Enemies and adversaries

I stumbled across this article today. I won’t get into the politics behind it (those of you who know me know how much I despise politics), but I wanted to write about it because of a quote by one of the perpetrators I read in the article — one that I found to be extremely disturbing.

The quote: “We need to hit the enemy in the mouth.”

When one political side — any side — refers to the other as “the enemy,” we have a major problem.

Most of the time, when I use the word “enemy” (and I’ll admit that I might use it occasionally), I use it tongue-in-cheek. As a sports fan, I’ll sometimes jokingly refer to our archrival as “the enemy.” But I also keep things in context. At the end of the day, it’s still just a game.

That wasn’t the case here. The perpetrators used it maliciously, with intent to harm. It became a matter of life and death. This is how wars and armed standoffs happen.

I do remember one point during the presidential elections in 1996, when Bob Dole talked about his contentious campaign against Bill Clinton, when Dole said, “we are adversaries. We are not enemies.”

Like everyone else, I have my own perspective of the world. As such, I have my own biases. I’m a registered Democrat, yet I have many friends — including many whom I love dearly — who are Republican. Heck, I’m a Yankee fan whose wife is a Red Sox fan. I was born and raised in the US, yet I embrace cultural differences; indeed, I have an appreciation for environments, traditions, mores, and foods that are not my own. I encourage people to send me good karma, to pray for me, to send me a Mazeltov or a Barakallahu fiikum (I hope I used that context correctly), or whatever best wishes their culture or tradition dictates. Not only would I not be offended, I’m actually flattered that you would think enough of me that you would offer me best wishes from the standpoint of your own culture.

Conflict is everywhere. We as humans will never completely agree with everyone else (nor should we). Conflict is important; it allows us to see things more critically, and it’s an important source of feedback. By using conflict productively, anything and everything we do gets better.

However, if we start thinking about the other side — whatever the “other side” is — as the “enemy,” then we’ve just crossed the line. We reach the point where we are intolerant of other opinions and viewpoints — enough that we’d be willing to cause harm to the others with differing views. And in my mind, that is unacceptable.

Everyone sees things differently. While I think it might be too much to ask to embrace opposing views, at least understand the perspective from the other side. When we understand views from the other side, we can hammer out our differences and come to a better resolution.

The things we do for free stuff

This morning, I’ll be sitting in on a 10:00 webinar by some company called 36Software. I have no idea what the webinar is about, and since I’ll be working during the webinar, I’ll be sitting in my home office working on documentation with the webinar on in the background.

Why am I sitting in on this webinar? The title of it says it all: “36Software Wants to Send you to STC Summit 2022 in Chicago!”

I joined (or, more accurately, rejoined) STC last year. I had been a member years ago when I was working as a full-time technical writer, but I moved on to other things, and I let my membership lapse. Last year, during my unemployment and my search for technical writer positions, I decided it was worth it to rejoin. It’s an organization that can help me with my endeavors, and, I figured, it looks good on my resume.

What held me up from doing so for so long is that, unlike PASS membership, STC is not free. The lowest-tiered annual membership level is somewhere in the ballpark of around $200, and I wasn’t sure if it was worth the investment. Now that I am, once again, a full-time technical writer, I decided that it was. (I was also awarded a grant that allowed me to cover the cost.) Now that I’m working again (and in a field directly related to the organization), I have little trepidation about paying the $200 annual membership dues.

But, back to the webinar. I’ll admit that sitting in on this webinar isn’t really something that’s high on my priority list for the day, but as the saying goes, nothing in life is free. And so-called “free stuff” is no exception. There are all types of things that say they’re “free,” but there’s always some kind of trade-off. When they say “free,” they are usually talking about money. Usually, you end up paying in other ways, and not necessarily with money.

STC Summit is an event that I would love to attend. I’ve attended PASS Summit twice, and I found it to be a great experience. I think STC Summit would be similar. However, there are costs involved: the registration fee, airfare, and accommodations being the biggest ones. These are not cheap, and they usually preclude people, myself included, from attending.

I had said that the only way I’d be able to attend PASS Summit was if I was selected to speak at one. Lo and behold, it happened! Being selected to speak waived the registration fee, and I was able to attend! Of course, it wasn’t entirely “free” — I was put to work, after all, by serving as a speaker!

Those of you who attend SQL Saturday know about the sponsors and vendors, all of whom are integral to user groups and conferences such as SQL Saturday. They’ll have their booths set up, advertising their products and services. They’ll have door prizes — expensive electronic toys such as Xboxes, free software, gift cards, etc. — that they’ll raffle off at the end of the event. Of course, there’s a catch: in order to be eligible for prizes, you need to submit your name and email to each vendor, after which you’ll be inundated with emails from that vendor.

It’s been said that “free” isn’t “free.” Sure, you might not be paying for something with money, but money isn’t always used to pay for things. Are you willing to pay a cost in terms of your time or your email? It often depends on the product and the cost. I often am unable to pay for a product I’d like out of my bank account, but I’m sometimes willing to pay with my time or my bandwidth. Hey, for an opportunity to attend a conference whose registration fee will likely cost over a thousand dollars, sure, I’ll take an hour to sit in on a webinar.

Reminder: I’m speaking this Saturday! #SQLSaturday #DataSaturday #SQLSatLA #Networking

This is a reminder that I will be speaking this upcoming Saturday, June 12!

I am speaking at SQL Saturday Los Angeles. I will do my presentation titled: Networking 101: Building professional relationships.

I am scheduled to present at 4 pm EDT (1 pm PDT). This is a virtual conference, so I will be speaking to you from the comfort of my home office in upstate New York. As much as I’d love to travel to LA, I’m sorry to say that I won’t physically be on the West coast on Saturday! (Perhaps I’ll make it out there at some point — especially now that my new employer is located out there — but it won’t be this weekend!)

Anyone can attend the conference (you don’t have to be a data geek!), but you must register to do so. The event is free! Use their Eventbrite link to register!

Hope to see you (virtually) this Saturday!

Upcoming speaking engagements (as of 5/27/2021) #SQLSaturday #DataSaturday #PASSSummit

It seems like it’s been quite some time since I posted about my upcoming speaking engagements, but I do have one coming up!

Confirmed

  • On Saturday, June 12, I will be speaking at SQL Saturday Los Angeles. I am scheduled to speak at 4:00 pm Eastern (1:00 pm LA local/Pacific). This is a virtual event, so I will be presenting from my home office in upstate New York; I will not be flying out to California for this conference!

    I will do my presentation titled: “Networking 101: Building professional relationships.” I will talk about business/professional networking: what it is, how to do it, ways to break the ice, and where to find networking opportunities. This is an interactive session (although I’ll admit that the “interactive” part works better when I do this session in-person rather than virtually), so you might even get a chance to practice networking during this presentation!

    Anyone is welcome to attend; however, you do need to register. Follow the instructions on the SQL Saturday LA site to register for the event!

Applied, but not confirmed

I’ve applied to speak at a couple of other events, but I don’t know whether or not I’ll be speaking at either of them. Stay tuned.

  • November 8-12: PASS Data Community Summit. This online event is the successor to PASS Summit! I also submitted three presentations (so far) to this event. We’ll see whether or not I’m chosen!

    And if you’re interested in speaking at this event, the call for speakers is now open! If you’re interested in speaking at this event, you are encouraged to apply!

As always, I’ll mention any speaking engagements that I have coming up. Hopefully, as we emerge from the pandemic, I’ll be speaking at some in-person events, rather than doing so over Zoom. Hope to see you at an event sometime soon!

#DataSaturday LA — I’m speaking! 6/12/21

I am speaking once again! It’s been a while!

I learned today that I will be speaking at Data Saturday (the successor to SQL Saturday) LA on June 12! This event is online, so I won’t be flying out to the West Coast that weekend.

I will be doing my networking presentation. If you’ve wondered about what professional networking is about, or if you’re not comfortable with networking, check out my session!

I am scheduled to speak at 1:00 pm PDT (that’s 4:00 pm EST for those of us, including me, who are out on the East Coast) on June 12.

To RSVP for this event, use the EventBrite link by the Los Angeles Data Platform group at https://sqlsatla2021.eventbrite.com/.

Hope to see you there!

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 25: Taking the “distancing” out of “social distancing” #COVID19

Before I get into this article, I want to make one thing extremely clear. This article has NOTHING to do with circumventing pandemic protocols or ignoring the advice of Dr. Fauci, the CDC, the WHO, or any other medical professionals. That is NOT what I’m about to write. Please, please, PLEASE keep wearing your mask, get your COVID shots, and maintain physical social distancing. Above all, be safe.

Now that that’s out of the way, let me get into what prompted this article.

Earlier today, this random thought popped into my head. I posted it to my Facebook, and I want to share it with all of you as well.

I’m sitting here thinking that possibly the thing I miss most during the pandemic is simply the ability to go out and have a drink with a friend.

Granted, the part about “having a drink” is irrelevant. I say that as a catch-all for going out for a beer, wine, coffee, soda, lunch, dinner, dessert, watching a ballgame, going to a movie, and so on. (I could also say “hanging out in your friend’s living room;” it’s within the same spirit of what I’m writing about, but it’s in a private, not public setting, which people are likely doing, anyway — hopefully, COVID-safely. But I digress.)

I don’t know whether the fact that today is St. Patrick’s Day had anything to do with this thought, but what did prompt it was an urge — and a basic desire — to pick up the phone, call a friend, and tell him or her, “let’s meet up at (some favorite local hangout) this Friday night*.”

(*Before any of my local friends take me up on this, be advised that Syracuse plays San Diego State on Friday night, so my attention will likely be focused on the TV.)

Raise your hand if you miss getting together with friends — and I’m not talking about virtually over Zoom. Yeah, me too. The last in-person social event I remember attending was the after-party for SQL Saturday out in Rochester in February of last year. Since the pandemic began, I’ve had almost no in-person interaction with any of my friends, other than my wife (I’ve had a few, but they’re few and far-between). I would love to get together with friends to talk hours on end about world events, music, sports, family, or even about absolutely nothing. Don’t get me wrong; I love my wife, but there’s something to be said for sharing your thoughts, news, and feelings with someone whom you’re not sharing your lockdown experience 24-7 over a forum other than Zoom. Humans are mostly social animals, and interaction with other humans is therapeutic, even if you’re introverted.

(And if you do consider yourself to be introverted, don’t feel obligated to talk. Just being there is very helpful, too.)

Every now and then, I’ll get on the phone with a friend of mine, and we’ll talk for hours — sometimes, about nothing more than random thoughts that pop into our heads (if he’s reading this, you know who you are). We’re the kind of guys who can spend hours talking about “absolutely nothing.” Regardless of what we talk about, I find our conversations to be therapeutic, and I feel like a lot of stress has dissipated, even if I do have something on my mind.

So, if you’re able to do so COVID-safely, take time to hook up with your BFF. You might find the experience to be rewarding and stress-relieving, especially during this time of pandemic and social distancing.

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 24: Coping with the stress #COVID19

I’m not going to lie. The mental stress of being out of a job (ten months, and counting) is affecting me in many ways. I’ll talk about the mental stress (which is what this article is mostly about) in a minute, but before I get into that, let me talk about something that has been affecting me physically.

Last year, gyms were closed down due to the pandemic. As a result, I wasn’t able to attend CrossFit classes. For me, one of the biggest benefits of CrossFit classes was that it created a routine. I tend to be a creature of habit, and as long as I stick to a routine, I’m generally okay. With the gyms closed due to the pandemic, that routine was broken. I didn’t stay active at home as I would’ve liked (although I did attempt a Couch to 5K program). I started developing issues with my back and my shoulder (which continue even as I write this), enough to require physical therapy. Now, the gyms are back open, but I’ve been dealing with physical issues that prevent me from working out as I’d like. Thankfully, PT seems to be alleviating these issues, and I’m hoping to become active again soon.

That said, the past year has affected me mentally and psychologically, and I’ve fallen into some bad habits. I haven’t been as active with my business as I should be. I’ve been moody, and I seem to have mood swings easily. The constant battle of looking for employment has been extremely taxing and frustrating. A lot of activities that I normally enjoy haven’t been giving me much pleasure as of late.

I could keep going, but the last thing I want to do is write a woe-is-me article where I feel like I’m trying to solicit sympathy. I’m not (at least I don’t think I am, anyway — maybe some of you might disagree, but I digress). Rather, I’m laying out the scenario so that I can write about coping strategies (and I’m writing this for myself as much as any of you who might be in the same boat). In my job hunt presentation, I talk about making sure that you take care of yourself. This article is about practicing what I preach.

Before I started this article, I sat in my home office, thinking about “what should I do to get back on track.” I thought about a number of things, and I’d like to share them with you.

First of all, I revisited one of my hobbies: songwriting. I’ve been working on an idea for a new song, and I opened my notation app to revisit it. I’m finding that doing so is pleasantly distracting; it gets my brain working on something productive. Doing this makes an adjustment to my mental activity which, I believe, will improve my mental and psychological state over the long run.

I was also fortunate enough to be contacted by a friend of mine who said he might have a project for me. We spoke, and I told him I’d look at it. It’s not gainful employment per se, but it’s another productive distraction to get me going again. On that same topic, I also have other projects for my clients that I need to revisit as well.

Other friends have other coping ideas as well. I highly recommend Steve Jones‘ series of articles about daily coping. His suggestions make a lot of sense, and I find that they improve my mood (I’ve even told him as such).

I need to do something physical as well. My doctor recommended that I do a minimum of five minutes of physical activity per day. At the time of the recommendation, I was in serious pain (directly related to the conditions I mentioned at the top of this article) so I wasn’t able to do this right away, but now that they’re somewhat better, I feel like I can partake. I do have an exercise bike; I will be making use of it. Additionally, I will be investing in some resistance bands and PVC pipes (to do pass-throughs).

And, if nothing else, I’m also trying to come up with ideas for ‘blog articles.

You need to take care of yourself before you can take on your responsibilities. These might sound like small moves, but small moves add up. Things like this can reinvigorate yourself and get you back on track. And once they do, you can be productive again.

Think spam calls aren’t a big deal? Think again

We all get them.

There’s a message on your voicemail saying “we’ve been trying to reach you about your warranty” or “we’ve detected problems with your computer.” They’re full of crap, and you know it. You figure that they’re mere annoyances. You don’t answer the phone anymore, or you’ve installed a spam filter on your phone (disclosure: I’ve done both of these). If it’s important, let them leave a message. Just ignore them. Not a big deal.

I’ve personally discovered that it is a big deal. They are not only disruptive, they are potentially dangerous. And I have some stories to explain how they’re dangerous.

I’ll start with one that’s not necessarily dangerous, but it did disrupt something important. I recently had an email exchange from someone asking me for my personal info for tax reasons. This was a legitimate exchange; this was NOT spam. I called and left her a message. A couple of weeks later, I received an email saying, “I’m still waiting to hear back from you.” I responded with, “did you not get my message?” It turned out that she did not recognize my phone number and deleted the message. This was an important, time-sensitive message that could have caused problems if we had not resolved it.

Another incident happened a few months ago (and unlike the above story, this one was dangerous). I’m purposely keeping this vague for privacy reasons, but here’s the gist of it: one day, I received multiple phone calls from a number I did not recognize. Of course, I ignored them as spam. They did not leave a message. I later received a phone call from the hospital. It turned out that those calls were from EMS regarding someone who had me listed as the emergency contact, informing me that this person had to go to the hospital. Unlike the previous story, this was a situation that was dangerous and could have had disastrous consequences. (As it turned out, it ended well, and the crisis was averted, but it could have ended up much worse. I could argue that EMS should have left messages, but I digress.)

I could list several more stories, but by now, I think you have the idea.

The bottom line is that spam phone calls are NOT inane and harmless. They’re the little boy who cried wolf, and they need to be dealt with. I don’t know what the statistics are (if any exist), but it wouldn’t surprise me if spammers were responsible for millions of dollars of losses, and possibly even hundreds of deaths. I realize that trying to track down the criminals who are responsible for spam is nearly an impossible task, but it needs to be done, and they need to be prosecuted. I realize that communication companies and cybercrime units are doing the best they can, but it’s a tall order.

When (not if) you receive a spam call, try to take steps to report it, if you are able to do so (and yes, I realize that it can be a pain). The sooner we put these criminals behind bars, the sooner we can start picking up the phone again.

Remember the past, embrace what’s next

“Don’t hang on; nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky; it slips away, and all your money won’t another minute buy…”

Kansas, Dust In The Wind

“Movin’ me down the highway, rollin’ me down the highway; movin’ ahead so life won’t pass me by…”

Jim Croce, I Got A Name

When I was in grad school, I wrote a quote for a paper I wrote. My professor loved it, and I’ve used it plenty of times since then. “Ben Franklin had it wrong,” I wrote (or something like that). “There are not two sure things, but three: death, taxes, and change.”

What made me think of this is a Facebook meme that made its rounds over the weekend. Valentine’s Day was this weekend, and a meme with the hashtag #ValentinesDayChallenge was going around. I figured it was fun and harmless (as far as I know, I didn’t include any security info that could be hacked), so I participated.

I still look my answers over, even a couple of days later, and it makes me smile. My wife and I have had some fun times during our years together, and I certainly hope they continue. We’ve done a lot of things that I would love to relive. But, of course, that’s impossible. That time has passed, and we need to confront whatever is ahead.

The fact is, we cannot move backwards in time, and we can only deal with what’s in front of us. What’s done is done. If it was something good, you reflect on it. If it was bad, you learn from it and move on. Unfortunately, too many people (and I’ll admit falling into this trap myself on occasion) don’t understand this. They don’t just want to remember the past; they want to live there. But the fact is, time marches on, and change happens. Those who continue to try living in the past are doomed to fail.

Memories are a wonderful thing — as a song lyric once lamented, they’re “sweetened through the ages just like wine.” It’s okay to remember and reflect on them. But it’s not okay to dwell on them. Memories belong to the past. You can only control the future. Don’t try to go back to what’s already happened. Instead, create new memories that you’ll enjoy reflecting upon once they’re done.

Goals for 2021

So, for my first post of 2021, I figured I should list my goals (I refuse to call them “resolutions”) for the new year.

  • First and foremost, above everything else, find new employment. I have been unemployed since May 1. For those of you keeping score, that’s eight months. 67% of my 2020 was spent in unemployment. Getting a new job, for me, is priority number one above everything else.

    I do have a couple of relatively promising leads, but I’m not out of the woods yet. Hopefully, things will be turning around very soon.
  • Do more with my business. In 2020, as a direct result of my losing my job, I started an LLC. I managed to pick up two clients. It’s good experience, but not enough to pay my bills (hence why I’m still looking for employment). I haven’t done a lot with it in the last few months of 2020. I want to devote more time and energy into it in 2021.

    I readily admit that I slacked off on this as the year went on, and I don’t want to let it slip in 2021. I intend to keep this endeavor going, even if I do land new gainful employment.
  • Get back to the gym. COVID-19 kept me from getting into my CrossFit gym more than I would’ve liked, but the pandemic wasn’t my only issue. I developed back and arm issues that kept me from being more active than I wanted to be. Simply getting out of bed without pain is a chore for me right now. Hopefully, I can get back to being as active as I was before the pandemic.

    Speaking of the pandemic…
  • Travel. The pandemic is my biggest (but not the only) roadblock for this goal; my other major roadblock is making sure I have the money to do so (see “find new employment” above). I enjoy traveling, and I wish I could do more of it. Since the pandemic began, I can count on one hand the number of trips I took away from home (trips to the grocery store don’t count).

    Trips for SQL Saturday have satisfied my desire to travel for the past several years, but now that PASS will be no more, I might need to find another outlet for my out-of-town speaking engagements (more on that in a minute). I also told my wife that I want to take a relatively significant vacation somewhere once the pandemic is over. She and I have both encountered a lot of stress this past year, and I think we both need to find a way to relieve it.
  • Find speaking engagements. One thing I’ve discovered about speaking for SQL Saturday is that I enjoy presenting. I’d like to do more. My last in-person speaking engagement was SQL Saturday in Rochester last February. I was also scheduled to speak at SQL Saturday in Chicago (which would’ve been my first SQL Saturday where driving was not feasible), and I had applied to speak at a local code camp. Both of those were wiped out by the pandemic.

    My friend Matt Cushing encouraged me to sign up for the Idera Ace Program, which would provide funding for me to take part in more presentation opportunities (not to mention that it would look good on my resume). Since I first started presenting regularly, all of my in-person speaking engagements (with the exception of 2019 PASS Summit) have been within driving distance of my home in the Albany, NY area. There is a reason for this: traveling costs money. The Idera Ace Program would provide more opportunities for me to speak at nonlocal events (pandemic notwithstanding, of course).
  • Do more house projects. These past several months at home made me realize how much I want to do with my house, and how little I’ve done to attain that goal. (I’m talking about “fun” projects, as opposed to chores.) Money has been a major detriment (again, see “find new employment” above) as well as energy (see “get back to the gym”), but time has not; since I don’t have anywhere to really go, I have no shortage of time on my hands. There’s a long list of projects I’d like to do, such as finish my basement, build a backyard patio and entertainment area, build a porch, and so on. While I don’t necessarily expect to finish these in 2021, I’d like to at least take steps toward those goals.

There are a lot of other things that I’d like to do, but I think this is a good list for now. (I reserve the right to amend it.) In general, I’m hoping for a better year, and 2021 supersedes the dumpster fire that was 2020.