Check in on your black friends #BlackLivesMatter

Just this once, I’m addressing a controversial topic. I usually don’t write about these things, but I am deeply troubled by the state of my country and the world, and if, by my words, I have the power to change it, then I’m going to do it. I’m not sure what kind of effect, if any, one ‘blog article will have, but I would regret it even more if I could’ve said or done something to make things better, and I sat by the sideline and did nothing.

In light of everything that has been going on (I won’t get into that here — but by reading this article, you should get a sense of where I stand), I wanted to check in on some of my friends. So this morning, I posted this — a simple question — to my Facebook and Twitter.

To my black friends:

I wanted to check in. How’re you doing?

I was asking this question seriously. I have a number of black and African-American friends. I was concerned about their welfare, and wanted to make sure they were okay. I wanted to know how they were holding up. And especially given the current political climate, I wanted to let them know that, if they needed anything — even if all it was was an ear to bend — I was here for them.

My post was a simple and small gesture, but I wanted to send a clear message to my friends: I’m here for you, and I’m listening. I have your back.

Granted, I’m not a white person (for those of you who haven’t paid attention, I’m Asian-American). Nevertheless, I grew up in a rural and mostly white neighborhood with mostly white friends; subsequently, I’ve adopted white attitudes and mindsets. Even when I was a kid growing up, my parents had to explain this to me; I remember, as a child, being puzzled about why my own skin tone wasn’t as pale as my friends.

I did have a couple of black friends when I was young, and they are still among my best friends to this day. I never thought of them as my black friends (and I still don’t). I thought of them as my friends. Period. End of story. There was never any “black” preceding the word “friends,” and there never will be. Okay, so they looked different. So did I. Big whoop. I never had any problem interacting with them, playing sports or music with them, going to school with them, and so on.

That said, our present society is forcing me to see them as black. And I’m worried about them. The last thing I want is to read their names in the newspapers, hearing that they died for the sole reason of the color of their skin.

I want my black friends to know I’m worried about them. So I asked a simple question: “how’re you doing?”

I think, ultimately, that is how we achieve racial peace. If you’re white, and you have black friends, drop them a line. Ask them: “how’s everything going? Are you okay?” And if something’s on their minds, lend them your ear, just as you would with any other friend. Listen to them. That is what the demonstrations, protests, and riots are about: they have something to say, but nobody is listening.

Let them know you’re listening. If you hear their concerns and are able to do something about it, great. But above all, listen. Let them know that you hear them. And let them know that you have their back.

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 14: Learning a new language #COVID19

When the COVID-19 crisis is over, if someone asks you, “what did you do to improve yourself during the crisis,” how will you answer? For me, personally, I’ll be able to say that I started my own business, I started running more, and I did an online presentation. (Hopefully, I’ll also be able to include that I got a new job, I upgraded my laptop, and I got back into music recording again!)

One thing that has been on my bucket list for some time is to learn a new language. I took three years of German in high school (and a semester in college), but I haven’t practiced it in quite some time, and I’ve very rarely had chances to use it. I haven’t had many practical uses for it. On the other hand, when my wife and I went on vacation up to Québec a few years ago, I found myself wishing that I could speak French. (Besides, France is on my bucket list of places I’d like to visit.) Likewise, I like to frequent Koreatown whenever I’m in New York City, and as a Korean-American, I figured that it would make sense for me to learn my own ancestral language. My grandmother tried to teach me while I was growing up, but she spoke almost no English, and it was hard for me to pick up. As I often tell people, my knowledge of Korean comes from what little my grandmother tried to teach me, and from M*A*S*H reruns.

I’ve heard good things about Babbel, so I decided to look there. Unfortunately, Korean is not one of the language options that they offer. However, they do offer a number of others. I figure maybe French and Spanish might be a couple of good ones, and I can brush up on my German. I had also heard about language programs costing hundreds of dollars — another reason why I’d never pursued this earlier — but when I looked at Babbel, I saw that they had monthly subscriptions for reasonable prices.

So, I’m looking into it. Maybe by the time the COVID-19 crisis is over, when someone asks me what I did, I’ll be able to say that “J’ai appris une nouvelle langue.

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 12: The return of the milkman #COVID19

This morning, we got our first delivery from a local dairy farm!

If you were alive in the 1950s, you probably remember milkmen. They went around to houses, picking up the empty milk bottles that you left for them, and they’d leave you with fresh bottles of milk. I’m not old enough to remember milkmen (I had to look it up on Wikipedia to get info for this article), but I do remember hearing about how prominent they once were in our society and culture. From what I understand, with the improvement in refrigeration technology and the increasing ability to buy milk and other dairy products in grocery stores, milkmen largely became obsolete.

That’s changed with COVID-19. Now that people are quarantined within their own homes, people need to take delivery of goods and services. I don’t have any statistics, but I’m willing to bet that the number of deliveries of various items has gone up. Before the crisis, I never before ordered groceries to get them delivered; now, I’ve already done so several times in the past couple of months. Last month, I got an email from a local creamery announcing that they would start delivering products to local city residents. We decided to take advantage of that service, and we received our first delivery this morning (which is the photo of the milk crate you see above).

It seems like, out of necessity, a lot of these old-fashioned delivery services, like milkmen, are coming back into existence. I’m wondering how long these services will continue after the COVID-19 crisis is over. As of right now, I intend to be a regular customer of this creamery delivery, but I’m also wondering how long I’ll maintain it after we’re allowed to leave our homes again. Besides, there’s something to be said about the convenience of running down to the corner store.

There’s no doubt that COVID-19 will change our lives in how we eat, work, and shop, once things have returned to normal — whatever “normal” is by then. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about supporting local business. This is another way of doing it. I hope we can maintain it, even after this crisis has passed.

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 6: Keeping spirits high #COVID19

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When I first started posting to Facebook — probably about twelve years ago, give or take — I remember getting up on a gray, blustery Monday morning, and I innocuously posted a song lyric: “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.” A week later, I posted another: “Just another manic Monday.” Mainly, they reflected what was on my mind. I posted them sporadically, until some friends of mine told me, “we enjoy when you post those — keep them going!” That started my tradition every morning of posting a “Lyric Of The Day” (which I now abbreviate as “LOTD”). I post them each morning before work (and I generally only post them on a work day). Nine times out of ten, what I post is simply something stuck in my head, but every once in a while, I’ll post something related to a current event or something that’s on my mind.

Every once in a while, I’ll have a morning where nothing comes to me, in which case I’ll post something inane like the lyrics to “Happy Birthday” or “The Wheels On The Bus.” Sometimes, what’s in my head doesn’t have lyrics, in which case I’ll post a YouTube link to the song that’s in my head.

I only do this on my Facebook account; I don’t do this on my ‘blog or on Twitter. If you want to see my daily LOTD, you’ll just have to Facebook-friend me! 🙂

I have a couple of other friends who post a lot of puns. I refer to one of them as “the king of puns,” and the other has taken to posting, during the COVID-19 crisis, what he’s been referring to as the “dad joke of the day.”

Other friends post more serious, inspirational quotes or memes. Some are religious, while others quote famous people throughout history.

Whether it’s music, humor, inspirational quotes, or something else, they all serve the same purpose: raising morale and lifting spirits. These days, with all of us shut in at home, we can use as many morale boosts as we can get, however we get it. I am not blind nor ignorant to the things going on around me; rather, I’m doing what I can to make the world a better place, even if I have to do it virtually.

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 5: The fate of small business owners #COVID19

Chinese Takeout - Taste Buds Kitchen

The other day, for lunch, I got a takeout order from a small place around the corner from my house. I struck up a conversation with the people working behind the counter (while maintaining the requisite six-feet social distancing, of course). I asked them how they were holding up through this crisis, and they said okay, although things were rough. The manager told me he knew of restaurants that said they would likely not reopen after the crisis was over.

This was on top of a 60 Minutes article I saw last Sunday evening about the fate of small businesses throughout this crisis. I thought about that article as I spoke to the restaurant manager.

My father was a small business owner, as is my brother, so I can empathize with these small business owners and workers who are struggling.

I am one of the lucky ones. Through this crisis, I still have a job, I am still working, and I am still receiving a paycheck. Like everyone else, my normal routine has been disrupted — no gym, band rehearsal, or any other extracurricular activities, so I’ve been largely stuck in my house. So far, however, I’ve been lucky enough to withstand the financial storm gripping the world. That said, I also feel for those who are not so lucky.

In the past, I’ve had friends of mine tell me that, rather than spending $18 for a haircut, they bought a hair clipper and just use that on their heads. For that matter, I’ve even heard rumors of Flowbees making a comeback. Personally, I’m willing to spend the $18 each time to get my hair cut. The people who work in barbershops and hair salons need to eat, too.

When this ordeal is over, or even before it’s over, go out and solicit small businesses as much as possible. When it comes to our economy, they are unsung heroes.

How I’m dealing with #Coronavirus #COVID-19

Image result for doctor wearing mask

As is the rest of the world at this moment, the current COVID-19 crisis is affecting my world. It is, indeed, an unnerving event; I’ve seen Outbreak and read The Stand, and never did I think I’d be living in an environment akin to the 1918 flu outbreak or the Black Plague.

I’ve already had events on my calendar canceled, postponed, or rescheduled (including, among other things, SQL Saturday Chicago and Albany Code Camp), and as a sports fan, I’m disappointed that the NCAA Tournament is canceled and the start of the MLB season is being delayed, among other events all over the sports world. It’ll be strange turning on the TV and not being able to tune into a sporting event. But I understand why these things are happening. Events can always be rescheduled, and there are some things that are bigger than sports.

Nevertheless, all we can do is adapt and persevere. In case anyone is wondering (or cares) about how I’m dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, here you go…

Things I’ve been doing anyway, even before COVID-19

Not panicking

Should we be concerned about COVID-19? Of course we should. The WHO has declared a pandemic, which is not something that should be taken lightly. That said, for me, life goes on. I’m still getting up and going to work. At the moment, I haven’t gone out of my way to change my routine, unless I have to.

I’m also not one of those people who’ve rushed out to stock up on toilet paper or hand sanitizer. I still have that big package of TP that I bought from BJ’s a few months ago, and I still have a number of rolls left.

I am not walking around wearing a mask. According to CDC guidelines, only those who are sick should wear a mask. To the best of my knowledge, I am not yet sick. Hopefully, I’ll stay that way.

Bottom line, I’m following common sense guidelines, and doing what people who know more than I do (such as the CDC) suggest I do.

I live in a region where we get snow during the winter. I refuse to panic any time we get reports of heavy snow. And I refuse to panic now.

This isn’t to say I’m doing nothing. Keep reading…

Washing my hands

C’mon, people, this is common sense. Wash your hands after using the toilet or when they get dirty. This is something I do, anyway. Can I tell you how disgusted I get whenever I see people walk out of the bathroom without washing their hands? Seriously?

Stay hydrated

I don’t know how helpful this is (if a medical professional who know more than I do is reading this and tells me to refrain from passing this information along, I will gladly do so), but I regularly drink lots of water during the workday, anyway. I keep a Nalgene bottle at my desk, and I fill it with ice and water at least two or three times a day, if not more. My thinking is that staying hydrated is a good thing to do anyway, and it’ll help flush nasty things out of my system.

Helping others out when possible

In this time of crisis, there are other people out there who might need some extra assistance. If you see anyone in this situation, it pays to be a good neighbor and lend a hand.

Staying informed

Probably the best thing we can have is information — good information (and not propaganda). I’m checking the CDC’s Coronavirus website for updates and advice. The WHO site is probably another good site to monitor. Additionally, the NY Times is providing free access to a page providing news and information about the crisis, as are other reputable media outlets such as Syracuse.com.

(Note: at the risk of sounding political, if there was ever a reason why we still need good, reputable, unbiased, and accurate local news coverage, this is it. That’s another conversation for another time.)

Things I’ve changed because of COVID-19

Getting more vigilant

“Life goes on” doesn’t mean that I’m not trying to stay on top of the situation. I’ve become much more wary of people around me. Whenever I hear anyone cough or sneeze, my ears immediately perk up. To the best of my knowledge, none of my coworkers are sick. I usually try to avoid people who are sick, anyway, but I’m a lot more wary about it this time around.

I’m also staying on top of my own health. I remain wary about potential symptoms, such as fever, cough, congestion, or shortness of breath. So far, I haven’t seen any symptoms, and I don’t think I’m sick. (Disclosure: I sleep with a CPAP machine, so it’s not unusual for me to wake up congested or with the sniffles.) Of course, if anything comes up, I’m ready to self-isolate, if I need to do so.

Preparing

Although my go-to-work routine hasn’t changed, I’m one of those fortunate enough to have the ability to work-from-home. Should my employer direct me to work-from-home, I am able to do so.

As I write this, it occurred to me that I likely should pick up some groceries at some point. Hopefully, all those who are panicking haven’t cleared out the aisles yet.


Did I leave anything out, or do you have any other suggestions to help people out? Feel free to leave them below in the comments.

We’re all in this together. Let’s work together to nip this thing. And by working together, we’ll get through this crisis.

‘Tis the season

I was looking at my calendar, and realized that Christmas is in less than two weeks. Dates in calendar are closer than they appear.

I was thinking about the holiday season this year and about what I’m doing. Alas, it appears that my Christmas will be somewhat subdued this year. This is the first Christmas since I was married that my father-in-law will not be around. My wife informed me that she will likely be working on Christmas day (such is life when you work for a newspaper). And I’ve told some people not to go nuts in terms of getting me presents. I’m at the age where I can pretty much buy whatever I want or need on my own, and asking for holiday gifts isn’t as meaningful as it was as when I was a kid. (That said, I do intend to get gifts for my siblings and my wife — not sure what, yet — and I also intend to spoil my niece and nephews.) In terms of a Christmas “gift” for myself, I told my wife that I’d like a vacation for both of us — where and when are to be determined. I have no shortage of places that I’d like to go. And it will likely not happen around Christmas. It might not happen until the summer.

This isn’t to say I’m doing nothing to recognize the holidays. I’m currently music-directing and accompanying a holiday community theater musical. My symphonic band performed their holiday concert earlier this week. I made a reservation for next week for a holiday happy-hour get-together for my work group. And speaking of work, my office will close (as it typically does) for a week around Christmas. It seems that my gift to myself is that my schedule will quiet down for about the next month. I’ve had quite the busy year, and I can certainly use the downtime.

So however you spend your holiday — whatever holiday it may be, whether it’s Christmas, Hannukah, Festivus, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, or whatever — I hope it’s enjoyable.

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

As the old saying goes, “how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice!”

I wrote a while back that the symphonic concert band I play in will be performing at Carnegie Hall on Veterans Day! This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and yet another bucket list item for me. The chance to play on the stage at Carnegie Hall is beyond my wildest dreams!

As it turns out, it also takes money! We’re looking to raise funds to offset costs for the trip. We set up a GoFundMe page for the opportunity. If you are able to do so, please consider contributing a few bucks for us to take this trip!

Thanks for your support!

Where do I best fit in?

I play the piano for Sunday morning church services.  One particular day earlier this year, the choir director and his family were out, and the choir was shorthanded that day.  The cantor was also not there that morning.  We desperately needed someone to step up, and no one was willing to do it.

This is not to disparage the choir, which is made up of wonderful people; that is not the point.  Rather, it got me thinking: what is my role?

Most of the time, my primary role in this group is as accompanist.  However, I’m also the most musically accomplished person in the group, and as a member of a number of ensembles, I’m also probably the most experienced ensemble musician.  Often, when the choir director is not there, leadership duties often falls to me.  The director has, in the past, asked me to lead rehearsals when he is not there.  So I can probably say that my secondary role is backup choir director.

I regularly think about this when I play in the symphonic band as well.  Where do I fit in?  This is not an existential or philosophical question; rather, it serves a purpose: what is my part supposed to be, and how am I supposed to perform it so that it best serves what is required in the piece?  Band is a team sport, and each member has a role to play so that the group functions as a single unit.

The professional workplace environment is no different.  In any organization, all employees are pieces to a larger puzzle.  Each person serves a purpose (and sometimes, multiple purposes).

During my podcast recording a while back, one of the questions I was asked was, “what’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve gotten?”  My answer was something like, “play to your strengths.”  I’ll admit that, since the recording, I’ve come up with several other answers that I wish I’d given, but it’s that particular answer that I want to discuss in this article.

Let me start with an analogy (as the Yankee fan that I am, I’ll go with another baseball — and more specifically — a Yankees team analogy).  Brett Gardner (outfielder) is known for his baserunning, speed, defense, and gritty play.  Aaron Judge (another outfielder) and Gary Sanchez (catcher) are known for their power hitting and penchant for driving in runs.  DJ LeMahieu (infielder) has a penchant for hitting, getting on base, and playing solid defense.  Likewise, each relief pitcher has his strengths that are used for specific situations.  Each ballplayer on a team has a role to play.  Aaron Boone (manager) utilizes each player as to what they’re capable of doing and when to best make use of their strengths depending on each situation.

Everyone has their strengths and capabilities that add value to an organization.  For me, personally, those strengths include technical communication, writing, and design.  To a smaller extent, I am also capable of database work, object-oriented development, analysis, and design.  But my professional strengths are what enable me to come through in the clutch.  And if they are properly nurtured, they can help improve my other (often, lesser) skills as well.

I remember reading a Wall Street Journal interview with Dilbert creator Scott Adams (it was back in the early 1990s; unfortunately, I have not been able to find a link to the article) in which he said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “the best way to be valuable is to learn as much as you can about as many different things as you can.”

A while back, I did a self-assessment of my own skill set, and I made an effort to be honest with myself. While I’ve worked in technology my entire professional career, I discovered that my true strengths weren’t so much in application development — the career path I had been pursuing the entire time — but rather in technical writing and communication.

When I came to that realization, my focus changed. I started moving away from hardcore technical topics and toward subjects geared toward my strengths — technical writing, layout, design, UX/UI, communication, and so on.

This focus manifested itself in my SQL Saturday presentations and my ‘blog articles. While I have enough of a background to maintain a presence within the technical world, my focus is on soft topics that aren’t necessarily technology-related, but are of interest to technical professionals, anyway. Even now, when I do SQL Saturday presentations, I use this analogy to introduce myself: when it comes to my relationship with PASS and SQL Server, “I’m the professor at MIT who teaches English Lit.” This mindset has carried me all the way to a speaking gig at PASS Summit.

Over the course of time, and without even realizing that I was doing it, I’d established my brand. While my official title is still “developer,” this is more of a misnomer (although it can be argued, what am I developing?). I’ve become the technical writing and communications guy. And I’m okay with that.

As I get older and continue to advance in my career, I’ve come to terms with my role and where I best fit on the team. As long as I still play for and contribute to the team, I’m in a good place.

Unite the world

I am usually not one to reblog my own articles, but in light of the events of this past weekend, I thought this was worth a share. What I do know is that I can’t just stand by and say nothing.

Welcome to Ray Kim's 'blog

“Hey you, don’t tell me there’s no hope at all; together we stand; divided, we fall…”
— Pink Floyd, Hey You

“An eye for an eye only makes the world blind.”
— Gandhi

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…”
— John Lennon, Imagine

“I have a dream…”
— Martin Luther King Jr.

Just for this one article, I am breaking my silence on all things political.

As is much of the country, I am outraged with what has happening at America’s southern border.  I have my opinions regarding the current administration, and what is happening to our country and around the world.

However, that is not the point of this article.  I am not going to write about my politics, my opinions, or my outrage.  Today, I want to write about something else.

It occurred to me this morning that, more than ever, we…

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