#TheBestOf… Dining out in Troy, NY

This is part of a series of articles in which I contribute to uniting our world by showing off a part of my own. A while back, I proposed writing articles to bring people together by showing us something special about your world that you want to share.

Today’s topic: my favorite dining options in my adopted hometown.

I generally like good food, so I suppose I can refer to myself as a foodie. Whenever I travel, I make it a point to sample fare that’s indigenous to or representative of that area. Some of my friends seem to support my tastes; one of them often says that “Ray knows where the good eats are,” and even my wife has said that I rarely steer her wrong when it comes to good places to eat.

I thought about writing about my favorite dining spots in the Capital Region, but with the Albany-Schenectady-Troy-Saratoga-Schoharie metropolitan area covering such a wide expanse (2018 population: 1,171,593, according to Wikipedia), that could make for a long article. So for this initial #TheBestOf article, I decided to focus on my adopted hometown of Troy, NY.

My wife and I moved to Troy in 2004, and as of today (in 2020), we’re still here. I enjoy living here, and I’ve pretty much adopted it as my hometown. Indeed, in the past several years, Troy has become a hip town, even described as being “the new Brooklyn.” (Don’t just take my word for it; articles have been written about it.)

There are many good restaurants in Troy. I used to tell people that “when it comes to foodie towns, Troy is the best-kept secret.” I don’t say that anymore, because it’s no longer a secret. Troy has established a reputation as being a good city to find a place to eat.

These are some of my favorites. Note that I only list places with which I’m familiar; there are a number of places that I either haven’t been to in a while (such as Ilium Cafe — note: when I looked it up, it appears that it is now permanently closed), or have good reputations, but I’ve never been (such as The Ruck). So if I don’t list it, it doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t like it; it could mean that I’ve never been there or I’m not that familiar with it.

I also left off places that are no longer open; for example, I loved The Shop, and they definitely would’ve made my list if they were still in business.

These are in no particular order; I just listed them as I thought of them.

  • Brown’s Brewing — I frequented this place when I was a grad student at RPI, and it is still one of my favorite places. They brew their own craft beer; my personal favorites are the oatmeal stout and the whiskey porter. They are one of the better brew-pubs for food; I recommend the bourbon-glazed chicken wings. (They used to have a sandwich called the Smokestack Wrap — unfortunately, it’s not on the menu anymore — that was, essentially, a Thanksgiving dinner in a wrap, very popular with RPI students.) And when the weather is nice, you can dine on their back deck, overlooking the Hudson River.
Here’s a photo of me enjoying a beer while sitting outside on the deck at Brown’s!
  • Manory’s — Manory’s is Troy’s oldest restaurant (est. 1913) that is still in operation, and it’s my go-to place when I want to treat myself to breakfast. I especially enjoy the Trojan omelette, filled with sausage, potatoes, and jalapenos, and covered in gravy.
  • K-Plate and Sunhee’s Kitchen — As a Korean-American, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Korean restaurants. There are not very many of them around the Capital District, but two of them are in Troy, and they’re both pretty good. K-Plate has a small menu, but you can’t go wrong with anything on it; my personal favorite is the short-plate. And of course, you can’t go to either one and not order kimchi. Sunhee’s makes their own; in fact, many of their ingredients comes from their own farm in Cambridge, NY.
  • Troy Kitchen — Troy Kitchen is actually five restaurants in one; it’s actually five food vendors within a central food court. I’ve described it as being “food fast, not fast food.” K-Plate got its start here before they moved into their own place. I don’t remember all the vendors there (for all I know, they may have changed), but the last time I was in there, they had halal, Hawaiian poke, and sweets. Troy Kitchen also features live entertainment, although I’m not sure whether or not they’ve been doing that during the pandemic.
  • Dinosaur BBQ — Most people around the Northeast know about Dinosaur BBQ; their flagship restaurant is in Syracuse, and they have several other locations, including their Capital District location, which happens to be in Troy. Like Brown’s, Dinosaur is right on the bank of the Hudson River, and in the summertime, you can sit outside on the deck, with its full bar, overlooking the river. My wife and I cannot go there without ordering the fried green tomatoes, and the mac ‘n cheese is quite tasty. I regularly make the Mac ‘n Cheese Shepherd’s Pie at home (it’s not on their menu, but it is in their cookbook); it’s my go-to dish whenever I attend potluck events.
  • LaBella’s — LaBella’s is actually located in Wynantskill, not Troy (although the two towns adjoin each other, so I suppose it counts). My wife and I discovered this place when we decided we wanted to go someplace different, and we’ve been enjoying this place ever since. It’s a family restaurant with really good Italian food.
  • Verdile’s — Speaking of really good Italian food, check out Verdile’s if you’re interested in a place that’s more high-end. They’re currently offering only takeout due to the pandemic, but note that the last time I ate in their dining room, they had a dress code and rules about seating your party (they won’t seat you until your entire party is present), so that’s something to be mindful about.
  • Shalimar — Whenever my wife and I are in the mood for Indian food, Shalimar is our go-to place. We regularly get the chicken tikka masala and the palaak paneer.
  • Pancho’s — (Note: music plays when you visit their website — you’ve been warned!) While it’s not necessarily the best Mexican food I’ve ever had, Pancho’s is very good food. I usually go with the chimichangas if I’m getting takeout, and fajitas if I’m eating in.
  • Ali Baba — If you like Mediterranean food, you’ll love this place. Ali Baba is a Turkish restaurant. I regularly order the curry ishkender. And I can eat their yogurt sauce all day; it goes well with their lavash bread. I usually get a large order of yogurt sauce so that I’ll have leftovers (I’ll eat it with chips or pita bread). I’ve even tried making my own yogurt sauce, but it just doesn’t come out as well as theirs does!
  • Lee Lin — This is a Chinese take-out place that has really good food. Greg Moore (who lives nearby) and I have gotten into arguments about what’s better: the General Tso’s or the super-spicy (as he orders it) sesame chicken. Lately, though, I’ve been ordering their coconut chicken.
  • Recovery Sports Grill — Recovery Sports Grill has several locations around the Capital District (and they’ve opened in a few other states as well). The Troy location is inside of the Hilton Garden Inn. I’ll usually come here if I decide that I want to catch a game on TV someplace other than my own living room. I’ll usually get the chicken wings (what flavor I get usually depends on my mood), and they have a nice selection of craft beers.
  • Tipsy Moose — Good hearty meals (it isn’t unusual for me to order something for dinner and having the rest of it for lunch the next day) with a decent beer selection. For menu items, I like the blackened filet tips and the brisket mac n’ cheese.
  • Junior’s — This is another sports bar with good food. I recommend their burgers and their sandwiches. Their wings are also quite good as well.
  • DeFazio’s — My wife and I are big fans of wood-fired pizza. DeFazio’s is the place in Troy to go. You can’t really go wrong with any of their pizzas, but the last few times I’ve ordered from there, I’ve gotten the pesto pizza.
  • Friendly’s — I try not to talk about chain restaurants, but I’m making an exception for this one. Friendly’s is based just outside Springfield, MA, and has locations all around the Northeast, but a few years back, this beloved ice cream chain fell on hard financial times and closed many of their locations. The Troy location is one of their few restaurants around the Capital District that is still open.
  • Iron Works BBQ — This is one of the newest places on the Troy food scene; as of this article, they’ve only been open a few months, and their brick-and-mortar location was still under construction/renovation. For the past couple of months, they’ve been operating out of a trailer in the parking lot where they’re building their restaurant. I haven’t experienced all of their menu yet, but I’ve had the tri-tips and the brisket, and they’re both very good!
  • Plum Blossom — Plum Blossom has great Chinese food, but while their food is very good, it’s not their food that I rave about; it’s their architecture. This is a place where you must eat in (while respecting social distancing protocols, of course) and admire the ornate decor. I actually remember this place while they were working on the interior, and the transformation from work-in-progress to finished product is nothing short of amazing!
  • Okinawa — If you like sushi, this is the place to go. I usually get a pork katsu Bento box and a Wynantskill roll (or maybe another type of sushi, depending on my mood).

    Note: if you’re interested in a teppanyaki restaurant, there are a few around the Capital District, but none of them are in Troy, so you’ll have to venture outside of Troy to find one.
  • Famous Lunch — This is the place to go for hot dogs with meat sauce. They’re small hot dogs — you’d want to get at least four (if not more) on a plate. I get my dogs with the works — mustard, onions, and meat sauce. Note: Famous Lunch is cash-only, so make sure you stop at an ATM before coming here.
  • Testo’s — While Testo’s has a sit-down restaurant in Lansingburgh (North Troy), I’ve never been there; I’ve only ordered from their take-out location near Wynantskill. Lately, I’ve been addicted to their Friday night dinner special: penne ala vodka with chicken and mushrooms.
  • Red and Blue — This is Asian fusion. They do have typical Chinese fare (which I don’t get, only because you can get that anywhere), but they also have a number of other items that you won’t find at other “Americanized” Asian restaurants. I’ve been ordering their rock shrimp quite a bit lately.
  • The Hill at Muza — My wife and I discovered this place by accident. We decided to go out one night, and actually intended to go to Muza (which is run by the same family, but is actually a different restaurant). Instead, we ended up at The Hill at Muza (which is actually located above Muza). We enjoyed the patio atmosphere and the good food! Their menu is not extensive, but what they do have is quite good!

    (As of this article, I’ve still never eaten at Muza, so I can’t comment on it.)

Social media: should I stay or should I go?

I don’t think I have to mention just how prevalent social media is these days. If you’re reading this ‘blog, most likely you’re engaged in some form of social media. Terms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are a regular part of daily life these days. It’s gotten to the point that these terms have become verbs (e.g. “Facebook it”). Even I’ll tell people that “the best way to get a hold of me is on Facebook,” and I’m the first to admit that I generally can’t go a day without checking my Facebook app on my phone.

In these times of divisiveness, security concerns, and ‘bots, I’ve also seen a number of friends say, “I’m closing my Facebook account” or “I’m shutting down my LinkedIn.” I’m often saddened by these, because one of my main reasons for maintaining Facebook (which I’ll expand upon in a moment) is to easily keep in touch with friends and family. Any time a friend says that (s)he is shutting down his or her account is a contact that I lose. It doesn’t mean that (s)he is no longer a friend; it just means that it’s a little more difficult to keep in touch with that person.

However, a lot of people are (understandably) turned off by the negativity and political discourse that are pervasive on social media. People have written articles about how much better their lives have become after shutting down social media. I completely understand how people are disillusioned by what they see on social media.

So I get it when people ask this question about social media: should I stay or should I go?

I’ll give the standard DBA answer*: “it depends.”

(*For those who don’t understand the reference, the widespread joke among data professionals and IT people is “it depends” is the standard response when they are asked just about any question.)

Not satisfied with that answer? Let me expand on it.

I don’t think I need to get into why people want to leave social media; there are too many obvious examples of that out in the wild (and maybe a few not-so-obvious examples, such as data security and privacy, and the “need” — a very stupid reason, in my opinion — to maintain social status). People are getting stressed out over these issues. I certainly understand why people want to leave social media, and I won’t decry them for it. So instead, I’ll talk about some reasons why you might want to stay.

Like just about anything else, social media is a tool, a piece of software developed for a purpose. Mostly, that purpose is communication. People have been talking about the shrinking world for years. Social media contributes to the world shrinking even further.

I mentioned earlier that I maintain my Facebook account so that I can easily stay in touch with friends and family. It is the primary reason why I first joined Facebook, and it is why, even despite all the issues that come with it, I maintain my account today. Humans are social animals, and more often than not, humans need to maintain social contact with one another, especially so these days with the COVID-19 pandemic. I enjoy talking to people and keeping in touch with friends, so for me, personally, these reasons outweigh all the problems and tribulations that come with Facebook, and maintaining my account is worthwhile.

Some people seem to think they have to maintain some level of status on social media, like trying to compete in some type of popularity contest. Personally, I think this is one of the biggest bullshit reasons to be on social media. I could not care less about how popular I am. I’ll post about personal news that’s happening in my life, something on my mind that I want to get off my chest, ask a question about an issue I can’t seem to solve on my own, or occasionally express an opinion (although I do try to avoid anything having to do with politics; personally, I despise politics passionately). If you’re on social media to maintain social standing, I think you’re on it for the wrong reason. (Trying to sell yourself is a different matter; I’ll get into that shortly.) If I don’t care about my social standing (and I don’t), then I don’t have to concern myself with maintaining it on social media.

That is why I want to be on social media. However, I also think there are reasons why you should be on social media.

Love it or hate it, social media is prevalent in our society today, and I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon. Because so many people use social media, it’s probably the single largest and most effective communication device in the world.

I think you have to be on social media if you’re at all serious about any of the following: marketing, networking, sales, job hunting, problem solving, news and information (not the fake kind, but I digress), running a business, customer service, recruiting, and maybe a lot of other things I haven’t thought about — essentially, anything that involves communication on a large scale. Most business sites that sell products or services include links to “like us on (insert your favorite social medium here).” Many job applications include a form field for your LinkedIn profile, a sign that they take it seriously. Organizations such as PASS make extensive use of media such as Twitter to communicate with their members. I’ve also written before about online networking; I won’t rehash that here.

One of the big complaints I often hear is that people are sick of being bombarded with ads and politics. Facebook (and other media, I’m sure) does include tools to suppress things you don’t want to see; for example, there are tools to “hide” or “block all from (name of account).” There are a number of such tools available. I won’t get into them right now, but I will say that using them has made my online experience much more palatable.

So should you maintain a social media presence or not? These are the reasons why, despite their issues, I continue to do so. Social media are communication tools. How — and whether you decide — to use them is completely up to you.

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 appeal of working for a virtual company

This morning, I had an online interview for a virtual company. For personal and privacy reasons, I won’t talk about the company or the interview (other than it went well), but one takeaway from it was that it seems very much like an organization where I’d like to work.

If I do land this job, it would not be my first experience working for a virtual company. I previously worked for a place that had no brick-and-mortar office location. I left that job after a few months for reasons that were unrelated to the virtual office structure.

I will say that during my time at that company, I saw — and still see — the appeal of working for a virtual company, something that is much more relevant now, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For starters, there’s the commute. When I was working my previous job (and before the pandemic), I’d get in my car and drive fifteen minutes to get to my office. In a work-at-home situation, my commute is the distance from my bedroom downstairs to my home office — which generally takes all of thirty seconds. Additionally, that’s less wear and tear on my car, and less gas that I need to use. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve had to put gas in my car during the pandemic.

The job for which I interviewed is a full-time position that requires me to put in forty hours a week — but they are a flexible forty hours. This position would give me the ability to adapt my schedule around my activities.

While I like the camaraderie that comes with working with people in a brick-and-mortar office, one of the great appeals for this position is that I would be working with a globally distributed and geopolitically-diverse team located in several different countries. As someone who enjoys watching shows on The Travel Channel and Food Network, the idea of working with such a diverse group of people is especially appealing. I enjoy experiencing different cultures, and the prospect of working with different people from around the world appeals to me. While I will likely not meet these people in-person, and while they are not a substitute for physical presence, current technologies such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams do make up for some of the lack of contact.

And although I never had the opportunity to physically shake hands with my coworkers from my previous virtual position, I did make a number of friends with a number of them. Several of them are still connected with me on LinkedIn and Facebook to this day.

Additionally, while I would be working for a new company, I would already go into it being familiar and comfortable with my surroundings. There is no concern about getting comfortable with a new desk, learning the layout of your office, knowing where the bathroom is located, or trying to figure out where to go for lunch.

To be sure, remote work is not perfect, and there are several things I do miss about working in an office — for example, the ability to go out to lunch with my coworkers or go out for a drink with them after work. However, despite the fact that this company has no brick-and-mortar location, I’m finding that there are many aspects of this potential employer that appeal to me. I’m genuinely excited about the prospect of working for this company.

During this period of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ability to work from home is essential. Some people argue that virtual companies are the wave of the future. Regardless of how you feel about the work-at-home environment, there is something to be said about working for a virtual company.

Upcoming speaking engagements (as of 9/10/2020) #SQLSaturday #PASSSummit

This morning, I got the official word that I will be speaking at SQL Saturday #1003, Memphis on October 3. Since it’s being held virtually, I don’t have to make travel plans to Tennessee. (That’s too bad, since I understand that Memphis is a cool city to visit, with its music history and barbecue!)

I am now confirmed to speak at two (virtual) events, so I figured that this was a good a time as any to update my speaking schedule.

I continue to apply to speaking events that I am able to attend (since many are held virtually right now, it makes it easier). As my speaking schedule is updated, I’ll keep you posted.

September CASSUG Monthly Meeting @CASSUG_Albany #SQLUserGroup #SQLFamily

Our September meeting will again be online. NOTE: you MUST RSVP to this Meetup (https://www.meetup.com/Capital-Area-SQL-Server-User-Group/events/272490472/) to view the Zoom URL!

Our September guest speaker is Mindy Curnutt!

Topic: An Introduction to using the Spatial Data features within SQL Server

Over a decade ago Microsoft added the capability to store and work with geometry and geography data types. (Wait…what’s this you say?!?) Well, yes…it’s been there for quite some time now. You can actually store spatial data in SQL tables (in the form of points, lines and polygons). There are also many powerful, built-in functions that allow the manipulation and calculation of results around this data. This is a powerful, but sadly underused feature of the product given that IoT tends to be so focused around the location of things.

Come to this session to learn about:

  • The two elusive data types (geography and geometry)
  • How to load spatial data
  • Where you can get lots and lots of free spatial data to supplement your existing systems
  • See an example of real-world Spatial data in use (aggregating truck positions for tax calcs)
  • Write a SQL query from a bitmap picture (pure amusement)

You will learn:

About two special data types, geography and geometry

  • Understand the different spatial routines and functions, what they do, what type of result they return, and how you would use each
  • Watch a real world business case where using spatial data made things so much easier

About Mindy:

Mindy Curnutt is 7X Microsoft Data Platform MVP, Friend of Redgate and Idera ACE Alumni. She has been actively involved in the SQL Server Community for nearly two decades, presenting at various User Group Meetings, SQLPASS Summits, as well as Conferences & SQLSaturdays across North America. For two years, she was a Team Lead for the SQLPASS Summit Abstract Review Process and for years served as one of the 3 SQLPASS Summit Program Managers. She was a SME for SQL 2012 & 2014 MS SQL Server Cert Exams and helped to author the MS Press Book “SQL Server 2014 – Step by Step”, co-authored “Voices from the Data Platform” and “SQL Server 2017 Administration Inside-Out” and in 2018 was featured in the book “Data Professionals at Work”. In 2018 Mindy was the VP of Strategic Partnerships for the Non-Profit Girls+Data (www.girlsanddata.org) which strived to bring awareness about careers in Data Science and Analytics to young women in Junior High School (ages 10-14). She was the President of the N Texas SQL Server User’s Group from 2017-2020. In 2020 she was elected to serve on the Board of Directors for PASS.

Mindy serves as a mentor to others, (particularly the Transportation & Logistics industry), helping to educate and promote scalable and sustainable SQL Server architecture and design. She is passionate about Data Security, Accessibility, Usability, Scalability, and Performance. Mindy Curnutt is an Independent Consultant. You can follow Mindy at her blog, curnuttdatasolutions.com and on Twitter where she’s known as @sqlgirl

Our online meeting schedule is as follows:
6:00: General chat, discussion, and announcements
6:30: Presentation

We usually wrap up between 7:30 PM and 8:00 PM.

Please RSVP to this Meetup, then use the online event URL to join (note: you MUST RSVP for the URL to be visible). We will send out a meeting password as we get closer to the event.

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 #SQLSaturday All-Star Game #PASSSummit

After my surprise selection for PASS Summit, I went poking around the speakers list. I’m pleased to see that a number of good #SQLFamily friends that I’ve made throughout my years as a SQL Saturday speaker were selected. I’m also awed that my name and photo are listed along with a number of SQL rock stars in the industry.

It prompted me to tweet this.

As people who know me are aware, I am a huge baseball fan. I’ve often heard people refer to PASS Summit as being “the Super Bowl of SQL Saturdays.” Looking at the speakers list (and being the baseball fan that I am), I equate it more as being the “SQL Saturday All-Star Game.”

People such as Bob Ward, Steve Jones, and Grant Fritchey (yes, you, Steve and Grant!) represent the big hitters. They are Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., and Mickey Mantle, people who are perennial SQL stars and are pretty much shoo-ins for being selected to Summit year after year. (And I’m sure that if my friends Steve and Grant are reading this, they might give me an “aw shucks!” for equating them with Junior and The Mick!) On the other hand, people like me are more like Willie Randolph or Kent Hrbek — players who had solid careers and made an occasional All-Star game now and then, but weren’t necessarily household names outside of their home teams’ markets.

When I gave my first SQL Saturday presentation, never did I think that it would end up getting me to PASS Summit!

I’ve seen interviews with ballplayers who talked about how humbled they were about being selected to play in the All-Star Game. Having been selected to speak at PASS Summit for the second time, I understand how they feel. I am awed and humbled with being associated alongside some of the great players in the business.

Putting the “professional” in professional networking

I recently saw a couple of posts that left me shaking my head.

The first was a tweet from a couple of weeks ago. This came from a #SQLFamily person whom I follow on Twitter. I don’t really know her well, but we do have several mutual friends, and I know her by reputation. She posted the following tweet.

And if that wasn’t enough, earlier today, I stumbled across the following post on LinkedIn.

When it comes to professional networking, do people really need to be told not to do this? Apparently, the answer is “yes.”

I specifically mention this in my networking presentation. I dedicate a few slides to talk about how to break the ice — probably the most difficult thing to do when trying to initiate a conversation, especially if you consider yourself introverted. I list dos and don’ts when trying to break the ice, and this qualifies as a don’t.

Professional networking is exactly that — it’s an opportunity to connect with people professionally. It is not an opportunity to pick up members of the opposite sex (or the same sex, if that’s what you’re into). This kind of behavior is unprofessional and immature, and it does not belong in a professional environment — ever.

There are certain manners that need to be upheld when you’re trying to connect with people professionally. Things like this will do more to repulse people from you than connect with them. Save the cheesy pickup lines for the dive bars. Better yet, don’t save them at all.