#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 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.

#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 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.

My company logo on a shirt

I was poking around VistaPrint‘s website the other day (this is the site I use to make my business cards). Of course, with any business that sells promotional items, I was greeted with the proverbial “try your logo on this product” popup window.

One of the items that came up was shirt designs. I decided to have some fun with it, and came up with the design that you see above.

I thought it came out pretty well! I decided to order two shirts, one for my wife and one for myself. I plan to wear it whenever I go to the gym and whenever I attend networking events, or events where I’m presenting, such as SQL Saturday.

If you like this shirt, you can order one, too; just click this link! I’m not getting any money for shirt sales. My payment is you walking around advertising my business!

Alas, I don’t yet have a large marketing budget where I can buy a hundred shirts and give them out for free. Hopefully I’ll get to that point, but I’m not quite there yet.

The power of a single, simple presentation — oh, the places you can go!

This morning, my Facebook memories feed told me that I did a presentation at my local user group five years ago today (this isn’t the first time I’ve written about this). I did a presentation about how to speak the language of technology to those who don’t understand it.

Little did I know at the time that that simple little presentation would end up taking me places.

I had applied to speak at our local SQL Saturday using that presentation, and I wanted to use our user group meeting as a trial run. That evening, I learned a few things about myself.

  • I enjoyed public speaking and presenting.
  • I was good at it (or so I was told).
  • I have a passion for teaching. This was not news to me, but my experience reinforced that passion.

Not only was that presentation accepted for our local SQL Saturday, I have since given that presentation eleven times — including at PASS Summit, and most recently, at a SQL Saturday this past February, just before the COVID-19 crisis hit.

Since I did my presentation at my local user group five years ago, I’ve spoken at a total of twenty-three (and counting) SQL Saturdays, seven in-person user group meetings (including one that was not local), three online virtual user group presentations, a podcast, and PASS Summit. I’ve gotten the opportunity to travel and to make friends because of my experiences!

And those are just my speaking engagements. I’ve also had some other things that have happened, indirectly, because of that presentation.

  • I started a ‘blog about professional development topics (this very ‘blog that you’re reading right now).
  • I’ve gotten a better sense of my own professional skill sets and gained more confidence in them.
  • I’ve started my own business, something that I previously never thought I would ever do.
  • Even though I lost my job, I have much more confidence in my own abilities and career prospects.
  • My professional network has become much stronger.

I credit all of this to that one, simple presentation that I gave at a user group meeting five years ago today.

So consider joining a user group and doing a presentation. You never know where it could lead.

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.

How to (and how NOT to) connect on #LinkedIn

Lately, it seems like I’ve been getting more and more request to connect on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the go-to social networking tool for connecting with people professionally. Ever since I (1) announced that I was looking for a new job, and (2) announced that I’d started a new LLC, the number of connect requests I’ve been getting has increased.

I had comments on my LinkedIn summary saying that I won’t connect with cold-call LinkedIn requests (and I still won’t, but we’ll get to that in a moment), but I toned the language down after my job hunt kicked into gear.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about LinkedIn connect requests, but people whom I don’t know or have never heard of still persist in connecting with me. I’ve said it before: networking is about relationships. If you’re trying to establish a network (which is what LinkedIn connect requests are about), you need to establish a relationship.

Yet here I am, once again, writing about this topic, because people still don’t get it. So, here are a few tips about how to (and how NOT to) establish a LinkedIn connection with me.

Things that will establish a connection between me and you

  • You’re a friend or colleague whom I know and trust, and I recognize your name immediately, regardless of whether or not you include an accompanying note.
  • You’re someone whom I invited to connect.
  • You’re an acquaintance whom I don’t know well, but you include a note saying “we worked together at such-and-such place,” or “we were classmates in such-and-such school,” or “I was one of your students at place-where-I taught.”
  • I don’t know you at all, but you include a note saying “we met at SQL Saturday,” or “I enjoyed your presentation,” or “we met at such-and-such place,” or “(a mutual connection) said we should hook up,” and so on, and so on, and so on.

    One of the best examples of this was the following note I received after I spoke at a SQL Saturday. Although I didn’t know her at all, I was happy to connect with her.

    “I really enjoyed your presentation on technical writing at SQL Saturday today! The tie challenge was a really interesting way to get the point across. I’d like to stay in touch and maybe pick your brain about tech writing again at some point in the future.”

    One note that I should add: try to be specific about how we’re connected. Mention where we met, which of my presentations you saw, what you liked (or didn’t like) about my presentation, why our mutual friend said we should connect, and so on. For all I know, you might be stalking my profile, just happen to see a connection on it, and say “so-and-so told me to connect.” If you don’t explain why we’re connecting, that’s not going to cut it. I don’t have any tolerance for BS’ers.
  • You’re a legitimate (key word!) recruiter who actually knows and respects what I’m looking for, and doesn’t blindly send me requests for jobs in which I have absolutely no interest. (See below for the opposite of this.)

I want to point out that, except for the first two bullet points, all of these have something in common: that you include a note telling me who you are and how we’re connected. This is key in establishing a connection.

Things that will make me delete your connect request immediately

These types of requests irritate me to no end, and will nearly guarantee that I will delete your connect request.

  • I have no idea who you are, and you do NOT include any note of any kind telling me who you are.
  • Same as above, even if we’re connected in some way (e.g. same user group, same workplace, same activity, etc.). If we’re connected, and I don’t know you well (or at all), don’t just assume I know who you are and how we’re connected! Tell me who you are!!! Don’t make me work to figure it out!!!
  • Including a note, but making no mention about how we’re related. I recently received a connect request from someone asking me if I was looking to hire developers. My business is a single-person LLC (for now), and I am not looking to hire anyone, at least not yet. Maybe several years from now, when I’m pulling in over a half-million dollars worth of assets and have more work than I can handle, then sure, I might look to hire people. But until that happens, please tell me how we’re connected. I felt bad for the poor guy, but he didn’t give me any reason for me to connect with him, other than “I’m looking for a job.”
  • Kissing my ass. This is something that pisses me off to no end. My number one pet peeve is insulting my intelligence. Doing so guarantees that you will end up on my shit list.

    The most egregious example was a connect request I received that said this:

    “I’m always looking to build my network with great people and would be delighted to have you in my network. I hope you’ll consider connecting!”

    Not only did she try to kiss up to me, she insulted my intelligence. I could not delete her connect request fast enough.
  • Try to talk about a relationship that doesn’t exist. I recently received a request that said this:

    “Thanks in advance for connecting. Tons of value in connecting with other sales professionals.”

    Um, did you actually read my LinkedIn profile?!? Name ONE thing in it that says I am, in any way, interested in sales!!! (Here’s a hint: I’M NOT!!!)
  • I make no secret of the fact that I have a deep contempt for spam recruiters. It is well-known by legitimate recruiters and scores of IT professionals that spam recruiters are radioactive and should be treated as such. If you’re a so-called “recruiter” who doesn’t give a damn about your client, doesn’t try to get to know what I want or am looking for, sends me a job in which I have zero interest, tries to send me a cold-call connect request when I don’t know you, have never heard of you, have no idea who you are, and only cares about how much you get paid and not about your client’s well-being, then don’t even bother trying to contact or connect with me.
  • Trying to sell me something, or push something on me that I either don’t want or don’t care about. Again, this is about establishing relationships. It’s a two-way street. If it’s something that’s only for your benefit, then I don’t want anything to do with you.

In a nutshell, if you’re looking to connect with someone over LinkedIn, always include a note that explains your relationship with that person. I guarantee that you will increase your chances that he or she will connect with you, and your networking experience will go much better.