Your User Manual

As a technical writer, anything that mentions “manual” (or “documentation”, for that matter) tends to catch my eye. I suppose it’s an occupational hazard. But when I saw this post from my friend, Steve Jones, it made me take notice.

I’m reblogging this for my own personal reference as much as anything else. Suppose you had a set of instructions for yourself? How would it read?

I might try this exercise for myself at some point, but for the moment, read Steve’s article, and see if you can come up with your own manual for yourself.

Voice of the DBA

Many of us have spent time looking through manuals or the documentation for some software or product. I know I’m on the MS docs site regularly for work, and there is no shortage of times I’ve used various manuals to help me fix something around the house. We usually use a manual when we want to learn how something is supposed to work, or how to get it to do what we want.

I saw a post on a personal user manual that I thought was a good idea for some people, maybe many people. This isn’t a manual for how you should live your life or work, but rather, how others might interact with you. This manual describes how you work, what motivates you, stimulates you, what pleases you, and even the environment in which are most productive.

Whether or not this is something you might give to co-workers…

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Make time for your art

This pic above showed up in a Facebook meme, and it spoke volumes to me. To sum up my thoughts in only a few words, I’m an artist.

Okay, I suppose some context is in order; after all, I am writing this as a ‘blog article.

For the benefit of those of you who don’t know me, I’m a musician in my spare time. I started playing the piano when I was seven, the clarinet when I was eight, and I taught myself how to play mallet percussion and the saxophone when I was in high school. I grew up learning how to play classical piano, and I picked up a taste for jazz and classic rock along the way. I played well enough that I easily could have been a music major had I chosen to do so; alas, my parents wouldn’t let me.

I also started writing my own music when I was in high school. I started out writing piano compositions (think John Tesh-like new age piano music) without lyrics. One day, I said to myself, “what would happen if I wrote lyrics for my music?” The result was a song called If She Only Knew. I ended up writing more songs; you can hear many of them on my songwriter’s page (you can even purchase my music on the page or on iTunes). I still have more music that I haven’t finished recording (alas, trying to coordinate time with friends who can actually sing is a major blocker, not to mention that life happens), and it’s only within the past few years that I’ve started writing again, after a long layoff of many years (like I said, life happens).

When I first started writing, I was an isolated, naïve, and lonely kid who hadn’t been exposed to a lot in the big wide world. As such, much of what I wrote was stuff that was on my mind that I was unable to express in words. Music was — and still is — the perfect outlet for me; it enabled me to convey what I was otherwise unable to express.

The pandemic over the past few years has stressed me out in many different ways, as I’m sure it has for many people. Under these circumstances, it’s especially important to maintain your mental health; indeed, it was why I ended up in the hospital last year. We are not robots, so it’s important to maintain some kind of relief valve to release the pressure. This is a huge (although not the only) reason why the arts are important. (I could also talk about how art trains us to think critically and creatively, but that goes beyond the scope of this article.) The arts allow us to express ourselves in ways that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to in the corporate, business, and high-tech world.

Art can take many forms. For me, it’s in my music. For others, it can involve drawing, sculpture, painting, glass-blowing, creative writing, poetry, sewing, video production, theater, collecting, cooking, and so on. (You could also make the case that sports and athletics are an art.) You don’t necessarily even have to be good at it. I once got into a lengthy argument with a friend who said that a picture created with animal feces was not art. What he didn’t understand was that art doesn’t necessarily have to be good or tasteful; it just has to be something that’s expressed, even if it’s (literally, in this case) a piece of crap.

I think art is critically important (I’ve argued that we should be teaching STEAM, not STEM). It’s important for us to develop as well-rounded individuals. And it provides us with a creative outlet that we desperately need to release stress, especially in our current world that is full of it.

Going crazy (in a good way)

Every once in a while, I’ll start thinking random thoughts. For whatever reason this morning, on the last day of 2021, my brain randomly started thinking about one of my favorite movies, Field Of Dreams. At the beginning of the movie, Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) said this: “And until I heard the Voice, I’d never done a crazy thing in my whole life.”

Even Billy Joel once sang, “…said he couldn’t go on the American way… now he gives them a stand-up routine in LA…”

And again, my (dangerously) wandering mind started thinking: how many crazy things have I done in my life?

A little perspective is in order here. When I say “crazy,” I don’t mean psychotic, dangerous, or harmful. I’m not talking about a dangerously unhinged person who decided to injure large numbers of people because “the little voices in the head told him or her to do so.” Rather, how often have you done something that’s out of character for you, something you ordinarily wouldn’t do, taken some kind of calculated risk, decided to do something random because “it sounded like fun,” decided to jump in your car to travel somewhere, stepped out of your comfort zone, and so on?

I’ve had my share, some of them significant, some of them trivial. I’ve driven two or more hours to concerts or sporting events on nights where I had some kind of commitment early the next morning. (I’m finding that as I get older, I can’t do those things like I used to.) I’ve submitted presentations to various major conferences, with varying levels of success. I’ve written music that I’ve submitted to publishers and contests. I once randomly stopped by a gym to ask for advice about getting into shape. And I once drove five hours on a whim to meet up with my then-girlfriend.

How have they turned out? Well, let’s start with my music. I had a publisher tell me (and I’m paraphrasing here), “I can’t use your stuff right now, but definitely keep at it, because you definitely have talent!” (The main reason why I haven’t kept up with it is because — well, life happened.) I even got honorable mention recognition for a song contest to which I submitted. For my presentations, I’ve spoken three times at PASS Summit (or its equivalent), and I’ve spoken at many SQL Saturday and Data Saturday events. There are a couple of non-PASS conferences where I’ve submitted (I was recently picked to speak at one, and I was rejected for another). That gym where I stopped? It was a CrossFit gym. That was in 2015, and I’m still going! As for those late night concerts and sporting events? Well, I had to drink extra coffee the next morning, but I enjoyed myself at the events, and I had very few regrets about attending them!

And my five-hour trip to see my then-(now ex-)girlfriend? Okay, so they don’t always work out. Win some, lose some. That said, I have no regrets about that trip.

Many of those calculated risks have bore fruit. Friends and colleagues have told me that I’m a good speaker; Grant Fritchey, a rockstar in the PASS SQL community and a person whom I greatly respect, once told me that “you’re a good speaker, and you deserve the PASS Summit slot” when I was selected to speak this year. That statement from him meant a lot to me. And while I haven’t become a rockstar (I mean that literally — an actual music rockstar), I’ve found that I’ve gained a measure of respect for what I do from other musicians. I’ve gained a lot of confidence in what I do, and I think it’s done a lot to help me advance my career, as well as my extracurricular activities.

There are a number of other friends who’ve had similar experiences. Off the top of my head, one friend decided to audition for an acting part; he is now active with his local community theater. Another friend actually got married on the Today show. (Yes, seriously — the groom is a friend of mine from high school!) While those are two that immediately come to mind, I’m sure there are others. How many of you randomly decided to go skydiving, sing karaoke, speak in front of an audience, write a poem or a song, sent a resume to a job listing for which you thought you had “no chance,” asked out the girl or guy you liked, or tried out for a part? And how did they turn out?

The thing is, if you want to get ahead in life, you need to step out of your comfort zone. This isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with just maintaining the status quo. If you only aspire to sitting on the couch watching TV, so be it. But if you want to get ahead, make something of yourself, and maybe even make yourself better (and possibly, happier), sometimes, you just have to do something a little crazy.

Hope you all have a happy and healthy New Year. And I hope you all do something a little crazy in 2022.

Getting my music heard

As some of you may know, when I’m not coming up with ideas for professional development ‘blogs, I’m a musician on the side. I’m a classically-trained pianist, and I also play the clarinet, saxophone, and mallet percussion instruments as well. I perform in a large symphonic concert band, I accompany a local church choir, I play in a wind quintet, and earlier this year, I joined a local classic rock band.

In addition to all that, I’m also a songwriter. I started writing when I was in high school, wrote for several years, recorded a few things (and had a few friends help me with the vocals — singing is one of the musical tasks that I don’t pretend I can do), stopped writing for several more years (life happened), and only relatively recently started getting back into it again.

If you’re interested in hearing my music, you can go to my artist’s page here.

During the past year of the COVID pandemic, I reworked my recordings. I had my MIDI sequences that I had stowed away and recorded all the instrumental tracks. I had to get somewhat creative with the vocals (like I said, I can’t sing worth a damn), so I poked around some online sites where you can upload songs and extract vocals from them (here are a few that I tried: Splitter.AI, Vocali.se, Vocal Remover and Isolation, Acapella Extractor). I took my “crappy” demos that I’d created years ago and used these sites to extract the vocal parts from them. The extracted vocals weren’t great — there was still a lot of noise on them that I couldn’t clear — but for my purposes (at the time), they did the job, and I was happy with the results. When I applied the extracted vocals to my instrumentals, I thought they sounded pretty good. I’m sure music professionals who are better at mixing and mastering than I am can hear the lousy quality, but to those who don’t have discerning ears, you hardly notice them.

I took my computer recording studio and went to work polishing my recordings. I kept remixing and editing them, and with each subsequent edit, I felt that I was getting better and better at it — to the point that I told other music friends that if they ever wanted to do any multitrack work, let me know.

What I’m not good at doing is mastering. Mastering music recordings is an art and a skill in which I don’t have the expertise. After all, I don’t do this for a living, and I consider myself merely a hobbyist. Nevertheless, I did the best I could given my limited skill set and what I learned from doing this on my own. While my recordings aren’t mastered (and likely won’t be, unless I can re-record the vocal parts), I created the best-quality music recordings I could on my own.

I managed to get them to the point where I was happy with the results. Granted, they’re not commercial-grade recordings, but I gladly and happily listen to them.

I decided to take the next step and distribute my recordings (even though they’re not mastered). I figured, I’m sure there are other hobbyists in the same boat who likely do the same thing, so I had nothing to lose. I came across a couple of articles about creating my own album (including this and that), and came across a music distribution service called DistroKid, which was highly recommended by several articles that I read. Once I got my recordings to the point that I was happy with distributing them, I signed up for a DistroKid account and uploaded my album.

That was about a week ago. Last I checked, my album is now available on iTunes/Apple Music, Spotify, and Amazon Music! And there are more to come, I’m sure; these are only the first ones! (And, of course, you can always listen to my stuff on my Soundclick site!)

Let me say this again. I consider myself a hobbyist, not a professional. Yes, I know my recordings are not mastered and probably not professional-quality. I work hard at what I do, and while I’m not the best at it, I’ve gotten considerably better. For all the trolls out there, save me your diatribe about how these don’t sound professional and are not the best quality recordings.

That said, I’m a hobbyist who takes his hobby seriously, and is highly passionate about it — enough that I am willing to spend time and money on it. That said, I believe that my music is good music, and it deserves to be heard, which is why I did what I did. Honestly, I really don’t give a crap if I never sell a single album. The entire point of this exercise is to get my material out there and heard, and earn some measure of respect for myself as a musician and songwriter who is extremely passionate about his craft.

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 26: The evolution of emergency services — #EMS #EMT #Paramedic #Television #COVID19

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve been spending a lot of time — probably too much time — at home. As such, one of the pitfalls is that I’m probably watching way too much TV. Yes, I know, I really need to get out of the house more.

With that, one of my more recent addictions is old Emergency! reruns on COZI TV. I have childhood memories of this being one of my favorite shows; I remember riding around on my bike as a kid, making a siren noise and pretending I was a paramedic. Outside of watching sports, I seem to have a thing for medical dramas — I’ve been watching shows like Transplant and the Chicago series, and I’ve also been a fan of M*A*S*H for many years.

Watching these old Emergency! reruns and comparing them against current Chicago Fire episodes makes me think about how much EMT, EMS, and paramedic services have evolved throughout the years. I think that evolution is fascinating — enough to the point that I’m writing a ‘blog article about it.

First, let me start with a little background information. Emergency! is largely credited with raising awareness of emergency medical services. The show also traces its roots to a report titled Accidental Death and Disability: The Neglected Disease of Modern Society (a.k.a. “the white paper”). The show takes place in the 1970s, and it’s a far cry from the EMS and EMT services with which we’re familiar today.

The pilot episode talks about the Wedsworth-Townsend Act (which is also the name of the episode). The episode largely focuses on the origins of the paramedic program in LA. In the episode, Dr. Brackett (played by Robert Fuller) makes a plea for passage of the bill to allow paramedics to provide emergency services. In the same episode, Firefigher John Gage (Randolph Mantooth) expresses his frustration after losing a patient largely due to not being able to get him the help he needed in time.

Emergency services changed all that. Before those days, an ambulance was nothing more than a station wagon with a stretcher; the idea was to get an injured person to medical help as fast as possible. Unfortunately, many people died before they could get the help they needed.

(I should note that the idea of getting medical help before transport was actually depicted in M*A*S*H — injured personnel often went to a battalion aid station before being sent to a M*A*S*H unit.)

In the show, the idea was to provide medical assistance — more than basic first aid, but less than a doctor’s services — to make the patient stable enough to transport him or her to the hospital. Johnny and Roy, the paramedics, were trained to apply those services, but in order to do so, they needed to contact the hospital (using the famous biophone) to obtain both instructions and authorization to administer medical services. Additionally, the paramedics served a dual role; while they were licensed to provide medical assistance, they were (I’m guessing first and foremost) firefighters whose primary role was search and rescue. They drove a truck mostly designed for search and rescue operations; it was not capable of patient transport. They had to call for an ambulance separately in order to get the patient to the hospital.

These days, these roles are different (Chicago Fire does a good job of depicting this — I should also note that, as far as I understand, Chicago Fire and Emergency! are actually technically accurate; they aren’t just medical gobbledygook). In many locales (it may differ in different jurisdictions — I’m mostly generalizing this description), fire department paramedics are themselves medical professionals; they no longer require instructions or authorization from doctors (again, to my knowledge, this depends on the jurisdiction). They themselves drive the ambulances, and the ambulances themselves are often emergency rooms on wheels, a far cry from the vehicles where their only function was to transport patients as fast as possible. And the roles of paramedic and search/rescue personnel are mostly different, not combined as in Emergency! (in Chicago Fire, these different roles are depicted by Ambulance 61 and Squad 3, respectively).

A couple of personal thoughts about the comparison between Emergency! and Chicago Fire: first, although I haven’t been able to find any citations to support this, I don’t think there’s any coincidence in that Chicago Firehouse 51 shares a unit number with LA County Fire Station 51 (which would support the influence that Emergency! had). Second, I would love to see an episode of Chicago Fire in which the characters of John Gage and Roy DeSoto make at least a cameo appearance. (Dick Wolf, if you’re reading this, can you make that happen???)

I hope you had as much fun reading this impromptu history of emergency services as much as I did writing about it (and I apologize for any inaccuracies I might have written — please feel free to correct them in the comments if I did). Funny what pops into your head while you’re watching TV…

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

TRANSPLANT — Season: 1 — Pictured: (l-r) Torri Higginson as Claire Malone, John Hannah as Jed Bishop, Hamza Haq as Bashir Hamed, Jim Watson as Theo Hunter, Laurence Leboeuf as Magalie Leblanc, Ayiah Issa as June Curtis — (Photo by: Fabrice Gaetan/Sphere Media/NBC)

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.)