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April 27, 07

Snapter (i wish it worked...i wish it worked...)

Snapter is a brand new program that sounds terrific in concept, but falls flat when it comes to execution. Snapter is supposed to be a document scanner that works from the images taken with your digital camera. It claims to be able to automatically correct the angle of the document and even the perspective skew. With books, it's supposed to automatically recognize the binding curve and compensate accordingly to create 'straightened' separate images for each page. Like i said, sounds terrific in concept - but before you toss out that old flatbed and shell out $49 for this snazzy-sounding program, take a look at what it did to my music:

Snapter's first attempt to recognize the border of my music and flailing badly....

The red lines are supposed to represent the border that Snapter recognizes around the document against the dark background. That lower left corner looks pretty wacky to me...and the right border isn't all that great either...

Snapter sees borders in the 5th dimension or something...

Maybe it's the fact that there are music notes and notation markings instead of predictable straight lines of text that's making Snapter draw out borders like the music comes from the 5th dimension or something...

Anyway, witness the distorted results (those of you with queasy stomachs should cover your eyes - this ain't pretty):

Snapter's Funhouse of Mirrors

I think i saw an episode of Star Trek where the transporter malfunctioned like this...

Yes, kids, like the results of a defective transporter from Star Trek, these are the sorry results.

The other frustration, i must admit, comes from the fact that my 5.1 megapixel Sony DSC-T7 does such a lousy job of capturing the music in fine enough detail for a decent scan:

I see cheese, cheese, walkin' on its knees...

With all the little blue nodes surrounding the border of Snapter's bad guesses, you'd think it'd be a simple matter to select a few and make manual adjustments, but it acts like a pit of angry asps if you try to move any of the nodes (and not all of them are selectable), skewing the borders even more horribly out of alignment.

Sigh...i really love the idea of this program, i just wish it actually worked when it comes to music...



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April 25, 07

B might be P...

Just when i thought i was on the mend, chills and a dry, hacking cough, compounded with constricted lung capacity and achy muscles (and a raging headache) made Kyungmi think my Beat Up Blues symptoms may actually be pointing to: Pneumonia. Dum-Dum-DUUUUUUUUUUUHHHHHH....

yuck...

i'll be going in for chest x-rays tomorrow morning, but rather than wait for the results of that Kyungmi thought it would be a good idea to start my antibiotic regimen. Down the hatch in a single gulp - and that's pretty much it for 10 days! Unfortunately, i need to take additional pills (one a day for 10 days) to protect my gut from the effects of the antibiotics. Apparently, this stuff can wreck havoc on your colon...lovely thought that...

>kaff kaff<

'Scuze me while i crawl back under the covers and figure out how i'm going to survive back-to-back days of violin auditions for the Philadelphia Orchestra next week, along with a huge flotilla of Schubert lieder for a conductor rehearsal...

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April 24, 07

Bane of the Breeze

Yesterday was a monster marathon day of viola finals auditions for the Philadelphia Orchestra - 12 straight hours of work! As you can imagine, stress levels were high all around from the participants - accompanying them made me feel like i was the one taking the audition, over and over again. The constant state of intense concentration with no room for error really gets exhausting very quickly, both physically and mentally (and with a nasty cold to boot! Blah!)

One always tries to come as prepared as possible for these situations, but i really felt bad for some of the folks working with wispy, dog-eared paper copies of their concertos. There was a constant breeze in the hall from the air conditioning system, which in turn made the flimsy paper music flop around and close up for some of the participants, right in the middle of their auditions! Some quick maneuvering from the proctor enabled her to jump around the piano to help keep the music propped up on the music stand, but that certainly can't be something one needs on top of all the stress of the audition itself!

This is another reason why i'm so averse to paper - no breeze-flopping pages with my Tablet PC!

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April 21, 07

Beat up and Blue

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April 19, 07

Tech on a Budget: Freebie Roundup for Musicians

Being committed to working down my debts a la Dave Ramsey's "Debt Snowball" plan has me more sensitive than ever to the costs of tech-related items. A huge help to defraying major software expenses is the availability of open-source programs that are completely free and quite often come very close to rivaling the quality of their commercial counterparts.

A few weeks ago, Download.com (a part of the CNet tech family) ran a 2-part blog article offering a terrific set of open-source alternatives to some heavy-hitting graphics programs like Adobe's Photoshop, Illustrator, and Acrobat for document publishing. While the blog itself was a terrific resource, the deluge of comments was an even bigger goldmine of open-source favorites covering a plethora of functions. I took some time to mine the offerings and pare down the list to a number of programs that a musician might find most beneficial:

  • Audacity, the open-source audio editor, was mentioned several times as a favorite. I find myself coming back to this program over and over for so many of my audio recording and editing tasks - highly recommended!


  • Another commenter was raving about another audio recorder, MP3myMP3. It's supposed to be able to record audio from any source - ie, if you can hear it coming out of your sound card, chances are you can record it with MP3myMP3 and convert it to either MP3 or WAV files.


  • Lilypond is a pretty heady music notation program. I haven't actually used this program myself, but apparently Lilypond operates with an ASCII text interface. Check out this syntax example:



    Not for the faint of heart, but potentially very powerful, with publisher-quality manuscripts - and it's hard to beat free!


  • OpenSebJ is an audio sample mixing program. The commenter points out similarities to programs like Apple's Garage Band or Acid, but it also has video playback/trigger features similar to VJ programs like Arkaos or Resolume. There are even 'scratch' and pitch shift capabilities - sounds like a great tool for your next club gig!


  • Ever wanted to slow down a recording without distorting the pitch? BestPractice, an open source audio time-stretching tool, claims to be able to do that - as well as changing the pitch of a recording without affecting the speed! Sounds like a fantastic practice tool for all you Music-Minus-One fans!


  • This wasn't on the Download.com blog, but i thought i'd add this freebie for good measure: Cantabile Lite is a nice little VST host, MIDI recorder/sequencer, and audio recorder all bundled into one. VST stands for Virtual Studio Technology, which enables the use of software based musical instruments or musical effects. Before Pianoteq came out with their standalone version 2.0, i used Cantabile Lite to run the Pianoteq VST. Small, simple, and zippy performance - and best of all, free!


  • Most notably missing is a more 'full-fledged' open source MIDI sequencer/editor. I found a few half-baked projects online like Jazz++ and Alacrity, but nothing in the Windows platform that comes close to approaching the power of Rosegarden for the Linux operating system. Makes me think i need to get Linux installed in one of my Tablet PC's...

    Drop me a line if you have any other great open source software suggestions for musicians!



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    April 17, 07

    Visual Recital 3 by 3

    Yesterday, we had a run-through of my new visualizations designed for 3 piano trio works: the first movement of Beethoven's Trio in C minor, Op. 1 No. 3; the slow movement from Brahm's Trio No. 1 in B major, Op. 8; and the first movement of "Cafe Music" by Paul Schoenfield. During my initial Visual Recital planning meeting with Astral Artists Jennifer Curtis (violin), Susan Babini (cello) and Michael Mizrahi (piano), Jennifer expressed a desire to participate in the 'pedal pushing' activities (she apparently has a lot of experience with a drumset!) My initial idea had been for the pianist to do all the video triggers himself, but getting the other players involved made so much sense!

    The initial problem was finding a hardware solution to allow for multiple pedal and keystroke assignments into a single computer. Fortunately, i found a great product from P.I. Engineering: a USB Switch Interface that allows for up to 12 push button or foot tredle inputs. A friend of mine suggested using standard MIDI Damper pedals with 1/4" - 1/8" mono adapters, and it turns out that they work beautifully as input triggers!

    The P.I. Engineering USB Switch Interface box with 3 damper pedal inputs

    Each pedal was assigned a letter keystroke ("A" for the piano, "B" for the violin, and "C" for the cello).

    Pedals for everyone!

    Happy Feet!

    Splitting the pedal trigger tasks among 3 players makes for a much easier job, particularly in situations with tricky page turns. It also opens up the possibility for much greater complexity and interactive visualizations!

    Running through the visualization of "Cafe Music" with Susan Babini, cello and Jennifer Curtis, violin

    Michael was a brave soul, not only using the pedal trigger for the visual triggers, but also tackling the use of my Tablet PC as a digital music reader with a second footswitch for turning pages!

    Michael Mizrahi tackling both tablet pc's with both feet!

    We're aiming for our first Astral/Visual Recital show at one of the Philadelphia public schools sometime next month. In the meantime, Michael will be borrowing both my Toshiba Tablet PC (which will run the visualizations via Liquid Media) and my backup Fujitsu ST5022D tablet pc as a digital music reader ("Kaylee"), along with the USB Switch Interface and the pedals for the group to practice on. Generous soul methinks i yam, eh? Well, the excitement really comes from seeing other musicians having an opportunity to try out some cutting-edge technology and seeing the true benefits that come from these tools. That can only happen with hands-on experience.

    BTW, special thanks go to David Michie for taking time to show the wares of his beautiful Violin shop (right next to my office!), and to Rich Galassini for the fantastic tour of Cunningham Piano Factory. I'm using pictures taken from both locations for the Beethoven Trio movement, giving a visual "story" of how trees become musical instruments. I can't wait to show you clips from the 'finished product' once we play this show in public!




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    April 14, 07

    I Hab a Cold...

    Homemade Ginger TeaThere's been a particularly virulent bug running around Curtis lately, and i actually got hit with it on Tuesday - painful cough, chills, muscle aches, and a nasty headache. My wife insists it's not the flu ("you wouldn't even be getting out of bed if it was!" she tells me), but she's been seeing its effects at her practice.
    Ugh...i hate being sick...
    I'm still sore today, but somewhat on the mend, thanks to my Mother-in-Law's wonderful homemade Ginger Tea, made with slices of fresh ginger and dried jujube's. Add a nice dollop of honey and you have instant relief for any sore throat!



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    April 13, 07

    Spring Break on a Budget, Part 2: Stop-Start Animation

    There must be some Murphy's Law axiom that states "rain goes hand in hand with free time" or something like that. Sure enough, today was a real drencher, preventing any outside activities for the kids. I recalled a wonderful set of articles from the Geekdad blog (a treasure trove of nifty ideas for resourceful parents and curious kids) detailing various stop-start animation software for digital camcorders. Trying to stick to my spring break vacation budget (=$0), i thought i could make do with an even cheaper solution than some of the shareware programs on the market..

    My Sony DSC-T7 digital camera was too slim to mount onto a tripod, but sure enough, one of my old Panasonic digital camcorders sported a nice SD memory card photo camera option.

    Eric and Timmy about to start their digital animation project!

    After teaching the basics of puppet animation using their action figures, i left the kids to their imagination in putting a movie together. 300 digital snapshots later, we imported the pictures into Windows Movie Maker, which comes standard in all Windows XP computers.



    Tip: to get Windows Movie Maker to play back the image files at an 'animated' speed, you will need to
  • click on "Tools" in the menu bar,

  • select "Options"

  • click on the "Advanced" tab


  • You'll see two parameters, "Picture duration" and "Transition duration". Use the scroll arrows to reduce the alloted times as low as possible.

    You're not going to get "Pixar-quality" animation speeds, but it certainly works well enough to give the illusion of motion. And hey, it's free!

    Ladies and Gentlemen, i present to you: "Super NaruTigger" by Paul, Eric, and Timmy Sung - click on the picture below to play back the WMV video file!






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    April 12, 07

    Spring Break on a Budget: Archery

    With my new commitment to Dave Ramsey's "Debt Snowball" plan, we're not going on any unplanned or unbudgeted excursions anymore. Unfortunately, that can be easier said than done when you have a house full of 3 very bored boys who are on Spring Break (too bad Curtis' Spring Break and the public school's break can't coincide...) Video games and TV only go so far - so to help break up the monotony of cabin fever, i've been spending some time teaching the boys archery.

    For folks who have known me for years, they've noticed a pattern of obsessive hobbies that usually come and go in 2-3 year cycles. At one time, it was woodworking - another time, it was an obsession with baking and learning how to come up with the perfect loaf of handmade breads - archery happens to be one of my earliest obsessions, which took hold of me when i was still a teenager living at home. A mysterious impulse swept over me completely out of the blue - the desire to shoot a bow and arrow (maybe from all the paper and dice Role Playing Games i played?). I rushed to the local library and took out all the books i could find on the subject. I scoured the yellow pages (remember, kiddies, this was back in the Dark Ages before Google!) for Archery Shops and found one about an hour's drive away, where i got equipped and started taking weekly lessons. My first bow was a light recurve bow - after i got married, i happened upon another archery shop during one of my concert tours and picked up a nice junior compound bow. At one point i was shooting every single day - there is a powerful, meditative quality that comes with archery, as you need to control your breathing and focus all your concentration upon a single point in order to shoot with consistent form and accuracy.

    Well, that obsession came...and went. Life became incredibly busy, particularly after moving into the city for a number of years. I would try shooting at my parents' farm in upstate PA, but our trips there were too infrequent to keep me in shape. When we finally purchased the house we're living in now, i brought all my archery equipment with me in hopes that i could set up a little shooting range in the backyard. Sadly, the bows and quivers just hung on hooks in the garage, slowly gathering dust...

    ...Until this week. As i was wracking my brain trying to come up with a fun, cheap activity (ie: FREE), the bows in the garage called out to me. It must be close to 8 years since i pulled a bowstring! I rounded up the boys and announced that our archery lessons were about to begin. Paul had some archery experience from his gym class, so he was comfortable with the idea. Timmy was excited without really knowing why - Eric, surprisingly, was very timid, as he was afraid of either getting hurt or inflicting damage...but once we got started, we all had a terrific time!

    Timmy taking aim with bow and arrow

    We set up an empty cardboard box filled with plastic bags as our target, strung up between two trees. The elasticity of the plastic bags help to stop the arrows from going through the cardboard. Timmy's main goal was to pull the bowstring hard enough to get the arrows to stick into the box!

    Timmy learns the correct way to pull out an arrow

    Once Eric got the hang of the proper form and safety rules for shooting, he really got into the swing of it and became the most enthusiastic archer of the group:

    Eric shows a nice archer's stance

    Paul revealed a knack for archery - he has terrific aim, and was able to hit the target pretty consistently from the full length of the yard.

    Paul has terrific aim - a real natural!

    Feels great to be shooting again - especially as a family activity with the boys!

    Dad takes his turn shooting

    For a full picture gallery of our archery shoot, click here. It's nice to see that sometimes the best 'vacations' don't cost a penny!



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    April 11, 07

    An exiled blessing in disguise? World of Warcraft banned accounts

    When i first signed up for that massive multiplayer online role playing game ("MMORPG") World of Warcraft about 2 months ago, i was consequently warned by several denizens of students to walk - no, make that RUN away from the game as fast as possible, regaling horrible tales of sleepless nights and hopeless addiction to that time-sink.

    Ok, ok, so i was spending a few hours here and there on the game (my wife would strongly disagree on how i define "hours" here...) and really having a dandy time "oohing" and "aahing" at the virtual scenery (and dying an awful lot while trying to get from point A to point B...)...and then suddenly, about two weeks ago, i received a cryptic message that my account had been banned.

    No warning, no explanation - the portals to that massive online world were shut as tight and silent as a stone mausoleum.

    Much whining ensued and baffled emails sent to Blizzard's tech support team, asking for an explanation of what possible crime an absolute newbie like me could be guilty of - i barely knew how to play the game, for crying out loud! Well, after a few days of fretting over the lack of response, i resigned myself to returning to "real life" and never looking back at the gilded portals of that fantasy world, imagining that my characters - particularly my Level 17 mage named "Dahnmar" - were dying slow, agonizing deaths at the spindle of some hard drive's "delete" operation...

    It turns out, from reading these articles on CNET, that i wasn't alone in the baffling account-ban bashing:

  • 'World of Warcraft' bans raise players' ire - source: CNet News.com, 3/22/07


  • No end in sight to hacking of 'WoW' accounts - source: CNet News.com, 4/10/07


  • A few days ago, my account was abruptly restored - no explanation, no apologies, just a simple email from Blizzard stating that i needed to reset my password, and i was good to go. I haven't been back to play yet, fearing the lost hours that would almost certainly be drained there...but the gilded portals beckon...beckon...

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    April 10, 07

    Musical Collaborations over the Net

    I wasn't aware of this new genre of collaborative social network site until one of the PR people from Indaba Music sent me an email asking me to check out their new website, but apparently there have been a number of new social network sites who's "gimmick" has been to allow participants to create new mixes of music online, either using snippets of commercial material, sound effects, drum loops, or self-made recordings that can be uploaded and shared into the "mix pool". In addition to Indaba Music (which i'll get to in a bit), these sites include Splice, Jamglue, YourSpins, and Mix2r (info on these other sites thanks to Augustine Fou's very interesting tech blog)

    Yourspins is more of a commercial PR gimmick, where you basically fool around with selected tracks from established bands with some limited mixer controls (little more than changing the volume of various component tracks, like vocals, drums, guitar, etc. with a few "special effects" - cough cough - to fiddle with). You can either make a 'remix' track, or a mix for what i assume is some sort of 'ringtone' for your phone - in any case, it's a clever way to get an audience more 'connected' to their favorite artist by introducing them to the various musical elements that actually make up a full commercial track and allowing them to play around a bit. Imagine what fun it might be if an orchestra posted something similar where each instrument section could be manipulated to either be louder, softer, or soloed or eliminated from a given symphonic excerpt - a neat way to explore how a complex work is put together!



    Splice and Jamglue are sites that actually allow you to record, upload, and manipulate tracks for some serious mixing. The emphasis is on sharing and exploring the social network of would-be mixers. With these types of sites, you start to see some more advanced mixing capabilities, where you can move and align tracks along a timeline and adjust volume parameters for each track, much like you would in a DAW (Digital Audio Workshop) program.

    I like Splice's integrated audio editor and mixer - you can record audio directly into the track and start multitracking with other sound files immediately. It tends to hiccup during recording and playback - not the most ideal technical situation for high quality recordings, but i'm sure that can be minimized if you keep your other background programs turned off and your system running as lean as possible.



    Jamglue puts the emphasis on mixing. The audio upload and recording functions are on a separate window that's separate from the mixing console, so it's not ideal for working "live" with tracks - you have to create your material and upload it before you can begin the mixing process.



    Jamglue makes it easy to integrate sound clips from the community at large, with tabbed windows allowing you to pick and add to your heart's content. Emphasis here seems to be on dabbling and experimenting. Note the decent DAW interface:



    Mix2r bills itself as a global music collaboration site, but i haven't been able to figure out how in the world it's actually supposed to work...if i have some time, i'll try to get around to cracking that nut, but right off the bat the obliqueness of the site is already turning me off...guess i'm not alone in scratching my head trying to figure out the site, as this quote comes from their own description:

    Right, so what is mix2r.fm you ask?
    The honest truth is that we don't really know yet.


    From what i can tell, Indaba Music was launched in February - this site tries to take an Artist-centric spin on the whole social-network mixing genre. The emphasis is on musicians uploading their own tracks and putting out requests for collaborators, or for musicians to search for interesting material and submit "audition tracks" to participate in various master takes. Artists can create their own custom URL's within Indaba Music - check out my "studio" at www.indabamusic.com/people/hughsung.



    Just for fun, i posted one of my old Psalm arrangements to see if i could find any singers to collaborate with. So far two have expressed some interest, but no mixes to share yet - i'll post an update as soon as i receive something from them, but it's impressive that i had at least some sort of response within hours of uploading a track (that particular psalm arrangement was probably over 10 years old at this point with nary a nibble from vocalists...).

    Indaba Music's DAW is more primitive than Splice or Jamglue's at the moment - you can't see the actual waveform shape within the track bars, so that makes it very difficult to align multiple tracks together:



    Some other suggestions i'd have would be for some way to upload and display music scores (for those musicians who can actually read music) or even simple lead sheets with just lyrics and guitar chords simultaneously within the audio editor. Getting an integrated audio record function directly into the session would also be a big plus, something on par with what Splice does. I've been assured by the Indaba Music folks that they're working on improving the audio editor feature set, so hopefully we'll see some improvements as the site grows and evolves.



    You can check out a session i participated in to hear the various contributions from several participants and some resulting mixes. I found a weird timing bug where my recorded track ended up playing back slightly slower than the original once it was posted - i wonder if it has something to do with varying bit rates from my MP3 recording with the master take. You can visit and listen to the session takes here.

    All in all, some very promising technologies that not only enable musical collaborations, but more importantly get regular folk more involved in the music-making process themselves. After all, there's no better way to appreciate what goes into a nice meal than to try and cook one yourself!




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    April 07, 07

    QSC HPR 122i Loudspeakers you have to hear to believe...

    When i purchased my Roland RD-700SX at Guitar Center, the dealer was raving about a pair of loudspeakers - the QSC HPR 122i - that was unfortunately not in stock at the time. He made a very generous deal: since i needed a pair of loudspeakers immediately for an upcoming show at my kids' school, i could take the JBL EON G2 speakers they had in stock and then return them for an equal exchange once the QSC's came in.

    The JBL's were very, very mediocre speakers - very mushy and indistinct sounding to my ears. They served adequately enough to get through an elementary school assembly program, but i was eager to unload them as quickly as possible. The QSC's were supposed to arrive in March, but apparently the demand was so great they were almost immediately snatched up before i could get dibs on them.

    I happened to call Guitar Center earlier this afternoon to check on the QSC stock status, when lo and behold: they had them in stock! I rushed over to make the exchange and promptly brought them home to hook up to the Roland, hooked up with Pianoteq v.2...

    ...

    ...in a word, WOW!!!

    Rich, sumptuous basses, clear midrange, brilliant uppers...the whole sound spectrum has an incredible depth and warmth that i never expected to hear from a pair of powered loudspeakers! These sound like an amazing pair of high end home stereo speakers - but with POWER! I have the speakers set to the very lowest volume level, and they still pack an incredible punch!! Even Kyungmi was incredulous at how gorgeous the sound was, and how much difference they made with the Pianoteq program!

    Now i can see why the dealers were raving over these speakers...i'm usually skeptical of emotive recommendations from retail dealers, but the QSC HPR122i's are the real deal! Now if only i could find my jaw...i dropped it on the floor here somewhere...



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    April 05, 07

    Fiscal Nibbles and a Tech Disaster

    It's uncanny how similar being on a budget is to being on a diet. It's also eye-opening to see how quickly little things add up in both fiscal and nutritional aspects. When i committed to my crash diet as mentioned in my earlier post, i became obsessed with counting calories. I never considered myself to be a glutton at mealtime, but i was completely shocked to find that most of my calories weren't coming from big steaks or buttery sauces - rather, i was piling them on with the extra packets of sugar going into my coffee, or in the bag of potato chips, or that extra bottle of soda! Little snacks, accumulated over time, made for a very fat Hugh.

    My new personal budget is revealing similar trends, where little expenses quickly become the piranhas of my overall fiscal body. One area i'm hoping to reign in some significant savings is in the daily meal and coffee expenses.

    Behold, the power of the lunch bag!

    My new debt fighting weapon:  the mighty lunch bag!

    The plastic container holds a yummy, cheap-to-make treat: Onigiri, a japanese rice cake of sorts.

    Onigiri, a tasty - and cost effective - lunch meal

    You can buy these nice packets of Onigiri seasoning - add a few sprinkles to a pot of cooked rice, combine with some chopped meats or vegetables, press into a special plastic mold to shape the cake, and add a piece of roasted seaweed laver to the bottom (this serves as a yummy 'holder' for the cake). Super cheap, and really yummy!

    As much as i love my fix of Starbucks, i'm afraid i'm going to have to go on a coffee hiatus of sorts - instead, i'll be drinking these super economical korean instant coffee packets, where dried coffee is combined with a pre-measured amount of sugar and creamer. Add hot water and each packet makes a small cup of coffee. It takes at least 10 or 15 of these to equal one tall house blend of Starbucks. Also in my new beverage list will be green, Breakfast and Earl Grey teas:

    Instant coffee, Green, Breakfast and Earl Grey Teas

    I estimate that by bringing my lunch to work instead of buying a sandwich, drink, and 2 or 3 cups of coffee, i'll be saving at least $10 a day - that adds up pretty quickly!

    On a horrific, debt-rattling note, i'm pretty upset to report a mini-crisis: Inara, my brand new, beautiful Fujitsu ST5032D Tablet PC, now has a cracked screen -

    My beautiful Inara is now a blemished Tablet PC...

    The screen protector seems to be holding the glass safely in place for now, and the pen functions are unaffected - computer is running normally, aside from sporting that horrible blemish. I was propping Inara on my makeshift bookstand while i was working on my Roland RD-700SX digital piano. Timmy came into the room and wanted to have a piano lesson, as he absolutely loves playing on the Roland.

    Timmy loves playing on the Roland RD-700SX digital piano

    After his lesson, i was getting some paperwork done and focusing my attention on Zoe, my Gateway Tablet PC. Timmy, in the meantime, wanted to continue practicing on his own, so he tried to prop up the music - and inadvertently pushed Inara back, causing her to tumble and...well, suffice to say Daddy was extremely unhappy, and Timmy was bawling apologies with tears gushing down his face. Kyungmi tried sending him off to bed while i stewed over the damage, but poor Timmy couldn't stop crying and feeling terrible about what happened. He came back to the room to apologize again and again, and received lots of hugs and forgiveness from me for an innocent accident. I made sure he spent some more time on the digital piano again right after that, lest he develop a weird phobia for playing digital pianos out of fear of breaking something else.

    Dave Ramsey had an insightful line in his book, The Total Money Makeover, where he pointed out that God sometimes tests your resolve right in the beginning of your commitment to eliminate debt. This certainly qualifies as a frustrating test - but also as a good goal to push me to get this debt thing eliminated once and for all as fast as possible, so that i can afford to get Inara fixed up and looking good as new!

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    April 04, 07

    Pianoteq 2 Officially Released

    It's official! Today, version 2 of Pianoteq, the piano simulation program, is released! Those of you who have been following along with my blog have read about my involvement with the programmers to try and improve the sound quality and functionality of the program. It's hard to fully appreciate how revolutionary Pianoteq's technology is until you've had some time to play on the "instrument" - the range of expressive capabilities comes amazingly close to a real acoustic piano! Regular digital pianos, on the other hand, have a weird "stepped" touch with an extremely limited range of sound. For example, pressing a key softly will produce an exaggerated volume that sounds - and actually is - pre-recorded. Even my new Roland RD-700SX's touch limitations become glaringly apparent when played right next to Pianoteq! Pianoteq, on the other hand, offers the digital pianist the full 127 MIDI velocity capability. Digital pianos, in contrast, typically have up to 10 pre-recorded levels that are interpolated to try to approximate the full velocity range. I don't know about you, but i'd rather have 127 colors over 10 any day i try to paint on the piano! Be sure to check out the insightful description page on Pianoteq's site - it does a great job of explaining all the features that make Pianoteq truly unique in the digital instrument arena.

    The piano sound has been vastly improved over the previous version. I really enjoy some of the new features, like the "analog" damper pedal and the closed/half-open/fully open lid capabilities. The new standalone version allows you to play the Pianoteq instrument without the need for an external VST host program like Cubase or Logic. You can record your performances as MIDI files and export them as WAV audio files. By the way, be sure to check out the new default MIDI file, made by yours truly! I'm hoping that they'll be able to come up with a Muse Receptor-friendly version soon - the standalone program works fine for the most part, but i'm still finding that i have to occasionally adjust the volume and the polyphony way down when the textures and volume get too thick and loud to avoid crackling. I'm curious to see if the Receptor's beefy processing speeds will help to cut down on those performance bottlenecks.

    The upgrade is free to existing customers. They also offer a 45-day free demo version. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this exciting new version!



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    My Second Makeover: Debt Diet Determination

    Let me preface this post by saying this is probably the most humbling article i'll find myself writing for quite some time. My first "makeover" was physical in nature: several years ago, my wife inadvertently took a picture of me in my swim trunks at a water park with the kids. When i saw that picture of me - gut hanging out, flabby arms and double chin - i was completely shocked. I had joked about my growing beer belly and the way it served as a convenient drink receptacle whenever i was parked like a beached whale on the sofa, but actually seeing myself in such horrible physical shape made me realize that was no joking matter. Thanks to that picture, my first makeover took the form of a new commitment to physical health. i went on a crash Slim-Fast diet and started an exercise regimen, jogging and puffing about half a block up the street and being winded in 5 minutes, eventually getting to a full block...then a 10 minute run...then a 30 minute course...then by six months time, running about 8-10 miles at a stretch at least 3 times a week. Gym membership followed soon after that (and actually stuck this time!!), with some pretty dramatic results.

    This "second makeover" follows the title of an interesting book my pastor recommended to me, "The Total Money Makeover" by Dave Ramsey. I think it's safe to say that the one of the only things that causes greater fear and revulsion to a classical musician than technology is the issue of personal finances!



    I just finished listening to the audiobook version on my iPod, and i have to say - it's a sobering, yet inspiring read. Like my first makeover, i initially didn't think i had anything to be terribly concerned about regarding my finances. My bills get paid on time, we really don't use a credit card all that much (so i thought), and i'm still able to indulge in shiny toys. Little did i realize that the symptoms of some serious problems had been swimming under the surface for much longer than i cared to admit: bank balances that fluctuated wildly, from decent amounts to negative balances, the net effect being that nothing was really being saved; debt balances that seemed to be frozen, never really going down significantly; and a feeling of being in a financial 'holding pattern' indefinitely, without any real growth or movement (or safety net!) Much like the picture which gave me the shock of my first makeover, this book helped me to take a hard look at myself and the true state of my personal finances.

    Dave Ramsey does a great job of communicating the basics of sound personal finance, infused with a lot of common sense and eye-opening facts about the dangers of debt and the power of simple, long-term savings. His plan consists of a series of 'baby steps', one of the most interesting being a "debt snowball", where you systematically pay down all of your outstanding debts in order of smallest to largest, taking advantage of both cumulative paying power and psychological boosts from seeing the immediate effects of your debts disappearing. Dave doesn't pull any punches: he constantly reiterates that the process will not be easy, and will require an intense "gazelle focus" to see it through to the end. There are no 'quick fixes', but the long-term view has some pretty motivational aspects going for it, and his anecdotal stories really help to emphasis the "do-ability" of his plan.

    I just finished the very first step of Dave's plan: writing out my first monthly budget. Even though all my finances are recorded in Quicken, this was still a very painful, brain-numbing exercise. Bad news is that the debt i tried so hard to ignore actually is turning out to be a much bigger troll under the bridge than i had realized; good news is, i'm already able to knock off the 3 smallest debts right off the bat with the "snowball plan"!

    Wish i had this sort of personal finance training during my conservatory student years! I think classical musicians are particularly prone to buy into the "starving for your art" myth and far too often resign themselves to live a life of financial struggle. Here's hoping that this pianist can break out of that mold and turn things around for a much brighter fiscal future!



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    April 02, 07

    Happy 80th Birthday, Aaron Rosand!

    Preparing for one more show with Aaron RosandThis past Saturday i had the honor of once again performing with my dear friend, the legendary violinist Aaron Rosand, in a special 80th Birthday tribute concert at Curtis. Aaron and i performed an all-Brahms first half, and a wonderful medley of students and illustrious alumni from Aaron's class performed the second half, including Alex Kerr, Benjamin Schmid, and Steven Copes.

    Ben Schmid, Alex Kerr, and Steve Copes with the master teacher, Aaron Rosand

    Want to see violinists geek out? Watch them pull out their instruments and talk shop! Worse than video gamers at an E3 convention! LOL

    Geeking out over an amazing Widenhouse copy of Aaron's Guarneri

    A lovely, heartfelt afternoon of camaraderie and a breathtaking evening of music-making ensued. I can't think of a more beautiful, fitting tribute to such an incredible master - Happy Birthday, Aaron, with hearty wishes for many more yet to come!

    Aaron with Steve Copes and Bob Koenig

    Posing with the Master right after our performance

    You can enjoy my picture gallery from that festive day by clicking here.



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    Welcome!

    Thank you for visiting this site! I hope you'll find this to be a friendly place to learn about and discuss the fascinating technologies available for the Classical Musician. A great place to get started is with the ongoing "Getting Started" series. Remember, the worst questions are the ones you never ask, so feel free to email me!

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