College Ski Trip

I heard that my nephew was going on a ski trip with some kids from his school and it reminded me of a college ski trip. In the spirit of writing down stories from my life, I thought this might make a good entry.

I was very much on the fringe of the group that was going. I knew one person well and maybe had seen a couple others in the group of about a dozen or so guys. I had only been skiing a couple times and decided that I’d try snowboarding for the first time.

On the trip up, we were in a caravan of cars and we got pulled over. We weren’t speeding or anything so it was a bit odd, but our driver started crying. Yes. He was crying in a car full of college guys. The officer said he pulled us over because they had reports of a group of guys sticking their heads out of a sunroof. Someone in our car kindly pointed out that our car didn’t have a sunroof and we were on our way. The officer wasn’t wrong though. It was someone from a different car in our group.

The ski event itself was… painful. It was my first time snowboarding and I had zero lessons. I spent most of the day by myself (since I didn’t know anyone and couldn’t keep up) and most of the day was spent falling down. I remember the next week of sitting in those hard desk chairs being pretty painful.

As we were driving back from the ski resort, one of the drivers noticed he was having trouble with his clutch. We were staying at someone’s relative’s house and the dad/uncle/grandpa/whoever showed him how to drive a manual transmission without a clutch by matching RPMs. It was enough for him to make the few hour drive back to Purdue but I wonder what his transmission looked like at the end of that.

The night after skiing, we had a bunch of sleeping bags and air mattresses on the floor of the living room. It was a loud, smelly place to sleep but somehow I still managed to stand out. When we woke up in the morning someone said, “Hey Ben, how did you sleep?” “Fine… why?” Apparently I had been sleep-walking (not an uncommon occurrence for me). I had grabbed a blanket and was holding it over the window yelling about blocking out the aliens. Great.

I can’t imagine doing something like that trip as an adult but when I got back I thought the whole thing was awesome, and I learned a valuable lesson: skiing is better than snowboarding.

Microsoft Include

Microsoft has been making big strides in diversity and inclusion. There have been some amazing conversations happening and these open and honest conversations provide space for asking tough questions. It’s such a difficult topic that touches every area of our lives and comes with a lot of valid and invalid preconceived notions, but the only way we’re going to work through it is by talking about it.

This year Microsoft is going to open some of those conversations up to the public for free. You can register for the Microsoft Include 2021 event which happens on March 17.

I highly encourage you to sign up and listen especially if anything in this post has given you a bad taste in your mouth, if you’ve already dismissed this with a political reaction, if you are afraid to talk about the subject, or if you want to help but don’t know how. We may differ dramatically on how to fix the problems, but gathering together to learn and listen will hopefully shed a new light (or more light) on the situation as it exists today.

COVID-19: Day 342

The infection numbers are finally coming down around us. They’re coming down to the levels we had leading up to Thanksgiving. Those were already high but at least we’re heading in the right direction.

I continue to be impressed with my company’s response to the pandemic. Along with from providing direct aid and support for researchers and leading the way with dashboards to share the facts, now they’re opening up their unused buildings as a vaccination site.

On the home front, Elijah had his second COVID test. I almost wished I had some symptoms so I could at least do it with him. This one was worse because he knew the pain that was coming from the test, but he was a trooper and we survived. The negative test eases our own nerves but it also helps his school to know that there’s nothing to worry about on their end. Thanks to his school’s administration and the cooperation of all the families, there have been zero cases of COVID spread within the school.

It has been awesome to hear from those of you getting your vaccine shots. I now know two people who have received both shots! A new vaccination dashboard from the AI For Health group at Microsoft is fun to watch, at least for first world countries. Washington is lagging behind a bit, but we have 4.1% of the population fully vaccinated and if we keep at this pace we’ll hit 20% by the end of April. My dose is nowhere in sight but I’m happy to stay home while people who need it more get their shots. I’m very interested to watch how the infection rates change as the vaccinations become more prevalent, and I’m also curious about how we’ll get this spread to the rest of the world.

Personally, these last few weeks have been some of the hardest weeks of this whole ordeal. I’ve learned how to handle COVID within my family, as a member of the community, as an employee, and as a parent at Elijah’s school. The major missing piece is that I have not learned how to deal with COVID as a leader in my church. I’ve written and erased a mountain of text here, but it boils down to the fact that I’m a sinner making choices in a sinful world about how to share God’s Word with sinful people. The only perfect decision is to be kneeling before God in prayer receiving forgiveness through Christ.

James 1:2-5 Consider it complete joy, my brothers, whenever you fall into various kinds of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces patient endurance. And let patient endurance finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any one of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives it to all without reservation and without finding fault, and it will be given to him.

The Church’s One Foundation

I’ve really been enjoying the new piano software! I’ve been tweaking the settings so that I can play live through my laptop without any noticeable lag. Hearing the beautiful piano sound makes me realize the shortcomings of the default sound that comes out of the piano.

My recording process was a bit different for this song. I recorded video and MIDI, processed the MIDI into a WAV file and then combined the video and audio to make the final video. This piece is “The Church’s One Foundation” and it’s arranged by Cindy Berry. (Full lyrics)

Embertone Walker Piano Review

My Korg C303 piano has MIDI input/output and I’ve been recording my songs in MIDI for the last couple years with the thought that maybe someday I’d get a nicer piano and then I could hear all these songs again. It’s a bit silly since lots of MIDI recordings of these same songs are available from better performers than me, but hey, it’s a hobby. It doesn’t have to make sense. Well the time has come. I’ve purchased a nicer piano, or at least I’ve purchased the soul of one.

I understood very little about this when I started but here’s what I’ve figured out so far. You can make a digital version of any instrument (or anything that makes sounds) by taking samples of it. Press a key, record the sound, press another key, record it and so on. If you do enough of these and have good software, you can synthesize the sound of the entire instrument. Companies have immensely complex rigs set up to sample instruments and Embertone is one of them. I purchased their “Walker 1955 Concert D” package. They sampled each key of a 9′ Steinway Concert D Grand pressing at 36 different velocities, with every pedal combination in for various durations to create over 10,000 samples and oh yeah, they did the whole process six different times with the microphone in various places. I purchased the “Lite” package which gives me a subset of those samples but it sounds great to me and has been more than enjoyable for me to play around with.

It took a long time to figure out how to actually use the package when I downloaded it. I had to download the virtual instrument, set up Cakewalk (Digital Audio Workstation software), hook them together, plug in a MIDI file and voila, it worked! There are seemingly endless customizations that can be made to the sound in the software but it sounds great even with all the defaults.

But blah blah blah, what does it sound like?! I recorded a quick sample and I edited it to flip back and forth between the default sound out of my piano and the default sound out of the virtual piano.

Most of the organ and piano pieces for our virtual church services ( are recorded by two other members of our church but I fill in every once in a while. It will be fun to use this package for those pieces. I think I’ll be playing the preservice music for this Sunday’s service if you want to check it out in action. Or for much better pianists and much nicer recordings, check out the demos on the product page.