: raising morale and lifting spirits. These days, with all of us shut in at home, we can use as many morale boosts as we can get, however we get it. I am not blind nor ignorant to the things going on around me; rather, I’m doing what I can to make the world a better place, even if I have to do it virtually.

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.

Another year down, another year coming

As I write this, it’s fewer than forty-eight hours until the new year, which, I figure, is just a good a time as any to review the past year, and look forward to the next.

Because I focus my ‘blog about professional development and technical communication, let’s start there. How about a run-down of my speaking engagements this year?

It looks like I’ve had a busy speaking year. While compiling this list, it also made me think about other events around my calendar.

So, those are some of what I did in 2019. What do I have coming up in 2020?

As of today, I have two confirmed speaking dates.

Also, as of today, I’ve submitted presentations to the following events.

I also intend to apply to speak at Boston on October 3. As of today, this event page is not yet live. I am also contemplating applying to speak at PASS Summit in Houston and SQL Saturday in Virginia Beach.

2019 was a busy year, and it appears that I will not be slowing down in 2020.

Happy New Year, all! I’ll catch you on the other side!

Life highlights

The past few years, I’ve participated in my school’s alumni band as the basketball team played early season tournament games in New York City. I didn’t do so this year, because the games were scheduled around Thanksgiving. The logistics involved with my schedule, which included travel to and from New York City, were just too much, so I decided not to participate this year. I posted as such to Facebook, and one of my friends jokingly responded, “now that you’ve performed at Carnegie Hall, you’re too good for Alumni Band now?” I got a good laugh out of that, but another friend, who performed in both bands with me, also talked about his “tour of highlights where he’s performed.”

It turned into an amusing thread, but it also got me thinking about high points in my life. Now that I’m able to sit down and reflect about it (today, the Friday after Thanksgiving — I’m intentionally avoiding the Black Friday crowds today), I realize that I’ve had my share of life highlights — possibly more than most people have had in their lifetime. Far be it for me to boast about myself — I’m not that kind of person (seriously, I’m not!) — but here are some of the bigger, high profile moments that I’ve had (that I remember).

  • I’ll start with my most recent. Earlier this month, I’ve had two within the span of four days. As I mentioned already, I performed with my community band at Carnegie Hall on Veteran’s Day. The previous Friday — only three days earlier — I’d given a presentation at PASS Summit. The former is a big moment in my extracurricular career, while the latter is a big one in my professional life.
  • From my most recent to one of my first: in 1981, my high school marching band was picked to perform in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. (You can see a video of my band’s performance here! I’m playing the marching bells; you can actually see me around 0:25 in the video!) I think any young person would pick that as a highlight of his or her life! We were positioned after the Superman balloon and in front of Dave Winfield on the Big Apple float. I remember rehearsing on dark city streets in midtown Manhattan at 3 or 4 in the morning, and all the bands gathered on 34th Street after the parade to perform Christmas Sing-A-Long.
  • I would have a few more moments with my high school band. We performed at a few NFL games, probably none bigger than the infamous snow game. Yes I was there! We were supposed to perform the halftime show, but they didn’t let us on the field — ostensibly for safety reasons. We performed the national anthem from the stands, and left after halftime. We did not even stay long enough to see the infamous snow plow on the field!
  • We even got to perform pregame at a few Yankee games! This was especially thrilling for me, as a big Yankee fan! The high point was performing a solo with the band my senior year. As a clarinet player, I had to be miked. I remember playing my solo (which I could play in my sleep) while thinking, “I am playing in the outfield at Yankee Stadium!”

I’ll stop there — you probably couldn’t care less about my life tour — but as you can see, I’ve had a number of “highlight reel” moments throughout my life. Now that I sit back and think about where I’ve been, I realize that I’ve done pretty well — and I’m not finished yet. We’ll see where my next adventure — whatever it may be — takes me.

So, what “highlights” have you experienced in your life? Every now and then, take a moment to sit down and contemplate what you’ve accomplished — and you’ll realize that you’ve done pretty well.

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

As the old saying goes, “how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice!”

I wrote a while back that the symphonic concert band I play in will be performing at Carnegie Hall on Veterans Day! This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and yet another bucket list item for me. The chance to play on the stage at Carnegie Hall is beyond my wildest dreams!

As it turns out, it also takes money! We’re looking to raise funds to offset costs for the trip. We set up a GoFundMe page for the opportunity. If you are able to do so, please consider contributing a few bucks for us to take this trip!

Thanks for your support!

Where do I best fit in?

I play the piano for Sunday morning church services.  One particular day earlier this year, the choir director and his family were out, and the choir was shorthanded that day.  The cantor was also not there that morning.  We desperately needed someone to step up, and no one was willing to do it.

This is not to disparage the choir, which is made up of wonderful people; that is not the point.  Rather, it got me thinking: what is my role?

Most of the time, my primary role in this group is as accompanist.  However, I’m also the most musically accomplished person in the group, and as a member of a number of ensembles, I’m also probably the most experienced ensemble musician.  Often, when the choir director is not there, leadership duties often falls to me.  The director has, in the past, asked me to lead rehearsals when he is not there.  So I can probably say that my secondary role is backup choir director.

I regularly think about this when I play in the symphonic band as well.  Where do I fit in?  This is not an existential or philosophical question; rather, it serves a purpose: what is my part supposed to be, and how am I supposed to perform it so that it best serves what is required in the piece?  Band is a team sport, and each member has a role to play so that the group functions as a single unit.

The professional workplace environment is no different.  In any organization, all employees are pieces to a larger puzzle.  Each person serves a purpose (and sometimes, multiple purposes).

During my podcast recording a while back, one of the questions I was asked was, “what’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve gotten?”  My answer was something like, “play to your strengths.”  I’ll admit that, since the recording, I’ve come up with several other answers that I wish I’d given, but it’s that particular answer that I want to discuss in this article.

Let me start with an analogy (as the Yankee fan that I am, I’ll go with another baseball — and more specifically — a Yankees team analogy).  Brett Gardner (outfielder) is known for his baserunning, speed, defense, and gritty play.  Aaron Judge (another outfielder) and Gary Sanchez (catcher) are known for their power hitting and penchant for driving in runs.  DJ LeMahieu (infielder) has a penchant for hitting, getting on base, and playing solid defense.  Likewise, each relief pitcher has his strengths that are used for specific situations.  Each ballplayer on a team has a role to play.  Aaron Boone (manager) utilizes each player as to what they’re capable of doing and when to best make use of their strengths depending on each situation.

Everyone has their strengths and capabilities that add value to an organization.  For me, personally, those strengths include technical communication, writing, and design.  To a smaller extent, I am also capable of database work, object-oriented development, analysis, and design.  But my professional strengths are what enable me to come through in the clutch.  And if they are properly nurtured, they can help improve my other (often, lesser) skills as well.

I remember reading a Wall Street Journal interview with Dilbert creator Scott Adams (it was back in the early 1990s; unfortunately, I have not been able to find a link to the article) in which he said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “the best way to be valuable is to learn as much as you can about as many different things as you can.”

A while back, I did a self-assessment of my own skill set, and I made an effort to be honest with myself. While I’ve worked in technology my entire professional career, I discovered that my true strengths weren’t so much in application development — the career path I had been pursuing the entire time — but rather in technical writing and communication.

When I came to that realization, my focus changed. I started moving away from hardcore technical topics and toward subjects geared toward my strengths — technical writing, layout, design, UX/UI, communication, and so on.

This focus manifested itself in my SQL Saturday presentations and my ‘blog articles. While I have enough of a background to maintain a presence within the technical world, my focus is on soft topics that aren’t necessarily technology-related, but are of interest to technical professionals, anyway. Even now, when I do SQL Saturday presentations, I use this analogy to introduce myself: when it comes to my relationship with PASS and SQL Server, “I’m the professor at MIT who teaches English Lit.” This mindset has carried me all the way to a speaking gig at PASS Summit.

Over the course of time, and without even realizing that I was doing it, I’d established my brand. While my official title is still “developer,” this is more of a misnomer (although it can be argued, what am I developing?). I’ve become the technical writing and communications guy. And I’m okay with that.

As I get older and continue to advance in my career, I’ve come to terms with my role and where I best fit on the team. As long as I still play for and contribute to the team, I’m in a good place.

My band is playing Carnegie Hall on Veterans Day!!!

This morning, I received an exciting piece of news!!!

It seems that November will be an exciting time for me! No sooner after I return from speaking at PASS Summit, I will be heading down to New York City. I found out this morning that the band in which I perform has been invited to perform at Carnegie Hall on Monday, November 11!!!

This is exciting for me! I can’t think of a single musician who wouldn’t want to perform at Carnegie Hall!!!

I’m writing this article to (1) make this exciting announcement, and (2) to also ask for help. We are seeking donations to help defray the costs of our trip. If you would like to donate, here is a letter that discusses our fundraising efforts. Any little bit helps. Help us get to Carnegie Hall!!! Apparently, it takes more than practice to get there — it also takes funds!