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.

#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: 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.

Coming up with ‘blog article ideas

Ever come up with a great topic about which to write an article? Do you have something on your mind that you want to get out of your system? Did you just learn something new and profound? Or is there some topic about which you don’t know but are trying to learn? Did you pick up some useful tidbit that you want to set aside for later use? Did you come across something you want to share?

I could keep going with this, but I’d rather not write a rambling paragraph that will eventually bore you; besides, I think you have the idea. I’d guess that one of the most common questions when trying to write a ‘blog is, “what do I write about?”

For me, personally, a lot of my ideas just pop into my head (including for this very article that you’re reading right now). If I think the idea is profound enough that it might help other people, I’ll start writing about it. Other times, I’ll come up with some idea, jot it down in a post, and save it for later. I have 100+ such draft articles; whether or not they ever see the light of day remains to be seen.

There are a number of things to consider when coming up with draft article ideas (and I dedicate several slides to this very topic in my ‘blogging presentation). If you’re trying to come up with things to write about, here are some thoughts that might help get you going.

  • What’s on my mind? It might sound obvious, but a lot of my ‘blog article ideas come from random thoughts that just happen to pop into my head. They’ll come from random sources — something I’m working on, something I’m watching, reading, or listening to, a question that someone asks, and so on. Every now and then, they’re thoughts that I think might help someone out. That can make great article fodder, so make sure you at least make a note of it. It happens more often that you might think; I’ve surprised myself at the number of ‘blog articles I’ve written that started as just random thoughts in my head.
  • I know something you don’t know — and I’m willing to share! Chris Bell, one of my friends on the SQL Saturday speakers circuit, once told me something profound, and it’s something I haven’t forgotten. He said, “an expert is someone who knows something that you don’t.”

    I’ve been a working professional for a long time now (I won’t say how long!), and I’ve learned a lot in my experience. I think I have some knowledge in at least a few subjects, and what I think can potentially help other people. Helping other people is one of my great passions, and if something that I know helps someone else, then I’ve accomplished something.
  • I just learned something new! Some people seem to have a misconception that you need to be an expert at something to write a ‘blog. Wrong! If you’re learning something new, keeping an online journal about what you learn is one of the best reasons to maintain a ‘blog! You’ll be able to see for yourself just how much you learn. Additionally, if you’re actively seeking new employment, it shows potential employers that you’re learning something, and that you have the ability to learn. Not only that, it shows off your expertise in terms of what you’ve learned. That’s something that hiring managers like to see!
  • I don’t want to forget this. Let me write it down. One of those people you could help is yourself. Matt Cushing tells a story in his networking presentation about the time he was trying to solve a problem, and he found the answer to it… in his own ‘blog! He had written an article about the very thing he was trying to solve, and found the answer in his article that he had forgotten about!

    As Matt says in his presentation, “a ‘blog can serve as your own personal Google.” A ‘blog can serve as scratch notes to yourself, and it might even help others in the process.
  • Bring people in. Don’t drive them away. You want people to read your ‘blog, don’t you? Like anyone else, I have thoughts and opinions about a lot of things, but I won’t ‘blog about a lot of them. I generally avoid any topic that’s divisive. You will almost never, if ever, see me discuss politics or religion on my ‘blog (I despise talking about politics, anyway). If I want to talk about religion, I’ll go to church. If I want to learn about politics, I’ll read The New York Times. Unless your ‘blog is specifically about those hot-button topics, they are more likely to drive people away than bring them in. I will not touch them on my ‘blog.
  • Avoid posting anything that is overly-sensitive or qualifies as “TMI,” unless it’s relevant to your topic. People generally don’t want to hear about your last trip to your gastroenterologist. Stuff like that isn’t typically what ‘bloggers write about. However, if some anecdote comes out of it — “my appointment taught me a lesson that applies to my professional life,” for example — maybe then, it’d be appropriate to write about it. However, be careful about it — make sure that what you write is appropriate for your audience. Nobody wants to read the details of your last trip to the bathroom while you had the bad case of diarrhea.
  • It’s okay to go off-topic once in a while. At the time of this article, Steve Jones of SSC is taking a sabbatical from his job (a nice little perk that he has available to him). During his time away from work, he has been ‘blogging about his daily exploits, which include skiing, learning to play guitar, and working around his ranch. I’ve been enjoying his posts, and I even told him that I was living vicariously through his posts.

    I’ll occasionally post an article that has nothing to do with my job, technical communication, or professional development. I’ll sometimes write about my extracurricular activities — my music endeavors (I play four different instruments), my workouts (I am an active Crossfitter), and so on. If you maintain a ‘blog about professional topics, it’s okay to post something off-topic now and then. It shows you have other interests, and it shows that you have a life outside of work. It shows that you’re human.

There are numerous other ways to generate ideas for ‘blog fodder. Feel free to comment below with your favorites. Hopefully, these thoughts are enough to help you get your own ‘blog going.

Blogging virtual presentation — Tuesday, January 21 @CASSUG_Albany @PASS_ProfDev

On Tuesday, January 21, at noon (US Eastern Standard Time), I will be doing my presentation titled “Blogging for Success: Advancing your career by blogging.”

If you’re interested in starting a ‘blog, I’ll talk about my own experience with ‘blogging and lessons I’ve learned along the way. Some topics I’ll discuss include how I got started, ‘blogging platforms, and subject matter.

For more information and to register for the event, use this link.

Hope to see you there (so to speak)!

A picture is worth (writing) a thousand words

On a recent project in which I was documenting an application, I found myself hitting yet another case of technical writer’s block. I sat in front of the screen, staring at the application — sometimes, for hours — and came to the realization that all I was doing was blankly staring at the screen. I tried different techniques to stir up ideas as to how to tackle writing the documentation, but no matter what I tried, the words just wouldn’t come. Even just trying to figure out a document structure — never mind actually trying to describe the application — was proving to be elusive.

It was at that point where I decided to give up on trying to write a description of the application functions and turned my attention to grabbing screen captures. I went through the application’s menu structure, built a document heading hierarchy based on it, and started working on the application images I’d just captured. I took the time to clean up the images, including altering them to eliminate any client or user data (replacing them with “dummy” data), and formatting them for my document. Once I was satisfied with the result, I inserted it into the document, proceeded to the next screen capture, and repeated the process.

A funny thing happened during this process. First, I found that my document was expanding in content. Granted, it was mostly graphics, but it was, nonetheless, content. Second, I’m finding it easier to come up with ideas for descriptions and text content. Third, I’m no longer blankly staring at my screen; I’m finding that I’m actually productive. Finally, I’m finding myself having fun with the process!

This is not the first time that I’ve performed this process while writing a document. Indeed, I’ve often worked on documents in which I found myself in a writing rut, shifted gears to work on graphics, and discovered the spark that I needed to write the text.

It’s an age-old saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Most often, this phrase is geared toward the perspective of the reader. However, what is not as appreciated is that this cliché is applicable to the document developer as well. If ever you find yourself in a writing rut, try working on the graphics. It might just be enough to spark ideas and get you out of the rut.

First drafts are ugly

“The secret to life is editing. Write that down. Okay, now cross it out.”

William Safire, 1990 Syracuse University commencement speech

“No thinking – that comes later. You must write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is… to write, not to think!”

William Forrester (Sean Connery), Finding Forrester

“Just do it.”

Nike

I will confess that this article is a reminder to myself as much as anything else.

Raise your hand if you’re a writer, and whatever it is you’re writing has to be perfect the first time around. Yeah, me too.

How many times have you tried writing something, but in doing so, you hit a wall (a.k.a. writer’s block) because you don’t quite know how to put something in writing? Or how often have you written a first draft, only to take a second look at it a second time and say, “what a piece of s**t!”

(And speaking as someone with application development experience, this happens with writing code, too. Don’t think that this is limited to just documentation. This is yet another example of how technical writing and application development are related.)

Someone (I don’t know whom) once said, “one of the stupidest phrases ever coined is, ‘get it right the first time.’ It’s almost never done right the first time!” In all likelihood, you need to go through several iterations — review, editing, rewriting, etc. — before a draft is ready for public consumption. It’s called a “draft” for a reason.

The fact is, nobody has to see what you write the first time around. If you’re trying to get started on a document, just write what’s on your mind, and worry about making it look nice later.

Coming up with presentation ideas

As a followup to yesterday’s article, I thought it might be fitting to talk about presentation ideas.

Despite the fact that I speak regularly at SQL Saturday, none of my presentations (up to this point) have anything to do with SQL Server or even anything data-related. My topics revolve mostly around documentation and communication. So how do I go about coming up with presentation topics?

To answer this, I suppose I should go back to the beginning, and (re-)tell the tale as to how I got involved.

Back when I was primarily a SQL Saturday attendee, I knew I wanted to get involved. The question was, how? At the time, I looked around at the people attending the event, and I said to myself, “these people probably know more about SQL Server than I do. What can I present that these people would find interesting?”

In the early days of our user group (I was one of the original co-founders and members), we sought out speakers to present. I thought about data-related topics. I even took a turn one meeting where we were encouraged to bring up SQL-related issues as discussion topics. But when it came to ideas for data-related topics, I kept coming up empty.

I thought about a time at one of my jobs where I became an accidental customer service analyst. As a developer, I was not allowed to speak with end-users, but one day, I received a phone call from a user. It turned out that he had gotten my number from someone who was not supposed to give out my number. I was able to walk him through and satisfactorily resolve his issue. In fact, I did such a good job with it that, from that point forward, I became one of the few developer/analysts who was allowed to talk to customers. It made me realize that I had a knack of being able to discuss technology with end-users without being condescending to them.

During one user group meeting, I jotted some notes down. By the end of the meeting, I had come up with enough material for a presentation. I ran my idea past my fellow user group attendees, all of whom said, “that would make a great presentation!”

I worked on the presentation and presented it at a user group meeting.

Four years later, I will be giving that same presentation at PASS Summit! I’ve come a long way!

While that ended up being a good presentation, I’ve tried not to rest on my laurels. I still try to come up with new presentation ideas. I’ve come up with several since then, and I’m still trying to come up with more.

When I think about presentation ideas, I generally keep these thoughts in mind.

  • Is it a topic that attendees will find interesting?
  • Is it unique?
  • Is it something about which I’m knowledgeable, and I feel comfortable talking about?
  • Is it something I can present within an hour? And do I need to cut it back to an hour, or do I need to fill it in to an hour?

I still remember a piece of advice that Chris Bell, a DBA and fellow SQL Saturday speaker, once told me: “an expert is someone who knows something that you don’t.” That was profound advice, and I’ve never forgotten it. So far, it’s served me well in my speaking endeavors.

So if you struggle to come up with presentation ideas (like I do!), hopefully this will help you get the ball rolling. I look forward to seeing your presentation soon!

Collaboration, cooperation, and competition

This is another article based on stuff that I picked up from SQL Saturday #814.  This time, I’ll talk about Matt Cushing’s presentation about networking.

Whenever I’m speaking at a SQL Saturday, I always make it a point to attend sessions that are similar to mine.  At #814, I met Matt Cushing, who was doing a session on networking.  In fact, our presentations had very similar titles; they both started with “Networking 101.”  That very much caught my attention, and once I finished my own (my presentation was in the time slot immediately before his), I went to his room to catch his presentation.

A big reason why I attend presentations similar to mine is that everyone is different, and will therefore present differently.  Other people will have different perspectives of the same topic.  I want to see these other perspectives.  They might have ideas that will help me enhance my own presentations.  Every time I attend a session in which the topic is relevant to my own, I come across something that either never occurred to me, presents an idea in a different way, or reinforces concepts in my own presentations.  These are important, and they help me make my presentations even better.

Matt gave a great presentation!  I found his own self-assessment on his ‘blog.  I found out that it was Matt’s first-ever SQL Saturday presentation.  I had no idea!  He did a great job with it.  (Matt, if you’re reading this, well done!)  I don’t remember all the points from his session (I’ll need to download his presentation slides), but one takeaway was that “competition is good, cooperation is better.”  (This thought inspired the name of this article you’re reading now.)

This concept of cooperation is applicable to countless situations, and SQL Saturday presentations are no exception.  Many presenters refer to other speakers or other presentations; even in my own presentations, I’ll encourage audience members to go check out other presentations that are similar to my own topic.  (Ed. note: I need to make sure I add a reference to Matt’s presentation in my own slides!)  Matt and I joked that we should encourage SQL Saturday organizers to schedule our sessions back-to-back; we even went as far as to say that we should do a joint presentation.  (Matt, I’m game if you are!)

In a way, Matt is a competitor in that we did similar presentations.  However, we were both able to learn and feed off each other, which enables us both to improve; it’s a win-win for both of us.  Competition is a healthy thing; it drives us to do our best.  But when you cooperate with your competition, there’s no telling what you can accomplish.