#PASSSummit2020 part 5: The debrief #PASSSummit #PASSVirtualSummit

(Ed. Note: I had intended to get this out last week, but a family emergency prevented me from doing so, so this article is a week later than I’d wanted to post.)

Now that I’ve had the weekend to recover from a busy PASS Summit 2020 week, I can write about my thoughts and impressions.

Overall, I thought PASS did a good job with holding a virtual PASS Summit under trying pandemic circumstances. These are, after all, trying times, and we have to play the cards that we’re dealt. That said, there were some glitches.

I’ll start with my own presentation. I had prerecorded my session, per instructions from PASS. My initial impression was that I would do my presentation live, and the recorded session would serve as a backup in case I ran into any problems with my presentation. That turned out not to be the case. PASS used my prerecorded presentation. I was, however, required to stand by to field any questions from attendees.

So, before the appointed time, I logged in and opened a chat window. My friend Andy Levy was kind enough to join me in the video chat room, and we chatted about a variety of topics while we waited.

The appointed time arrived, so I started my video. I found that it was impossible to monitor the chat rooms to field questions and to watch the video at the same time, so I turned off the video; after all, I had no pressing need to watch my own prerecorded presentation — or so I thought. I found out, much to my chagrin, that a number of slides had no audio to go with it.

This was a big disappointment. My first instinct was to point the finger at PASS and tell them, “your technology didn’t work,” but that would’ve been disingenuous on my part. When I prerecorded my session a while back, I went back and did a quick listen of each section I recorded to make sure it was okay. When I was finished, I watched some of the presentation, but not all, and that was my mistake. I probably should’ve watched the entire presentation to make sure it was okay, but I didn’t. That was a mistake on my part to which I will own up. That said, it’s my understanding that there were a number of other presentations that also had audio problems (in fact, I tried to sit in on one that had issues, and they ended up rescheduling it — for a time that I couldn’t attend), so I’m guessing that it might not have entirely been on me.

I did post to the chat that I was available in the chat room for any questions, and a few attendees took me up on it. We ended up having a great discussion (and Andy, who also has his own ‘blog, was great with answering some questions and contributing to the conversation). In that sense, we ended up making lemonade out of the technical lemons.

That said, I haven’t yet looked at the feedback, and I don’t look forward to doing so.

A few of my friends also wrote their impressions of PASS Virtual Summit. I haven’t yet had a chance to read them, but I’m posting them here, both for you to peruse and for my own reference.

With that, here are a few of my quick thoughts regarding PASS Virtual Summit 2020.

As I mentioned earlier, these are trying times, and PASS did a decent job with Summit, given the cards they were dealt. The pandemic has affected them, as well as many of the rest of us (as of this article, I’m still looking for a job — it’s been over six months now), and PASS is dealing with those effects. As critical as I — and others — might be of PASS, I want them to survive, and I sincerely hope that they’re still around when we emerge from the other side of this pandemic.

I was not particularly fond of their decision to make use of mostly prerecorded sessions. I would have much preferred to have done my session live. PASS’s concern was with potential technical glitches with live sessions, so their thinking was that a prerecorded session would alleviate that situation. In fact, the opposite happened. The prerecorded session was the glitch, and I never had a problem with my live connection. While I understand why PASS decided to do it that way, I found the decision to be somewhat questionable.

(And if anyone reading this would like to see my presentation, I did this same presentation for the Professional Development Virtual Group back in January. You can view the recording of my January presentation here.)

Overall, I did enjoy PASS Virtual Summit, but as anyone who has attended PASS Summit or other virtual events can attest, the experience just isn’t the same. For me, a huge part of the appeal of events like these is the opportunity to network and to connect with my friends whom I don’t get to see that frequently. To their credit, PASS made accommodations with networking events and channels, but there’s only so much you can do, and only so many people you can see, with online channels. There’s something to be said about randomly bumping into one of your friends while walking down the hall.

Another big part is the travel. I love to travel, and I wish I could do more of it (pandemic aside, usually the lack of time or lack of money keeps me from traveling more). I enjoyed visiting Seattle last year, one of my favorite west coast cities to visit. This year’s Summit would’ve been in Houston, a city I’ve only visited once before.

Overall, I enjoyed PASS Virtual Summit, but it was not without its faults. Hopefully, PASS can take the feedback and lessons learned from this event, and use it to create a truly spectacular experience the next time around. Hopefully, the pandemic will be over for the next time, but these days, you can never tell.

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 23: Learning songs in a new language #COVID19

Before I get into this article, I need to direct you to a few other articles that I wrote, all of which are directly relevant to what I’m about to write. You will likely not understand some of the references in this article unless you read these other ones first (or are friends with me on Facebook, in which case you can skip these). Give them a read (or at the very least, skim through them), then come back to this one. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Back yet? Okay…

This morning, a friend of mine PM’ed me with this: “it would be epic to see LOTD in Korean.”

I sent him back this reply: “challenge accepted!”

So, I looked up K-Pop songs, and I came across this video. I will freely admit that what caught my eye was the artist’s name (take a look!). I listened to the song, and as it turned out, it’s a really pretty ballad that’s relatively close to my own writing style. I might end up buying some CDs (yes, I still prefer buying CDs, even if I do rip everything to iTunes) from this artist.

I ended up using the first four lines for my Lyric Of The Day (and I’m posting this mostly for my own reference and learning purposes).

"나를 사랑하는 법은 어렵지 않아요
지금 모습 그대로 나를 꼭 안아주세요
우리 나중에는 어떻게 될진 몰라도
정해지지 않아서 그게 나는 좋아요..."
-- Roy Kim, "Only Then"

(If you’re dying to know what this says, here it is in Google Translate. And if you want to hear it, check out the video.)

I was never a fan of pop dance songs. When I first heard K-Pop songs and saw related videos, my initial impression was that K-Pop songs were primarily pop dance songs, so I haven’t given the genre a lot of thought. This video that I found changed my mind.

It got me thinking: what would it take to write a song that’s not in my native English? There is some precedent for this; probably the most famous example is Ritchie Valens singing “La Bamba.” It would be a challenge for me; I’m still learning Korean (although I’ll admit that I haven’t been pursuing it as aggressively lately), and I’m far from being able to read it quickly or being able to carry on a conversation. Nevertheless, the idea is intriguing, and one that I’m considering.

This idea is making me consider several things. First, it’s encouraging me to get back into my Korean language lessons. Second, it’s making me want to revisit my songwriting and MIDI recording endeavors. Third, it’s inspiring me to break many bad habits directly related to pandemic fatigue.

And, if nothing else, it’s sparked an interest in K-Pop with me. I guess I’m going to have to go buy some K-Pop CDs.

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 22: How TV could make this world a better place #COVID19

NBC Acquires Canadian Medical Drama 'Transplant' - Variety
(The cast of Transplant. Photo credit: Variety.com)

When I was in high school, my friends and I were into M*A*S*H — so much so that we nicknamed ourselves after M*A*S*H characters (my best friend and I used to argue over which one of us was Hawkeye or B.J.), and we tried to outdo each other any time the local radio station asked M*A*S*H trivia questions. Even to this day, any time I come across a M*A*S*H rerun on TV, I just have to turn the channel to it.

One of the things I appreciated about M*A*S*H was that it wasn’t afraid to take on social issues. Several episodes took on hot-button topics, such as racism, alcoholism, politics, religion, and so on. It made for some interesting episodes, and I think they made the show all the better.

Lately, I’ve gotten hooked on a new medical drama, Transplant. It seems like the US prime time network market is saturated with medical dramas, but a couple of things make Transplant different. First, the main character and protagonist, Dr. Bashir “Bash” Hamed (played by Hamza Haq) is a Syrian refugee, which makes for some interesting plot lines, including his struggles as he adapts to life in a new country. Speaking of which, this leads me to another thing that makes this show unique. The country in question is not the United States. The setting for Transplant is a hospital emergency room in Toronto, Canada. While NBC has the US broadcast rights to the show, it is not produced by NBC; it’s actually produced by Canadian station CTV. That the show takes place in Canada is apparent in a few subtle ways; in the pilot episode, a police officer wore a Canadian flag pin on his uniform, the CN Tower is visible in a few establishment shots, and in one scene, a doctor taking a patient’s temperature mentioned that it was 37 degrees, rather than the 98.6 that we Yanks are accustomed to hearing.

It also occurred to me that this may be the first show on a major prime-time network where the main character is Muslim. In these times of social issues, Islamophobia, racial equality, and Black Lives Matter, that is a big deal.

Dr. Bash (as I call him) is a very likable character. As a doctor, he is obligated to ensure his patients’ welfare, and he displays compassion and humanity toward his patients. As a big brother to his little sister, Amira, he is the father figure that they are missing in their lives (their parents died in the Syrian Civil War). As a friend to his colleagues at the fictional York Memorial Hospital, he displays caring and empathy for his coworkers.

He is the doctor I would want treating me if I had to go to the hospital.

There is a stereotype about Muslims in the US that paints them as extremists and fanatics. Dr. Bash breaks that stereotype, which is why I think this show is important. I have friends who are Muslim, and I empathize with them when they are portrayed as radical terrorists. Dr. Bash shows that he is not a radical; rather, he is human, with human emotions, feelings, and faults.

Many dramas (movies, not just TV) seem to have the power to raise awareness about issues. Dances With Wolves, for example, broke the stereotype of Native Americans as being “savages.” Likewise, Emergency! (another favorite TV show of mine when I was a kid) is credited as contributing toward the establishment of EMT services across the country.

TV shows, done right, have the power to change the world. If characters, issues, and situations are portrayed properly on prime-time, this world could be a much better place.

I’m speaking this upcoming Saturday, October 3 #SQLSaturday #SQLSat1003 #SQLSatMemphis

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This upcoming Saturday, October 3, I will be speaking at SQL Saturday #1003, Memphis. Of course, because of pandemic restrictions, I will not actually be traveling to Memphis; SQL Saturday #1003 is virtual, and I will be presenting from my home office in Troy, NY.

(In a way, it’s too bad I won’t be in Memphis. I’ve heard good things about Memphis barbecue!)

A lot of people (myself included) have lost their jobs during the pandemic, so it’s especially apropos that I will be presenting my session titled, “I lost my job! Now what?!?

If you want to check out my (and other great) sessions this Saturday, use the SQL Saturday #1003 link to register.

Hope to see you virtually this Saturday!

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 21: 안녕하세요. 저는 김레몬입니다 #COVID19

In case you don’t read Korean Hangul, here’s what I wrote above.

“Hello. I am Raymond Kim.”

Phonetically, it would sound like this.

“Annyeonghaseo. Jeo-neun Gimrehmon-imnida.”

At this point, you’re probably wondering what this is all about. Why am I introducing myself in Korean?

Well, this is another COVID-19 pandemic project undertaking. For whatever reason, last night I decided that I needed to reconnect with my ancestral culture. Don’t ask me what prompted me to pursue this, because, quite frankly, I have no idea. (It might have something to do with me poking around TripAdvisor the other day.) What I can tell you is that this is something I’ve been meaning to pursue for a long, long time. Despite being Korean-American and growing up in a Korean household, I never learned the language. My late grandmother, who spoke almost no English, tried to teach me when I was young, but I never quite grasped it. I had a hard time with it. It probably didn’t help that, because she didn’t speak English, she couldn’t explain to me what she was trying to teach me.

Other than my family, my other source of the Korean language came from watching M*A*S*H reruns.

Last night, I found a Korean language learning program online, and decided to check it out. I signed up for an account and started my latest learning endeavor.

I stayed up past my bedtime — until 1 am.

I discovered that Hangul (the Korean written alphabet) is amazingly easy to learn. If you look at Korean characters and get intimidated, don’t be. The way they are structured is actually very simple, and once you grasp the concept, it’s not bad.

Basically, it’s just these concepts.

  • Every character is a syllable.
  • Every character is structured around a block.
  • Each character block is made up of at least one consonant and one vowel. They may have another consonant, and there’s something (I’m still learning about this) that involves double-consonants and double-vowels, but every character is required to have at least a consonant and a vowel.

I think there’s a little more to it than that, but that’s what I’ve learned so far. In one of my lessons from last night, I learned the Korean vowels. I’m drilling myself to remember what they are phonetically (I’m having a little trouble distinguishing between the vowels ㅗ and ㅓ), but so far, I’m enjoying the learning process and am having a lot of fun with it!

Earlier during the pandemic, I decided I would teach myself French. I haven’t stopped that endeavor, but I have slacked off on it. I think I learned more in one night learning Korean than I did in one week of learning French. I’m having a lot of fun with it, I’m finding it easy to learn, and I feel like I’m connecting to my ancestral roots.

Let’s see how much of this I can learn. Hopefully, before long, 나는 한국어로 말할 것이다!*

(*Okay, I used Google Translate for that last bit. Sorry to disappoint you. I’m working on it!)

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 20: 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 19: 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.