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.

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.

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 #Coronavirus chronicles, part 18: Exploring your backyard (and places to visit near Albany, NY) #COVID19

(Photo credit: U.S. Grant Cottage State Historic Site)

This morning, I saw a Facebook post from a friend of mine who visited the Ulysses S. Grant cottage. He posted about its historic significance, and included a number of photos that he took around the site. It was a neat post, and it made me want to visit the site.

I looked into it to see where it was located, and was surprised to find that it was just north of Saratoga — less than an hour’s drive from my home!

It got me thinking about traveling to places that are nearby. It’s been often said that some of the best places to explore are right in your own backyard. It’s especially important now with the pandemic restricting travel. My wife has complained to me about the need to de-stress and take some time off, and I’ve suggested doing a weekend (even just one night) up in Lake George — not too far from my home (it’s easily do-able as a day trip), but just far enough away to warrant a weekend.

It also got me thinking about what places are worth the trip for those who aren’t from around here. Granted, the Albany metropolitan area doesn’t exactly pop up on most people’s radars when they’re considering vacation spots or places to visit. Even I’ve been occasionally at a loss for words whenever friends ask me about things around my home that are worth the trip. But when I stop to think about it (as I’m doing right now for this article), there are a number of places around here to visit.

So, here’s a not-so-comprehensive list (really, just things that come to me) that are within an easy day trip from my home in the Albany area (including a few places that I’ve already mentioned above).

(There are probably a lot more things that I’m missing, but that would make for a very long list. This isn’t a travel ‘blog, and I am not a travel writer.)

What are some good places to visit in your own backyard? (Feel free to comment below.) If you’re itching to check some places out, go out and do so.

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 17: Check out virtual user group meetings #COVID19

With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting just about every aspect of our lives, we’ve had to adapt. A couple of weeks ago, we hosted SQL Saturday virtually. Likewise, a number of user groups, including our local SQL group, have resorted to holding virtual group meetings.

I wrote a while back that there are benefits to being involved with non-local user groups. That was before the pandemic. Now that many user groups are holding virtual meetings, geography is no longer a factor. You can attend nearly any user group meeting that is held virtually.

During the pandemic, I’ve received numerous notifications for virtual SQL user group meetings. Most of them arrive in my inbox via Meetup, and I’ve gotten them through my involvement with these groups or through their local SQL Saturdays. Here are some of the (mostly SQL, unless noted) user group Meetups emails that I receive (note: the Philadelphia groups use Eventbrite, not Meetup, and Rochester uses the tools supplied by PASS).

If you’re interested in doing some networking and learning new things, check out a user group. Now that many of them are holding virtual meetings, your location is no longer a factor.

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 16: Getting a kick in the butt when I need it #COVID19

It’s been a while since I wrote a COVID-19 update, so I think this is Part 16.

This morning, I had a text conversation with a friend who gave me a badly-needed kick in the butt.

A little background information is in order here.

I’m not going to lie. I have been very discouraged by the job hunt (going on nearly three months, now). It seems like every place that I’ve applied has rejected me — to the point that my job hunt morale has taken a big hit. I can count on one hand the number of interviews I’ve had, out of the many dozens (and counting) of applications I’ve submitted. My job situation has been a major source of stress, along with a few other things (that I won’t get into here) that have added to it. The only thing that has kept me going is my LLC. I have a couple of clients that have been keeping me busy, but it’s still not yet enough for me to pay my mortgage. I address acknowledging your own emotions at the beginning of my job hunt presentation, and I, myself, fell into the same trap.

And, of course, I have not been helped by the COVID-19 situation.

My friend — a former co-worker at my previous job — told me, in a nutshell, to get off my duff and get busy again. He reminded me of a few things that, as it turned out, I badly needed to hear: I need to learn new things, I need to keep learning and stay on top of things, I need to keep plugging away, I need to keep working, and possibly the most important reminder: I have the smarts, the talent, and the wherewithal to do great things. Don’t throw that away.

Our conversation reminded me of the many good things I do have going on, and either want to continue doing, or want to restart. My LLC has been a source of professional and educational experience during a time when I badly need it. I’d started a few endeavors during this COVID-19 crisis, including starting my new business, starting a Couch-to-5K program (which has been on-hold lately because of health issues — not COVID-19 related) and teaching myself French. There are some other things that I either started a while ago or in which I’ve been active, but have also fallen by the wayside: teaching myself BI, teaching myself GitHub, and getting back into my music, including my songwriting endeavors. I also want to make sure that I brush up on my development skills that have become rusty over time.

Some people are able to stay strong throughout this crisis (which seems to have no end in sight), while others need an occasional boost. No matter who you are, it’s easy to lose sight of things, and it’s important to have support to keep that going — which includes friends who’ll give you the occasional kick in the butt when you need it. One of the casualties of the COVID-19 crisis is that we’ve been so isolated that we don’t see our friends (other than immediate family within your household) as much as we’d like or need. Your friends are your support system, and good friends will get you back on track when you need it.

So, to my friend with whom I spoke this morning, if you’re reading this, thank you again for that kick in the butt. You likely helped me more than you know.

Upcoming speaking engagements (as of 6/18/2020)

It’s been a while since I posted an update about upcoming speaking engagements. It doesn’t help, of course, that COVID-19 has shut down many of the events where I had applied. I was supposed to speak at SQL Saturday in Chicago, and I had applied to speak at a local code camp, but both events were wiped out by COVID-19.

As of right now, my only confirmed event is Albany SQL Saturday on July 25, which will be a virtual event this year. I will be doing my presentation on networking. Click the link above to register for the event. I love going to SQL Saturday. It’s always a good time, even if you’re not a database geek!

I’ve also applied to speak at this year’s PASS Summit, which, likewise, will also be a virtual event this year. As of right now, I am not confirmed to speak, so I have no idea whether or not I’ll be speaking at this event.

Generally, I apply to speak mainly at events within relatively easy driving distance of my home near Albany, NY (PASS Summit and Chicago SQL Saturday being exceptions), but now that COVID-19 has forced many events to go virtual, I’ll likely apply for more virtual events anywhere.

Check out my presentation schedule (including upcoming dates) for my updated list of speaking engagements. Hopefully, I’ll see you at an event sometime soon.

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.

Join me for my #JobHunt #ProfessionalDevelopment presentation — next Thursday, 5/28/2020 #PASSProfDev @PASS_ProfDev @CASSUG_Albany #SQLFamily

Reminder: my presentation is tomorrow at noon (EDT). Come join me and Paresh Motiwala for my presentation and our discussion!

Welcome to Ray Kim's 'blog

This is a reminder that next week, Thursday, May 28 at noon EDT (click this link for your local time), I will do my presentation for the PASS Professional Development Virtual Group about unemployment and the job hunt, titled “I lost my job! Now what?!?”

To register for the event use this link.

I’ll touch on these topics during the presentation:

  • Dealing with your emotions
  • Taking stock in yourself
  • Resumes and interviewing
  • Resources you can tap
  • Networking
  • Weathering the storm

In addition to my presentation, we will also have an open discussion with Paresh Motiwala (PASS ProfDev moderator and host) and myself. You are welcome and encouraged to take part!

I’ve done this presentation for SQL Saturday; now, you get to see it online. See you next week!

View original post

Join me for my #JobHunt #ProfessionalDevelopment presentation — next Thursday, 5/28/2020 #PASSProfDev @PASS_ProfDev @CASSUG_Albany #SQLFamily

This is a reminder that next week, Thursday, May 28 at noon EDT (click this link for your local time), I will do my presentation for the PASS Professional Development Virtual Group about unemployment and the job hunt, titled “I lost my job! Now what?!?”

To register for the event use this link.

I’ll touch on these topics during the presentation:

  • Dealing with your emotions
  • Taking stock in yourself
  • Resumes and interviewing
  • Resources you can tap
  • Networking
  • Weathering the storm

In addition to my presentation, we will also have an open discussion with Paresh Motiwala (PASS ProfDev moderator and host) and myself. You are welcome and encouraged to take part!

I’ve done this presentation for SQL Saturday; now, you get to see it online. See you next week!