Aaron Giles

About Me

2020 Year In Review

Well, 2020 is almost done, and along with most everyone else, I sure won’t be sad to see it go. But in spite of the plague, riots, breathtaking ignorance, and general political idiocy, some stuff did actually get done! Perhaps not as much as last year, but hey, let’s see what we got.


As might be expected, my singing experiences took a serious nosedive this year in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Conveniently, I had already started taking a break from community choir singing at the end of the 2018–2019 season, so I guess that was fortuitous.

That said, there were a couple of musical highlights this year.

Although I didn’t officially join a new choir, I did throw in my voice with the Sine Nomine Renaissance Choir’s fall program. I liked that it was short (just 5 weeks) and so it didn’t feel like a big commitment. And the final virtual choir video turned out very nice! You can even see my singing face in the Tallis video to the right (which is separate from the rest of the concert).

Singing at our regular church services at St. Margaret’s was brought to a halt as well. However, I did get to do a little singing here and there. We recorded several virtual choir-style hymns, and starting in the fall, I was occasionally present to cantor/sing at our livestreamed services. For Christmas eve we even had a socially-distanced quartet with the choir director, myself, my wife, and another soprano. It sure was nice to sing live again, even through masks.

I also continued learning to play the lute, and found that virtual lessons for that aren’t so bad (especially considering my teacher is a good 30+ minutes away by car—don’t miss that commute!) I’m definitely improving, and am looking forward to picking up my own commissioned instrument in January 2021.

I finished my 4th year as a board member of the Greater Seattle Choral Consortium, and my 2nd year as treasurer. In 2019 I created an integrated payment tracking system, and it really made the management of our financials a lot more streamlined.

But yes, the rest of it was pretty grim.

We of course had to put the Summer Fling Singers plans on hold because nobody was singing in the summer. Which is too bad, because I had hoped to do a Josquin-centered program, and had secured a hard-to-get director for it. Oh well, the program will happen another year, and hopefully the director’s schedule will align with us again.

As of March, weekly compline singing with the Vicars of Christ Church Compline Choir was halted as well, with no idea when or if that will be resuming.

I opted to step down from the board of the Seattle Bach Choir at the end of the year, as I found it hard to engage when I wasn’t actively singing.

Finally, in terms of composition and engraving work, I pretty much did nothing. While being trapped at home might seem conducive to this sort of thing, I actually ended up spending more of my time on programming and web development work instead.


Thankfully, COVID-19 didn’t hurt my ability to work too significantly. At Microsoft we were already pretty well set up for remote work, so when the word came down that we would all be remote for the forseeable future, it wasn’t too traumatic an experience. The main challenge for me is keeping focus while other things are happening in the house! But we’ve all come a long way in learning to manage work and school together.

Outside of work, for some reason in March I decided to dip my toe back into the MAME project again. I had noticed over time that the netlist circuit simulation subsystem was getting more and more robust, and decided that I should check it out to see if I could get analog sound simulation in some of my favorite games. To me, this has long been the “final frontier” in perfecting emulation of older games.

I started by working on one of my holy grails: Star Castle. It took about a month of learning and improving the system, but overall I was surprised at how quickly I actually made it work.

Emboldened by that first success, I decided to try and tackle the complete set of Cinematronics vector games: Space Wars, Barrier, Speed Freak, Tail Gunner, Starhawk, Sundance, Warrior, Armor Attack, Rip Off, Boxing Bugs, and Solar Quest. All of these games benefit hugely from proper sound emulation. Some of these games had never had any sound before, and in at least one case, I discovered a PROM that had never been dumped.

I moved on next to improve the Sega G-80 games (Eliminator, Space Fury, Zektor, Astro Blaster, 005, etc). While I made good progress on some of them, others were proving to be too difficult to make work with decent performance. I haven’t given up, but the rest is on hold for a bit. I eventually hope to tackle Turbo and Zaxxon, two more holy grails.

In the meantime, I worked on improving MAME’s overall sound emulation, and also improved the SP-250 speech chip emulation and the Sega Universal Sound Board emulation.

I spent a couple of months toward the end of the year writing my own Yamaha sound cores (for the YM2203, YM2612, YM2151, and others). This is something I’ve always wanted to do, since the code in MAME is largely unintelligible, full of hacks and magic numbers, and also GPL. At this point, they are working pretty well, but I admit I’m a bit scared to work through all the subtle bugs that I’m sure it will introduce. Something for 2021, perhaps.

Outside of the MAME work, I continued to improve my internal libraries and utilities. I reworked my private file format for sequenced music data so that I can support some key new features in the future. And I finally set up private code repositories for my various code bits so that I have history and additional backups.

Web Development

This year I decided it was finally time to take rehearsaltracks.net forward, so I spent a bunch of time toward the end of the year getting it ready for real external clients. A lot of the changes are “under the hood,” but the upshot is that it can now pretty easily handle increased traffic, and has proper administrator controls for managing song lists and the music library.

I decided to try creating a Patreon page to support it, which also provides a formal means for people to request additions to the site. This has always been a challenge because I want people to use it, but it can be a lot of work to add new pieces and offer user support, so hopefully this can help keep that manageable.

I created a YouTube channel to help advertise the site a bit as well. On the channel, I took all of my freely-available Messiah tracks and made them into videos. I put a link to the tenor Messiah playlist here as an example, but playlists exist for all voice types (though obviously the interactive experience on the site itself is the best).

The other big web development project I did this year was to create a new “Passport” system for the Greater Seattle Choral Consortium site. The idea behind this is that we allow people to sign up, and then check into choral concerts that they attend, which earns a shot at some GSCC-sponsored prizes.

There are a bunch of other nice benefits of this system, but sadly we had to delay the roll-out because of COVID, so the project is currently waiting until physical concert-going is a thing again. Sigh.

Graphic Design

Most of my usual graphic design work fell by the wayside without any concerts to create programs or flyers for.

However, as part of my rehearsaltracks.net push, I decided I finally needed a logo image and icon, so I created some new art for that. It’s a pretty simple style, suitable for icons, that were inspired by some other singing-related icons I had seen around.

(Funny side story: Since the image is an icon, I originally just left the skin color plain white so it would contrast well. But when I assembled the choir it looked way too much like a choir of ghosts, so it became important to add some diversity to the image. In the end, I like the current state much better!)

Other Stuff

I continued tracking calories and daily workouts this year, and managed to keep my weight in relative control, though it has started to creep back up toward the end of this year. My goal has been to stay within my current 10-pound band, so hopefully after the holidays I can start drifting back down toward the lower-middle of that band.

We made a trip out to see the in-laws in February, just before all the COVID lockdowns started happening. Also fortunate was the trampoline park within a half mile of the hotel we were staying in, so the kid could get his energy out daily. Sadly, that location closed down just a couple of weeks after we left!

Another thing we managed to squeak in just before the COVID lockdowns was replacing all the flooring and carpeting in the house. We went from ~60/40 floor/carpet to ~25/75 and it was barely finished by the end of February. It would have really sucked if that project were left unfinished due to the pandemic.

In October I painted the wife’s office while she was out of town visiting her folks (for health reasons). I am far from handy, so this was a pretty major accomplishment.

I’ve also been recently going back and watching several sci-fi/fantasy TV series that I previously missed and wanted to see. This year, I managed to watch or complete:

I also decided to dive in and start on Stargate: SG-1, which ran for 10 seasons and over 200 episodes. So far I’m mostly through season 3 and enjoying it immensely!

And I kept on reading. It’s been a nice escape to skip out for an hour or so most weekdays and just enjoy a good sci-fi or fantasy story. Here’s this year’s GoodReads page. And my own summary:


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