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.

#TheBestOf… Visiting the ballpark

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

Today’s topic: the joys of taking in a baseball game.

I’m one of those fans that you’ll see at the ballpark keeping score!

One of my favorite activities is to take in a ballgame. It relaxes me, it’s fun (although I understand why a lot of people find baseball to be boring), and (for those of us who do “get” baseball) it can be mentally stimulating. I’m one of the people that you’ll see keeping score at a ballgame. People who find baseball to be boring often don’t understand that baseball is actually a chess match — the managers are making moves based on probability, and certain strategies are employed based on certain situations (e.g. what kind of pitch to throw, whether or not to steal a base, substituting a player, and so on). I’ve had a lifelong love affair with baseball, going all the way back to my early teens, and I will take in a ballgame whenever I have a chance to do so. I’ve even been known to schedule vacations around Major League Baseball schedules. I even wrote a previous article in which I talk about the ballparks and arenas that I’ve visited.

With that, there are things that I make sure I do whenever I visit a ballpark. Every ballpark is an experience, and with the number of different stadia around the country, each experience will be different.

  • Mingle with the fans around you. Fans are often representative of the local culture, and you can often experience a lot just by talking to fans. They can often tell you about things to experience, places to eat, and maybe talk a little about the history of the home team or the area that you’re visiting. Conversations with local fans can often be quite interesting. And often, you’ll speak the common language of baseball, even if you’re rooting for opposing teams!

    I once attended a game at Fenway Park (a dangerous place for a Yankee fan like me, I know), and I struck up a conversation with a lady sitting next to me. After a while, she said to me, “you’re from New York, aren’t you?” I said, “yeah, how’d you know?” She said, “something you said. You definitely have a New York accent.” To this day, it’s the only time I’ve ever been told that I have an accent of any kind!
  • Sample the ballpark fare. I mentioned in my previous #TheBestOf article that I make it a point to sample food that’s representative of an area that I’m visiting. The same holds for ballpark food. Most, if not all, ballparks have their standard hot dogs, of course, but a lot of ballparks will often have fare that’s representative of their locale. I’ve sampled, among other things, streak sandwiches and bacon on a stick (a friend who accompanied me to a game once said to me, “that’s not bacon, that’s a pork chop!”) at Yankee Stadium, Fenway Franks and hot cocoa at Fenway Park, coffee and garlic fries (not together, mind you!) at Safeco Field (now T-Mobile Park), and French fries at SkyDome (now Rogers Centre). Granted, a ballpark isn’t a four-Michelin-star restaurant, but a lot of concessions have come a long way since the days of a hot dog and a beer (although you can still get those).
Monument Park is one of my favorite places in Yankee Stadium to visit!
  • Explore any unique features of a ballpark. Not all ballparks are created equal. I love to explore ballparks, especially one that I’m visiting for the first time. Fenway has the Green Monster. Yankee Stadium has Monument Park and the Yankee Museum. Tropicana Field has the manta ray tank (I was going to mention the Ted Williams Museum, but was sad to see that it had been closed). Many ballparks have features that are usually worth checking out, and if they’re fan-accessible (Monument Park is one of my favorites), I suggest you go check it out!
  • Buy a souvenir. Any tourist will often get souvenirs unique to his or her trip. Ballparks are no different. I have a small collection of items from ballparks I’ve visited. I have caps, shirts, jerseys, and other swag for the Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners, Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles, Montreal Expos, and Colorado Rockies (and maybe a few others that I’ve missed). (Okay, as a Yankee fan, the only memorabilia I won’t buy is anything for the Boston Red Sox or New York Mets! 🙂 ) They all represent ballpark experiences I’ve had, and even though I’m a Yankee fan, I will wear these items proudly!*

    (*Well, okay, maybe except on days when the Yankees play them!)
  • Keep score. I regularly keep score at ballgames. A scorecard does a number of things. It makes you pay attention to whatever is happening on the field of play (and, if you’re new to baseball, it can help you better understand the game). It can be a conversation piece; often if other fans around me see that I’m keeping score, they’ll often ask me things like, “what did such-and-such batter do his last time at bat?” (I remember someone once said to me, “if you’re keeping score, you immediately become the god of that section where you’re sitting!”) And at the end of the game, your scorecard becomes another souvenir of the ballgame!
  • Admire the history and the architecture. It’s often said that sports are a reflection of society. As such, a great deal of history comes along with a ballclub. (If you want a good synopsis of the relationship between baseball and history, check out Ken Burns’ Baseball.) Understanding the history of a ballclub, as well as the architecture of the ballpark, often reflects the history of the municipality that it represents.
  • Enjoy the environment. There’s a reason why baseball is called “America’s Pastime.” For me, there’s something very satisfying and relaxing (or exhilarating, if an exciting play happens) about spending a beautiful summer day at the ballpark along with good friends (or even by myself), a scorecard, a hot dog, and a beer.
  • Visit the surrounding area. Areas surrounding ballparks can often be attractions in and of themselves, and they often provide great destinations after the game is over. Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is within easy walking distance from Camden Yards. Denver’s LoDo neighborhood is a stone’s throw from Coors Field. Fenway Park is right around the corner from Kenmore Square and Boston University. And Safeco Field/T-Mobile Park is only a short distance from Seattle’s Pioneer Square and the waterfront.

If you are as big of a baseball fan as I am (or even if you’re not), and if you like to travel, make sure you take in a ballgame. It will enhance your travel experience so much more!

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!)

#TheBestOf… Dining out in Troy, NY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social media: should I stay or should I go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 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.

#TheBestOf… Bringing the world together by telling us about your special world

A wandering mind can be a dangerous thing. 🙂

If you’re a ‘blogger who’s looking for something to write about, read on. Perhaps this will give you an idea.

This afternoon, I was doing a mundane, household chore (specifically, I was washing dishes and doing some cleaning in the kitchen), and whenever I do mundane chores like that, of course, my mind tends to wander. So today, I decided to write about what my mind was wandering about.

I don’t know what sparked this idea — maybe it was because I had Andrew Zimmern’s Delicious Destinations on the TV in the background. First, a little background. As a first (or maybe it’s second — I never know how these things work) generation Korean-American, I tend to appreciate cultural diversity. I love experiencing cultures and traditions that are not my own. I enjoy traveling, and I wish I could do more of it (only the lack of time or money — usually both — and these days, the COVID-19 pandemic — keeps me from doing so). I have friends and family around the world — maybe not as many as other people who’ve traveled more than I have, but nevertheless, I have friends I’ve made either by friends I already knew who have relocated to other countries, people whom I’ve met through my association with SQL Saturday or other PASS-related endeavors, or through work or school.

I also thought about things to bring the world together. I don’t need to tell you how divisive the world is these days. A while back, I wrote an article about bringing the world together. I started thinking of a way to do that.

So with all that said, here’s the idea that my wandering mind cooked up.

Let’s say that you have a friend from a foreign country or culture — one that is not your own — over to your home area for a visit. You want to show him or her the best of what your culture or your home turf has to offer. What do you show or tell him or her?

Personally, I would like to show my friend everything that my home state of New York has to offer — New York City, Niagara Falls, the Finger Lakes, apple picking, the Adirondack wilderness, Buffalo chicken wings, the Baseball Hall of Fame, music, county fairs, festivals, historic sites, etc. There’s a lot here to show off.

So, I’ll write an article now and then (usually whenever the mood strikes me) in which I talk about something — whether it’s a place, an art, a sport, a food, whatever — that is significant to me, and I’d like to show off to a visiting guest. I’ll precede these articles using the hashtag #TheBestOf followed by whatever I’ll write about (e.g. “#TheBestOf… Baseball” or whatever).

Here are some ground rules for this project. The topic — whatever it is — is something special or unique to me that I think a visitor would appreciate. It can not be divisive, disrespectful, or disparaging — partisan politics, for example, is verboten — unless it’s within the context of something historically or culturally significant (e.g. Benedict Arnold’s role in the American Revolution, etc.).

And if you’re a ‘blogger and would like to take part, knock yourself out. The best way to think about this little project is to pretend you’re a travel writer describing your home turf or culture. I would enjoy reading about what makes your world special, and what you’d show off if I came over to visit. If you’d like, feel free to refer to this article for reference or context.

Let’s see how this goes. If you’d like to take part, great. If not, no worries. For all I know, this might be the only article in which you’ll see this hashtag.

Have fun!

The #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.