Using a tablet for choral singing

I recently rejoined the Mornington Singers, a chamber choir based in Dublin that I sang with a few years ago. We perform 4-6 concerts a year, and use choral music scores to sing from. That normally means holding a black folder with a stack of paper inside.

However, I’ve decided to try something a bit different – combining two passions of mine – technology and music! I’m ditching the paper, and singing from a computer tablet.

I’m not exactly breaking new ground here. I’ve seen loads of other singers doing this already, but this is my first serious attempt at singing off a screen.

It helps that there’s an Android app that makes the whole thing easy, called MobileSheets (available as a free and and paid-for ‘Pro’ version). You can import music scores in PDF format, and then adjust them for display on the screen. I like the option to auto-crop the margins from the edge of the page, and the ability to apply a sepia-colour filter to help improve the page contrast.

I originally tried it out using an old Google Nexus 7 tablet, which as the name suggests has a 7 inch screen. It kind-of works, but the screen is a bit too small, and would not suit anyone with less than 20-20 eyesight. So a couple of weeks ago I upgraded to a reconditioned Amazon Fire 10 tablet that was on sale. It has a bigger 10 inch screen, which works a lot better with A4-sized music scores.

The Fire tablet itself is not stunning in terms of performance, but it does have a good quality screen. It’s locked in to the Amazon ecosystem, running an old version of Android that is tightly integrated with Amazon services. Thankfully there’s loads of online tutorials out there that explain how the Google Play Store (and other Google apps) can be loaded. And although the Fire tablet can feel quite sluggish when using some demanding apps, the MobileSheets Pro app works very well, and there’s no noticeable lag loading scores or turning pages.

MobileSheets app running on Amazon Fire 10 tablet

The positives

  • I have access to all my music in one place, and depending on the memory capacity of the tablet, I could store hundreds/thousands of music scores in one place.
  • I can define a “set list” in the app that shows scores in a defined order. This helps keep my music in order. 
  • I can define bookmarks within a score that enabled me to jump quickly between movements of a larger work. I’ve set some hot-spot areas of the screen to jump backwards and forwards between bookmarks.
  • Page turns are very quick, and also silent. Just tap on the right of the screen to go forward, and on the left to go back.  Moving back and forth between pages in a score during rehearsal seems to be easier on a tablet than with paper.
  • I don’t have any problem seeing the notes in a dark room, as my music is back-lit. At a recent concert the rest of the choir were using clip-on lights to illuminate their paper music, but I don’t have that worry. I’ll just have to make sure I turn down the brightness in really dark settings, so that the screen doesn’t illuminate me!

The negatives

  • The tablet is heavier and more awkward to hold than a piece of paper, which makes it less convenient in a rehearsal – although once we get to the concert it’ll be easier to manage than lots of different scores
  • Adding markings to the score is possible with the MobileSheets app, but it takes a bit longer (there are a few taps required) than using a pencil on paper
  • Audiences are not used to seeing performers singing off a tablet, so I’ll need to be discrete to avoid it being a distraction. I plan to mount the tablet somehow inside my normal music folder using velcro strips or similar.
  • I have to source my music in PDF format to load it onto the tablet. If that’s not readily available then I need to find the time to scan the paper score into a PDF document. The CamScanner app seem good at this.

Generally I feel that the positives outweigh the negatives so far. However I’ve only been using tablet for rehearsals and a couple of concerts so far.

I just have to make sure that my music is fully charged!

Hopefully this will be the last Presidential election I can’t vote in

This Friday, 26th October 2018, Irish citizens will go to the polls to vote for their next president and also on the 37th amendment to the constitution.

As a British citizen living in Ireland for the last 11½ years, I’m not eligible to vote in either. I can vote in the Irish general election, I can vote in European elections, and I can vote in local council elections. But only people who are citizens of Ireland (and who are resident in Ireland) are able to vote for the President and in referendums.

Hopefully, however, it’s going to be the last of the elections that I won’t be able to vote in. It’s about 7 months since I applied for my Irish citizenship, and I’m ever-hopeful that I’ll become naturalised and get my Irish passport (and the right to vote) within the coming months.

Since moving to live in Dublin in April 2007 there has been an average of one referendum per year. The one on Friday, about repealing the offence of blasphemy, will be the 12th referendum.  During this time the people have Ireland have voted on such important issues as the rights of children, same-sex marriage, and abortion. But also, they’ve voted on the European Treaty of Lisbon (twice), reducing the minimum age of the president, and judge’s pay.

There’s talk about other referendums possibly taking place next year to address topics such as an archaic reference in the constitution to “women in the home”, allowing Irish citizens living abroad to vote, and maybe even reducing the voting age to 16.

Hopefully, by then, I’ll also be able to have my voice heard in these matters!

Nightline redirect to Parcel Motel

I am expecting a delivery from Virgin Media.

They use the courier Nightline for their deliveries, which on the face of it is a good idea, because Nightline have an advantage over other courier services. They have the Parcel Motel network of storage lockers, so if you’re not at home to receive your parcel, it can be held in a locker to be picked up at your convenience.

My order with Virgin Media went through at 10.00am on Friday, but for some reason Virgin didn’t dispatch my equipment until the following Monday evening.

An email I received from Nightline said that I could track my order online, or redirect the parcel elsewhere if I wan’t going to be in to accept the delivery. So on the Monday evening I tried the redirection process to send it straight to my local Parcel Motel, but every time submitted the request I kept getting an error in Nightline’s Parcel Pilot system. After a few attempts I abandoned it.

I tried again on the Tuesday morning to redirect to Parcel Motel, and it actually worked, and was recorded as a “Motel Redirect” in the tracking system. Unfortunately Nightline didn’t check their own records because they still took it out in their van to deliver to my home. It subsequently got returned to the depot, and the tracking system now says “Nightline delay, due next business day”.

So much for Virgin’s promise to have the equipment in my hands within 2 days! 

Update

So having asked to redirect to Parcel Motel, I received an second email from Nightline on the Wednesday saying it would be delivered to my Parcel Motel locker (they even listed the address of the locker location) between 2.00pm and 4.00pm.

I checked the Nightline tracking, and it said that the parcel was delivered at 3.30pm. However by 5.30pm I still hadn’t heard from Parcel Motel about how to collect the parcel (I need a PIN to access the locker).

So I called Nightline (018835400), and they said they couldn’t help and said I needed to call Parcel Motel on a different number (0768886677).

I called Parcel Motel, and kept getting cut off. It seems that unless your call gets picked up within about 20 seconds then you get a message saying “no agents available” and the call is dropped. Anyway, I eventually spoke to a person on the 5th attempt at calling, and they confirmed to me that it wasn’t actually delivered to Parcel Motel at all. The online tracker was wrong.

It seems that Nightline ignored the redirection request (for a second time) and actually delivered themselves to my neighbour.

Citizenship, the waiting game

I applied for my Irish citizenship back in March this year, just before St Patrick’s day, and now – over 6 months on – I’m still waiting.

The Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) website says that a simple application takes around 6 months to process, but from reading people’s stories on the Immigration Boards site it seems that some people are waiting for a year or two to hear back.

I had hoped that my application would be one of the simple ones. I’m a British citizen, married to an Irish citizen, and I’ve resided in Ireland for over 11 years, have never been in trouble with the law, and have worked consistently and paid my taxes over the time.

Updates on progress

The naturalisation process itself seems to be fairly opaque. Once your application is in, you don’t hear from INIS until your citizenship is confirmed – months or years later. And if you enquire about the progress along way, you are given a fairly generic response.

I emailed them 5 days ago to ask about my application, and this morning got this stock answer:

Your application is currently being processed with a view to establishing whether it meets the statutory conditions for the granting of naturalisation, such as good character and lawful residence, and will be submitted to the Minister for decision as expeditiously as possible.

At the moment to get any update you either need to send an email and wait, or you can phone them during fixed hours per week – Tuesdays and Thursday, 10.00am to 12.30pm – and I’ve read that it’s hard to get through on the phone.

It seems to me that it would be better if they had some kind of web portal, where naturalisation candidates could input their reference number and get a status update on the progress of their application. It would probably save a lot of time for the people currently answering emails and phone calls!

Next citizenship ceremony

The next citizenship ceremony has been announced to take place in Killarney on Monday 26th November 2018. That’s just under 8 weeks from now.

The invites for the ceremony go out about 4-5 weeks beforehand, so I only have a few weeks left to get my naturalisation approved (and also pay the €950 fee) to make it to this ceremony. At the moment it doesn’t look likely.

If I miss this ceremony then I’ll probably have to wait until April or May of next year, as they only have them a few times a year. On some occasions they have multiple ceremonies on the same day to deal with the 3,000 to 4,000 people getting their citizenship.

There’s an average of about 12,000 adults a year going along to these citizenship ceremonies (children getting citizenship don’t need to attend), and it would make more sense to me if they had them more regularly. My suggestion would be have ceremonies at different location around the country once per month, which would still mean welcoming 1,000 people at a time!

Latest news

The latest status of my application can be followed on my Irish Citizenship page.

Mobile first design

When designing a blog it’s easy to think only about how the site looks on the big monitor attached to your desktop computer. After all that’s the tool we use to maintain our blogs.

But if ever you needed evidence that you need to prioritise mobile devices, take a look at these statistics from another site of mine:

The table shows:

  • 78% of pages are viewed using smartphones
  • 14% of pages are viewed via desktop computers
  • 8% of pages are viewed using tablets

Almost 4 in 5 of all visitors are coming to my site using a smartphone. That could mean that they’re viewing my site in a completely different way than I am on my desktop computer.

For instance, all the links to other pages and advertising that shows as a column on the right of the page on the desktop are instead at the bottom of the page on mobile – and so it’s a lot less prominent to those visitors.

In order to address this we need to adopt a mobile-first attitude to design. We need to think about how a site looks on a smartphone ahead of the desktop.

A good responsive design will help – but we also need to check how the design moves content around once the screen size shrinks. That’s why I’m beginning to check everyone on my smartphone just as often as I use the laptop.

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