Free Cell #1703491

This is a completely random post and for a very select crowd.

I often play Freecell (far to much, but that’s another story). Years ago, when it first came out with Windows XP, I wondered if every game was winnable. Apparently, not. That said, I haven’t come across any of the “impossible games”. But I’ve come across a few hard ones.

But none nearly as hard as game #1703491. Usually I can solve most games in 2-5 minutes, sometimes it takes 15-30. I was into this one for over 2 hours before I did something I’ve rarely done. I looked for help. Mostly I wanted to know I wasn’t playing an impossible game. A brief search suggested I wasn’t. A longer search proved I wasn’t. But there was only one cryptic suggestion. I had pretty much settled on this being the most likely path, clearing the 6th column.

Now, small sidebar. To add a bit of a challenge, I have a self-imposed rule that I don’t put cards up on the home cells manually, I let the game move them automatically. In other words, if there’s a free card I can put up there manually, but that won’t go automatically, I won’t put it up. This happens for example if the the home cells AH, blank, 2D, AS, I won’t put up the 3 of diamonds. The game won’t automatically put up the 3D until the 2H, 2C and 2S are up there also. Like I say, no real reason other than the extra challenge. I had to break that rule in this game.

Anyway, even with that advice, I kept getting stuck.

A common spot I would get to was:

Making Progress

Still not much wiggle room

This was the first time I had freed up the 8th column. So that was progress and I had considered that key. I’m not sure what took me this long to figure out this combination of moves.

And now the break-thru. I’m feeling good here. I know once I get the 2 of Hearts up there, I’ll be making real progress!

This move is obvious

Now I’m gaining momentum. I may seem tempting to free up that 2 of Spades. Resist that temptation!

Don’t play the obvious move!

Rather you want to move that stack on the 5 of Hearts. With that move and a few others you end up at:

Now we’re making real progress!

The next few moves are pretty clear. Now we can move up that 2 of Spaces and after that the game is clearly winnable.

Getting Close

That said, I have to break my own rule one more time, but I don’t care. I’m ready to win.

Almost There!

And that’s it! I can relax now!

This Post is Free!

Yes, seriously, other than a bit of your time, it will cost you nothing to read this post. And you might gain something from it. That can be a good value.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, one of things I do when I’m not doing SQL Server is perform training for those interested in Cave Rescue. I also sometimes blog about it. I have also mentioned that this year I’m organizing the National Cave Rescue Commission‘s national weeklong training class. In addition, since apparently I’m not enough of a masochist I’m also organizing a regional Level 1 only weeklong training class.

Due to generous contributions the NCRC is able to offer scholarships. For the regional weeklong, we are able to offer 4 scholarships of a value of up to $375 each. This covers 1/2 the cost of training. Applications were due Saturday. Now, we’re hoping for 12-20 students, so this means if everyone applied, they’d have between a 1/3-1/5 chance of getting scholarship. Can you guess how many had applied as of Saturday?

Before I answer that, I’ll note my wife used to work as a financial aid director at a local nursing school. They too sometimes offered scholarships. There was one worth I believe $500 that often went unclaimed. Yes, it required a one page essay to be judged to apply. That one page apparently was too high of a barrier for many folks and as a result sometimes it was never awarded. Quite literally a person could have written. “I would like to apply for the scholarship” as their essay and gotten it.

The same thing happened with our regional scholarships. Out of 11 students so far, none applied. This was literally free money sitting on the table. We have decided to extend the scholarship application process until April 23rd and reminded folks they could apply.

Now, some of the students probably can NOT apply, because they are employees of government agencies that sometimes have rules on what outside funds or gifts can be accepted. This actually increases the odds for the other students. And some may feel that their economic status is good enough that they don’t need to and fear they’d take a scholarship away from someone who has more of a need for it. And that’s a position I can definitely appreciate. But my advice to them, “let the scholarship committee make that decision.” If they determine someone is more needing the money, or your need is not enough, they will let you know. And if they do give you a scholarship and you feel guilty, pay it forward. Donate to the fund later on, or give the money you saved to other causes.

Besides essentially free money at the NCRC, I got thinking about the amount of free training I’ve received in the SQL Server community. Yes, I’ve paid for PASS Summit a few times, but even if I had never gone to that, the amount of knowledge I’ve gained for free over the past several years has been amazing. Between SQL Saturdays and User Group meetings, the body of knowledge I’ve been exposed to has been absolutely amazing.

And yet, I know folks who shun such activities. I’m not talking about folks who say, “I can’t make it this month because it’s my kid’s birthday”. I’m talking about folks who claim they never learn anything. I don’t understand how that’s possible given the HUGE range of topics I’ve seen at SQL Saturdays and oh so many other free events. Some folks seem to think only the paid events are worth it. And while PASS Summit had certain unique advantages, the truth is, you can listen to almost all the presenters at various free events too.

Yes, time is not free, and I recognize that. But overall, it still amazes me at the number of folks who overlook the value of free events, or easy to gain scholarships to events. Don’t turn your nose up at free. It can be valuable.

P.S. – for the parents of college bound kids out there, one thing I did in college which netted me a bit of free money. A few days after the semester began, I’d stop by the financial aid office and ask if there was any unclaimed scholarship money I was eligible for. I never netted much, but I did net a few hundred dollars over the years. For 15 minutes of my time, that’s a pretty decent ROI.

Make Security Easy

This will be a short blog this week, but I want to talk again about an issue I have with a client of mine. They make security hard.

This is not to say they don’t take it seriously, or that they are lax. Far from it. They actually are fairly stringent on their security protocols and get after folks on ensuring boxes are consistently patched and that passwords are stringent and details like that. Overall I’d give them probably an B on security. But I can’t quite give them an A.

There’s really two reasons for that:

The first is inconsistency. Let me be clear, getting to their internal network is appropriately difficult. I have to use their secure VPN, with soft-tokens and similar measures. Technically before I can access a box, I have to jump through multiple hurdles. I’m ok with that. What’s a pain is on some boxes if I walk away for an extended period of time, the screen remains unlocked and nothing changes. Now, because of my OWN security model my computer will lock FAR sooner than that. And my default mode is to typically lock my own computer anytime I walk away from it (and that’s within my own house). But for some machines, if there’s no keyboard or mouse input, the screen will lock after 15 minutes, but my session won’t ever be logged out. For others, the screen will lock after 15 minutes and my session will be logged out after several hours. There appears to be no real rhyme no reason to this other than a slight correlation with when the box was configured.

Now, in general, I think locking unattended screens can be a good thing. The downside is, due to the nature of my job, I may start work on one machine, flip over to another to do something like update the schema and then flip back to the first, only to find my screen locked. In some cases, I won’t. It’s inconsistent. Ideally I think it should be consistent.

So, if you have a security protocol, decide on what it is, and make it consistent.

But the real complaint I have, and this has been true of multiple companies I’ve worked with: make security easy.

Again, with this particular client, on most, but not all boxes, I can easily download and install the required patches. (OS level patches are handled by their internal IT team which is a huge win). But some machines have firewall rules in place such that you can’t download the patch directly to the machine. You have to go to a jump box, download the patch there and copy it over. This is fairly inconvenient. Now, if this were consistent across all machines I’d develop procedures around that, but they’re not consistent. This is particularly a problem for software that often will actually only download a stub installer that will then try to download the actual patch. In this case, if you simply copy over the stub and try to run it to patch the machine, it too will fail. This means you need to find the often hard to find link to download the full patch to the jump box and then copy that over. In some cases, it’s even worse, you have to manually place files where you want them. I had this occur on an update I was doing to a module for PowerShell. I had to download the installer to a jump box, extract what I needed and manually copy the files to the right subdirectory. Now, granted, I get paid by the hour, but I’d like to think my clients pay me for things other than copying files.

I’ve seen another related issue at other clients when it came to patching. They’d patch users desktops during the day and default to “reboot in the next 10 minutes” with no option of delaying the patch or reboot. Now, there are possibly first day exploits where this might be warranted, but this was the default for ALL Windows patches. This was really discouraging to employees and multiple times caused them to lose work, especially it they were away from the desk during this time and didn’t have a chance to save their work. The sad part is that there are multiple ways this could have easily been handled that would have had far less impact on the employees.

In the end, security is critical, but we should be making it as easy to comply as possible and as consistent as possible. There’s an old adage that the security person doesn’t stop doing their job until they’ve stopped you from doing yours. Don’t make that a truism.

Stuck, with Responsibility

So, by now, you may have all heard about the vehicle that got stuck trying to go through a somewhat narrow passage. No, I’m not talking about the container ship known as Ever Green. Rather I’m talking my car and the entrance to my garage!

Yes, due to circumstances I’ll elucidate, for a few minutes the driver’s side of my car and the left side of my garage door opening attempted to occupy the same spot in space and time. It did not end well. The one consolation is that this mishap was not visible from space!

Now I could argue, “but it wasn’t my fault! My daughter was driving.” But that’s not really accurate or fair. Yes, she was driving, but it was my fault. She’s still on her learner’s permit. This requires among other things, a licensed driver (that would be me) in the vehicle and observing what she was doing. She did great on the 8 mile drive home from high school. So great in fact that when she paused and asked about pulling into my garage, I said “go for it.”

To understand her hesitation, I have to explain that the garage is perpendicular to the driveway and a fairly tight turn. It’s certainly NOT a straight shot to get in. I’ve done it hundreds of times in the last 5 years (when the garage was added to the house) and so I’ve got it down. Generally my biggest concern is the passenger side front bumper “sweeping” into the garage door opening or the wall as I enter. I don’t actually give much thought on the driver’s side.

So, I gave her the guidance I thought necessary: “Ok, stay to the far right on the driveway, this gives you more room to turn.” “Ok good, start turning. Great. Ok. Ayup, you’ve cleared the door there, start to straighten out.” “Ok you’re doing…” Here the rest of the cockpit voice recorder transcript will be redacted other than for the two sounds, a “thunk” and then a “crunch”. The rest of the transcript is decidedly not family friendly.

The investigator, upon reviewing the scene and endlessly replaying the sounds in his head, came to the following conclusions:

  • The “thunk” was the sound of the fold-way mirror impacting the door frame and doing as was intended, folding away.
  • The “crunch” was the sound of the doors (yes, both driver’s side doors) impacting the said door frame.
  • Both the driver and the adult in charge were more focused on the front passenger bumper than they were on distance between the driver’s side and the door frame. Remedial training needs to be done here.

Anyway, I write all this because, despite what I said earlier, in a way this is a bit about the Ever Green and other incidents. Yes, my daughter was driving, but ultimately, it was my responsibility for the safe movement of the vehicle. Now, if she had had her license, then I might feel differently. But the fact is, I failed. So, as bad as she felt, I felt worse.

In the case of the Ever Green, it’s a bit more complex: the captain of a ship is ultimately responsible for the safe operation of their vessel. But also, in areas such as the Suez Canal, ships take on pilots who are in theory more familiar with the currents and winds and other factors that are local to that specific area that the captain may not be. I suspect there will be a bit of finger pointing. Ultimately though, someone was in charge and had ultimate responsibility. That said, their situation was different and I’m not about to claim it was simply oversight like mine. My car wasn’t being blown about by the wind, subject to currents or what’s known as the bank effect.

What’s the take take-away? At the end of day, in my opinion and experience, the best leaders are the ones that give the credit and take the blame. As a former manager, that was always my policy. There were times when things went great and I made sure my team got the credit. And when things went sideways, is when I stood up and took the blame. When a datacenter move at a previous job went sideways, I stepped up and took the blame. I was the guy in charge. And honestly, I think doing that helped me get my next job. I recall in the interview when the interviewer asked me about the previous job and I explained what happened and my responsibility for it. I think my forthrightness impressed him and helped lead to the hiring decision. The funny part is, when I was let go from the previous job, my boss also took responsibility for his failures in the operation. It’s one reason I still maintained a lot of respect for him.

So yes, my car doors have dents in them that can be repaired. The trim on my garage door needs some work. And next time BOTH my daughter and I will be more careful. But at the end of the day, no one was injured or killed and this mistake wasn’t visible from space.

Stuff happens. Take responsibility and move on.

Stop! Basic vs Deep Understanding

As an NCRC instructor, it turns out I’m eligible for steep discounts on equipment from a company called Petzl. I decided to take advantage of this a few weeks ago to get some new equipment for caving and just for practicing in general. One of the pieces, a new helmet was a no-brainer (in order to protect my brain). And I must say it’s so much more comfortable than my old helmet that I’m quite happy with it and has become my new default helmet. Well worth it.

Background (cavers (or anyone really) can skip this!)

But one of the other pieces I bought is a bit different. It’s called a Stop. For those who aren’t familiar with caving, first some background. Excluding cave-diving, which is a very specialized activity, caving is pretty much divided into horizontal and vertical. Horizontal caving doesn’t mean it’s perfectly flat, but does mean you can basically move through the cave using just your hands and feet and maybe a piece of webbing or short rope as a handhold.

That said, at some point, many cavers want to start to explore more caves that have more vertical relief and that require ropes to descend into. Unlike rock-climbers, cavers don’t actually climb the rocks (as a general rule) but the rope itself.

The general techniques used by cavers fall into a category known as Single Rope Technique (SRT). The emphasis here is that a single rope is used to ascend and descend. This article won’t go into all the different ways of ascending the said rope, but among the systems are what are known as Frog, Texas, Mitchell, Rope-Walker and homegrown ones. Cavers will argue infinitely over which one is better, but at the end of the day, much of it comes down to personal preference. (That said, the Frog system is by far the most common one used in Europe and the US tends to be far more varied.)

Generally the most common way of descending is to use a device that generates friction with the rope. Here is perhaps the biggest difference between European Frog users and American Frog users.

In the US, most Frog users (in my experience, I’m not sure I’ve seen a great poll) use what’s known as a micro-rack. (And yes, this does mean there’s a non-micro-rack. These are still used in some cases, but far less common).

Image shows a micro-rack on 10mm rope on the left and on the right, the fore-arm/palm of a left hand for scale,
Micro-Rack (left on rope in position of use, on right to show scale)

These are fairly simple devices that are durable and given the design, generally can provide a wide range of friction. Generally in American SRT work, once you start descending, you stay on a single rope and don’t need to move to another rope. I love my micro-rack and can, while hanging on the rope (from my climbing devices) change over safely to be able to rappel in well under a minute and I can do it blindfolded (that’s not an exaggeration, I’ve tested myself.) It’s a great device and it works.

But as I mentioned, this is in the US. In Europe, most cavers would look at me twice and wonder what the heck I was thinking. Over there a different device, generically known as a bobbin is used. In my case what I bought was a version from Petzl known as a Stop (among other things, it has a handle to help move one of the internal “pulleys” to vary friction)

Open Petzl stop on left, attached to rope on right

Stop! This is the part to read!

And now after all the long-windedness I’m finally getting to the meat of this post.

As I mentioned above, both devices rely on friction. Both require some device specific knowledge to use. For example, with the micro-rack you need to know which way to thread the rope. With the Stop, you need to be aware of the requirement of what’s known as a braking carabiner in addition to the Stop itself. In this case I’m using a specific carabiner Petzl sells called a Freino Z. Each device also has a specific way of doing what’s known as a hard tie-off. This is essentially a method of tying the rope around the device such that if you release both hands from the device and rope you will not descend. This is a critical skill to have.

So, after playing with the Stop on the ground a bit, I decided I had to try it as I would use it, i.e. 10′ in the air off the floor of my office while attached to a rope. I struggled a bit, but changed over from my ascent to descent safely and made it back down.

I mention this because I didn’t have anyone there to teach me or show me. I was reminded again that there’s a difference between what I’d call rote or a basic understanding and a deep understanding. I teach a lot of beginners how to change over from their climbing system to their descent devices. And it’s obvious at first that they are simply replicating the motions taught to them. I know I did when I started. Put this here, put that there. It works, they technically pass the requirements needed to take the class I’m teaching. But, if suddenly in the middle of a trip their equipment failed or they lost it (it’s not entirely unheard of for someone to drop their rappel device down the shaft) and had to change to a different piece of equipment, they quite honestly would be lost.

Their basic understanding is limited to the original device. They don’t fully understand how it operates as much as “how to do these steps to make it work”. Only with time and lots of practice does the basic understanding become deep understanding. This is to me, the fun and interesting part. I’m not saying you could hand me any device and I’d automatically understand how to use it. For example, unless someone tells you a braking carabiner is a required part of a bobbin setup, you wouldn’t know that just from looking at it. But if someone said, here’s the basic operations and here’s some details you’d need to know, then yes, you feel confident I could use a new device.

In the case of SRT, proper knowledge is literally a life safety issue. But what about databases. (Yes, I almost always find a way to tie my caving activities to databases!)

I saw a question on Quora the other night asking “How do I do a backup/restore in SQL Server.” The basic answer is readily apparent, even from a casual reading of the documentation. BUT, the deeper understanding should be to the point, where among other things in my opinion, when doing a restore with NO RECOVERY automatically flows from your fingertips. Sure, you might find that you’ve recovered exactly what you need with the first file and no additional logs are necessary, but how many of us have finished a multi-hour restore only to realize we forgot the NO RECOVERY and now can’t apply our logs and have to start over? This may seem annoying, but if it’s the production database, you’ve just more than doubled your recovery time and hence your outage. That’s not a good thing to happen.

Similarly, many of us have seen things like NOLOCK used in queries. We almost always cringe. Sure, the syntax may be correct, but 99 times out of 100, the usage shows the person didn’t have a deeper understanding of the implications.

So it’s about more than simply knowing the syntax (which I’d argue is similar to the rote or basic memorization on how to put a micro-rack or bobbin on a rope) as much as knowing implications of the syntax and why certain things are done.

I’m still working on getting as good with the Stop as I am with the micro-rack, but honestly, if you stuck me in a dark cave tomorrow, I think I’d do just fine.

And next time I restore a database, I think I’d do fine. Will you?

The Value of Paper vs Convenience of Digital

About 35 years ago in the fall, a housemate of mine got a phone call, “hey, I’m a caver who’s passing through your area this weekend and found your name in the NSS Members’ Manual, I was hoping maybe you could hook me up with a caving trip.” Well it just so turns out that the RPI Outing Club traditionally does Friday night caving. (Why night you might ask? Well it’s always dark in the caves, so going at night leaves time on Saturday and Sunday to hike, rock-climbing, canoe, etc.) My housemate invited the guy along and he joined us caving (I think in Knox Cave).

I mention this story because it’s an example of how the NSS Members’ Manual has often been used over the years. Talk to enough old-time caves (especially those who recognize the smell of carbide in the morning) and many will mention how they’ve been in a strange area and looked up a fellow caver. Usually the lookup was to find someone to go caving with, but it might also be help with a broken vehicle, looking for crash space for a night or even more esoteric reasons. Many cavers kept a copy in their vehicles so they’d always have it with them.

Well, this past weekend (March 13th to be precise) the Board of Governors of the NSS voted to stop publishing the Members’ Manual. There was a lot of debate on the topic during the meeting and later online on Facebook (and I assume other spaces) and I wanted to discuss a bit of it here.

There were several rationales for this decision and I don’t think any specific one can be pointed at and said, “this is the reason.”

Conservation was certainly mentioned. The NSS is after all a group who has a primary charge of conservation and while this primarily pertains to underground resources, I think arguably not wasting trees falls into this purview. I’ll leave the debate about the size of the actual impact to others.

Convenience was another one mentioned. Many argued the online members manual which allows for searching to be more convenient than flipping through pages. I’d agree there’s some merit to this argument, but as others countered, that doesn’t mean much if you’re outside cell range and that many caves just happen to be outside cell range. A printed manual is always available, never runs out of batteries and never goes offline. I think there’s merit to both sides of the argument and a lot depends on one’s use case.

But there was an argument I had not given much thought to before and as it continued I started to notice that it was perhaps more demographically split than the others. This argument was about data privacy.

While the argument about the convenience of a printed manual did tend to skew towards the older cavers, that wasn’t strictly true. Even many of the older cavers admitted they hadn’t opened the printed manual in years and preferred to use the online manual.

But the argument about data privacy definitely appeared (in a very non-scientific look) to have two skews: younger and by gender.

At least one, and I believe two of the younger folks advocating for dropping the printed manual expressed shock when they first received their copy of the Members’ Manual and found what they considered personal information, including their home address printed therein. And pretty much all the objections to such easily available information came from women. This gave me cause to think. There’s been a lot of discussion among some NSS members about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Many (and it’s almost always older white men by the way) will argue, “oh anyone is welcome caving!” And while that’s true, I will argue many are ignorant of some of the barriers that might exist. I’ll admit, I had always looked at the Manual as a great way to get in touch with a fellow caver. I mean after all, why not? I’m a good, decent guy. Pretty much most of the cavers I know are. Why would it be a big deal if some random caver wanted to get in touch with me? This discussion about privacy has made me rethink that. My assumptions do not necessarily hold true for those who don’t look like me.

Now, two notes: First, I’m fairly positive, but I can’t be sure and will admit I haven’t looked closely, one has always been able to opt-out of what info went into the printed Manual. I could be wrong. Second, the online method I know positively has that option. And here’s one area where the online manual is superior. It can be constantly updated. This means not only is address info potentially more current, but a member can at any point go in and add, or more importantly, REMOVE their personal information if they so wish. Once the printed Manual goes out, such information is there forever. This presents a risk some members don’t want to have.

Now, I’m going to make a slightly contradictory argument before I come to my final words. As a data professional, on one hand I’m a fan of “make all things digital!” There are definitely benefits, many of which are outlined above. The ability to dynamically update information and access it in many different ways is arguably a huge plus.

BUT, I’m also well aware that while we say, “once it’s on the Internet, it’s there forever” the reality is far more complex and nuanced. Anyone seen their Geocities pages lately? And while it’s not true that NASA has lost the Saturn V plans, the reality is, there are computer tapes, especially from the earlier planetary missions that are either hard or even impossible to read. This is partly due to the fact that the magnetic media has decayed but also due to the fact that the hardware has disappeared. This happens in our own lives. How many of my readers have games or other items on floppy disk and no way to read it with a computer in their house?

I mention this because among other things, the NSS is a research organization. This means it’s quite possible that 10, 20 or 50 years from now, someone may come along and want to do research on the membership of the organization. They might want to explore where cavers are from, the type of members, how long folks were members, or for other goals we can’t imagine at this time. While inconvenient to do such research from printed form, I can guarantee that the printed manuals will be readable 50 years from now. And each one will be an annual snapshot. I’m not so sure that the current membership database will be readable 50 years from now (how many folks for example can read a dBase III database?) and I’m even less convinced that annual snapshots will be easily available (that said I’m not privy to how the membership is stored and if it’s always dynamic or if there’s annual snapshots or what).

So in my final words I’d say “there’s no perfect answers” here. I think the arguments for and against a printed manual have merit and both sides need consideration. My preference is a compromise:

  1. Charge members who want the printed Manual an upcharge to help cover costs. Make this opt-IN (i.e you don’t automatically get a manual unless you ask)
  2. In addition, a certain number of Manuals should be archived at research libraries around the country. While all this data is stored at the headquarters, disasters such as fires, water leaks, etc can happen. I think the NSS needs to ensure that data, such as a history of its membership needs to be preserved.
  3. When members join or renew, other than their name and membership number, make all PII data opt-IN for printing and for on-line. Nothing will show in either place unless they specifically allow it. This is the modern world and all members should have the right and ability to control what information of theirs is made public. This is among other things a DEI issue.
  4. Drop any form of on-line PDF (I can’t find one, but several people mentioned they had found one). Ironically this is perhaps the biggest risk in my mind of breach of privacy data; PDFs are easily scraped for data. In addition, do NOT allow a “global” search of the on-line Members’ Manual where all members can be looked up at once. Both this and if there’s an inline PDF make scraping far too easy.
  5. Take into account current data privacy laws (such as in the EU and California) that have a direct impact on the retention of online data.

Basically I’d prefer, if not the best of both worlds, the best we can get: the convenience and permanency of a printed manual as well as the convenience and dynamism of an online manual. Both I feel have their place. But as far as either goes, I think the growing awareness of data privacy practices and the fact that the NSS needs to be aware that for some, this IS a DEI issue, means that the status quo has to change. I’ve said before, “the times they are a changing” and this is an example of that.

Reasons I Attend WIT Events

Last Friday, I took time out of my day to attend the Data Platform WIT Day. Hosted on Redgate’s Zoom, it was a series of webinars that started with Rie Merritt’s excellent Keynote Lifting as we Climb and concluded with Stepping Stones from Diversity Learning to Equitable Actions with Cindy Gross. The full list of sessions is available at YouTube here.

I highly recommend you take some time out and check out the sessions that may appeal to you. The keynote is 30 minutes and the follow-on sessions are roughly an hour each. Because of other events on my schedule I wasn’t able to attend all of them, for example I could only jump into Cindy’s about half-way through, but very much enjoyed what I watched and learned quite a bit.

Afterwards, one of the organizers, Mala Mahadevan tweeted the following:

https://twitter.com/sqlmal/status/1367951596227854340

I was caught a bit off-guard by the call-out, but not in an unpleasant way. I’m proud to support WIT. And it prompted me to write this post on my usual Tuesday, just a day after International Women’s Day.

I attended for two reasons: one was for learning and the second was honestly to be supportive.

The first reason should be obvious. There’s some good information in these webinars. Tracy Boggiano gave a great presentation on dbatools and dbachecks, tools that I definitely need to learn more about. The panel on mentoring with Leslie Andrews, Shabnam Watson, Deborah Melkin, Gilda Alvarez, and Deepthi Goguri was a great learning experience for me. I gained further insight into how mentoring can work, especially for those who have a different experience than mine. And while the panel focused more on the experience and value of mentoring for women, I gained several great takeaways. So it wasn’t just a “women for women” type event.

But quite honestly, I attended in part for the same reason I’ve often started using my pronouns in various places (him/his for those who aren’t aware): to normalize the practice. I think it’s important for those who don’t identify as women, and especially for those who identify as men to attend such events. While the focus of a WIT event is for women, it does not mean men can’t learn from it. It doesn’t mean we’re not welcome. I had heard much of Rie’s talk before, since she adopted it from other talks she’s given. It’s primary focus is of course on how women can help women grow in their professional careers. But there are tips that men can learn, such as not interrupting the women they work with, amplifying their voices, and more. I tell the story that the first time I heard Rie speak, I was one of two men in the room, and the other was a friend she had apparently asked to attend in order to give her feedback. I was a bit saddened there were not more men there, as we need to learn a lot of what she has spoken about. I suspect some men felt “oh I don’t need to go” or “there’s nothing there for me.” But they’re wrong and I want to continue to normalize attending such event for those who present as men. And I attended of course because I want my women colleagues to know they have support, that I value their contributions and experiences.

Now that said, I will add that events such as last Friday’s are “Women in Technology” events. The focus is in the name. While welcome, men should avoid any attempts, conscious or subconscious to center them on their own experiences. What do I mean? For one, during the Q&A parts, if you feel tempted to say “I have more of a comment than a question…” just stop. Nope. It’s a Q&A period, not “I want to hijack the discussion and talk about myself period.” This is not to say questions aren’t welcome. But make sure they’re actually relevant to the topic at hand, e.g. “Tracy, I think I missed something, am I correct in understanding that the latest version of dbachecks has a problem with the latest version of Pester?”

So my advice, do your best to be an ally by your actions, not your claims.

And that said, for those who are inevitably going to ask: When it International Men’s Day?

Whatcha Reading?

I thought I’d start off March with something a bit lighthearted and as sort of a follow-up to last week’s post about what I’ve been eating in the last year.

For as long as I can recall, I’ve loved reading. I could not wait until my kids could learn to read. Without reading, we are in many ways limited to what we can see with our own eyes right in front of us. But by reading, we open up whole new worlds.

I’ve stood on the peak of Amon Hen with a Halfling as he stood there, wearing a magic ring, debating what he should do as he looked across the world and could feel himself being spied upon.

I’ve flown in a spacecraft controlled by an intelligent computer that was given opposing directives that it decided it could only resolve by killing its crew as it flew through space on its way to a flat rectangle whose dimensions were known to us to be in a ratio of 1:4:9 and in higher dimensions could be said to extend to to 16, 25 and possibly higher.

I’ve travelled the ante-bellum Mississippi with a young man named Huck and his best friend Jim. I’ve wondered why the hounds of Baskerville didn’t bark. I’ve flown over Italy, dropping bombs on people wondering why I was doing that as they had never done anything to me. And people thought I was the crazy one.

I escaped my boarding school and wandered the streets of New York City for day. (I should note my dad insisted I read this one and told me I’d really relate. I didn’t. I found Holden to be boring, self-centered and honestly, just plain annoying). On the other hand, I loved riding in an automobile escaping New York City to Long Island while past a valley of ashes during the roaring 20s. Those same ashes appear later in the biography of the man who would literally reshape the outline of Manhattan and the traffic patterns of that great city and other parts of New York for generations to come.

I’ve read of a dystopian future that at times seems all to close where certain women are forced to wear red cloaks and to bear children for other couples. But I’ve also sailed across the seas of a foreign world where there are no continents, just archipelagos of islands, on one of which one a young woman, raised to be a priestess/goddess to her people learns from the gentleness of a young man she’s forced to impression that there’s so much more to learn of the world and gains her freedom.

I’ve sailed into deepest Africa to find a man who has gone crazed with power. And later voyaged to the bottom of the planet on a sailing ship, only to find myself stuck with my fellow crewmates in ice for over a year. Our captain undertook a daring and amazing voyage to a whaling station, only to have to cross over the mountains between where they landed and the village in order to find our rescuers. I’ve also sailed to the Moon and back, numerous times, the first, hitchhiking along on Christmas Eve as the story of creation was read to the nations of Earth. I joined him again later only to discover once again we weren’t going to land, in fact we weren’t even going to orbit. But that’s ok, I also travelled to the Moon and back again not just once, but multiple times, including with the first man to walk on the Moon and the last.

I’ve also hiked to the top of Mount Everest and surveyed the detritus of bodies of those who attempted the trip and failed and felt relieved to know that at least one who had been left for dead later found the will-power to pick himself up and crawl to the nearest camp. In a similar vein, I’ve read both sides of the story, of two climbers in the Andes, one who had to cut the rope of his partner, letting him plummet to his death, the other being the one whose rope was cut, falling not to his death but to a miracle. But I was also heartbroken to read of the young man who went into the wilderness of Alaska to live, and ultimately die in an abandoned bus.

And then yet another morning I woke up to find myself in the body of an insect, wondering what it all meant. And another day I came home from school to find a tollbooth in my bedroom through which I could ride a toy car and be joined by a humbug and later jump to conclusions.

Ok, enough reflections on that, let me talk a bit more about what I’ve read or will read in the coming months. I’m a luddite in some ways. I still prefer the feel of dead paper in my hands. At the top of this article is a photo of some of the magazines I tend to read on an a monthly basis (I just realized at least one is missing).

Discover and Scientific American: I read monthly, cover to cover and learn all sorts of new things. I highly recommend everyone read at least one of these. Yes, some might argue they “dumb down” science, but in reality I think they make it more accessible.

NSS News: This is an interesting one. The articles can range from extremely technical (the chemistry and hydrology of a cave for example) to very lighthearted or celebratory. It’s one of the few printed items I read where on a nearly monthly basis I can expect to read the name of someone I know personally, or see their credits for photos. It also collects excerpts from grotto newsletters, giving me a more intimate feeling of what other cavers are doing.

Trains: Ok, this is a bit of a niche market, but I’ve always been fascinated by trains and railroading and in fact bought stock in BNSF long before Warren Buffet did. He just had a bit more money than I did when it came to buying the whole thing.

Outside: I’ll admit I actually read this the least. I get it for free, so it’s nice to browse when I have time. But honestly, I’d rather BE outside than read about it!

Air & Space: Again, following my theme of science and space, I love reading this one.

The Times Union: Ayup, I still read the daily newspaper. I find an online version doesn’t cut it. When I was working in the Washington DC area I also subscribed to the Washington Post (and then on the weekends would come home and catch up on the Times Union)

But what else? You may notice so far I haven’t mentioned anything about SQL Server. But, just this past month I finished reviewing a book a publisher has asked for my feedback on possibly editing and updating. So there’s that. But I find most of my SQL reading is done via blog posts. These include but are not limited to:

Monica Rathbun: some great articles, generally with a focus on performance. Well worth the read!

Deborah Melkin: I’ve known Deborah since she first came to SQL Saturday Albany to speak and have always enjoyed her style and ability to make complicated things simple enough to understand.

Steve Jones: I think he probably blogs the most of anyone I follow. I’m not sure how he does it, but it’s consistently great.

Ray Kim: a fellow member of the Capital Area SQL Server Group, he, like me blogs about a lot more than just SQL Server. He will often focus on baseball, like his most recent blog entry.

Derek Lyons: I’ll admit, anime has never really been my thing, but it’s always nice to see what a friend is writing about. But if anime IS your thing, check out his blog.

And of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit that I’ll google stuff a dozen times a week if I need to, so there are plenty of other blogs and pages I’ll hit on a regular basis.

And being the luddite I am, I still read Usenet and actually moderate the sci.space.tech and sci.space.science discussion gorups.

And I really do read SQL books from time to time, they’re just not overly gripping reading!

Finally, living outside of Illium, err Troy, I once met a young old man who went by the name of Billy who told me of his adventures in WWII and travelling to another planet. All the above is just a small part of what I’ve read and a small part of what I will read. And so it goes.

What’s for Dinner?

“Food!” is my usual answer. Yes it’s my dad joke answer. I can’t help it.

The truth is, I generally don’t have a well planned menu in advance and sometimes what I plan on making for dinner will change after I step in the supermarket and something catches my eye. Sometimes I won’t even have an idea until I go into the supermarket. That said, I still have sort of a routine, one my family is familiar with and perhaps at times tired of. (That said, they still eat what I make, so I guess they’re not that tired of it).

  • Monday – Usually a chicken dish. Last night was Pad Thai (but I’ll let you in on a secret, the noodles were woefully underdone. I was afraid they’d turn to mush and took them out too early!)
  • Tuesday – Usually something centered around ground beef/turkey, tacos, sloppy joes or shaved steak for Philly Cheese steaks. I’m not sure about tonight’s dinner, but since I did tacos last week, I can guarantee it won’t be Taco Tuesday tonight. I don’t like repeats. 🙂
  • Wednesday – Up in the air. Sometimes a grilled sausage, onion and pepper on a bun.
  • Thursday – Often store bought ravioli or tortellini. They’re simple and quick.
  • Friday – I get more creative, often some crab cakes, maybe scallops, or something good.
  • Saturday – At least once a month, pizza with homemade crust (and occasionally homemade mozzarella).
  • Sunday – Take out. Previously 90%+ of the time it was Lee Lin, a Chinese food place I’ve been ordering from for decades (literally since college) but now we vary it up with other take out places.

So yeah If you happen to show up at my house (post-pandemic please) you’ve got an idea of what you’ll end up with depending on what night you show up. Maybe. I might change my mind.

I really enjoy cooking. I love the idea of creation and the idea of nourishing body and soul. I like the fact that food can bring joy to people.

During the time of Covid, there have been times when cooking has been a real drudgery, but other times I’ve really enjoyed it or had the chance to try new things. For example, like many Americans I’ve dabbled with making Sourdough.

Image is of  full loaf (on the left) and a half loaf of homemade sourdough bread.
Fresh Sourdough, an early attempt.
A roast beef sandwich with lettuce and tomato and mayo on a plate. In the background is a keyboard.
Roast Beef Sandwich with homemade sourdough bread!

Of course I mentioned pizzas?

An image of two pizzas from above, resting on a butcher block.
The one on the left is a pepperoni pizza. The one on the right is a white pizza with sundried tomatoes. 
Both have fresh basil from my garden on them.
Two sourdough pizzas with home grown herbs.
Image of two pizzas looking from above. On top of a butcher block.
Top one has fried onions, Granny Smith apple, bacon, sundried tomatoes.

Bottom one is white pizza with home made pesto.
Two more: the top is bacon, sundried tomato, Granny Smith Apple, fried onions! The bottom a white pizza with homemade pesto and some sundried tomatoes
“Breakfast Pizza” with cheddar cheese, bacon, black pepper and a pair of eggs cracked on top near the end.

For Thanksgiving I tried something new:

An experiment for Thanksgiving dessert - apple sharlotka. It was a success!
An experiment for Thanksgiving dessert – apple sharlotka. It was a success!

And of course one has to have sweets!

Gingersnap cookies
LOTS of sugar and carbs!
Bags of Christmas Cheer
A smattering of gingerbread men!
A smattering of gingerbread men!

But of course, the question is “what’s for dinner?

My French-Canadian grandmother’s recipe for baked kibbeh taught to her by her Lebanese mother-in-law. BTW, this is 1/2 the amount she’d normally make for family gatherings! This is over 3 lbs of meat plus bulgur wheat and onions! It’s a LOT of food and oh so delicious.
I actually bought my air fryer BEFORE the pandemic, but love it and use it a lot and find it makes great wings. (And the cinnamon cap has nothing to do with the wings.)
Air fried General Tso’s Chicken, finished in the pan. Thanks to #SQLFamily fellow DBA Rie Shewbart Merritt for the recipe!
Technically “Cottage Pie” because it’s made with beef instead of lamb, but still delicious, and one of Randi’s favorites!
A Friday dinner with steak and potato (and yes, I’m a heathen who likes a bit of ketchup with my steak, but that sauce is delicious too!)
Perogies that close family friend Christine Dzakowic Walsh had made, but fresh herbs from my garden.
Another Friday dinner. That’s my burger on the right, with the works, grilled onions, bacon, bleu cheese, lettuce, tomato, garlic-parm fries!
Can I interesting you in mini-beef wraps with mashed potatoes with a wine-sauce reduction? I think I got this one from close friend Sarah Lawrence.
Chorizo street tacos anyone?
Homemade Falafel and homemade hummus with a peanut sauce and veggies and homemade pita. I need to make this again soon I think.
Of course latkes are a must in this house come Hanukkah! (toss in some curry powder, trust me on that one!)
Homemade pasta with homemade pesto and Presto… delicious dinner!
My most recent experiment, homemade dumplings! Delicious but need some work!
Some homemade chili with yes.. sourdough bread!
Coquille St Jacques – delicious! My mom introduced me to this dish when I was about 10.

And besides dinner, there’s breakfast

French toast with lots of cinnamon!
Sourdough waffles with a variety of toppings (including homemade whipped cream!)
Sourdough pancakes!
Yes, I put ketchup on my eggs. Deal with it. And yes, that’s my initial. It’s my egg. I can do that!
My latest attempt at homemade bagels. I think I nailed it this time. More in the future!

Snacking is important too!

Homemade Pita (roll it very thing and place in a very hot oven!) with homemade Hummus!

Now, that’s not to say it’s all fun and games. Sometimes one does have to collect data on how to make things better. Recently I had been reading up on chocolate chip cookies (research of course) and learned that the original recipe called for letting the dough sit for 36 hours before baking. Now, I’m never one to take a detail like that at face value, so I had to of course experiment. I also decided to test the baking time for my white whole wheat chocolate chip cookies to see if 10 or 11 minutes was better.

Baked right after mixing
Baked after being chilled 24 hours
After being chilled 38 hours (I slept in that morning).

So, I think more research is necessary, but I would say that chilling does appear to help the flavor and I think initially 11 minute baking is better, but the next day, it’s hard to tell if it or the 10 minutes is better.

I probably have a dozen or so more pictures of various meals, but I think I’ll stop here. I’m getting hungry and it’s not even lunch time yet!

Seriously though, besides the biking and caving and other things to keep me busy, I’ve enjoyed cooking (most of the time) in the last year. I hope you enjoyed my trip through my kitchen in the last year. I’d love to see what you’ve been making or baking!

The Weather is Frightful

I’m writing this from upstate NY, outside of Albany, but from what I can tell, this post could be written almost anywhere in the US right now.

I’ll admit I didn’t sleep as well last night as I’d have liked. I kept waking up expecting to hear the beep of UPSs or other indications we’d lost power. About the only sound I heard was a snow plow go by once or twice.

We’re fine here. Most schools are on winter break as it is, but those which weren’t are closed for the day. Scattered power outages, but I suspect most will be back in a few hours. And it’s supposed to warm up into the 40s later today. I’m not too worried.

But, I’m looking at reports from caving and #sqlfamily friends and coworkers from across the country and it’s grim.

From one: I have about one bar left on my battery and no power.  

Just saw another: And then the power went out.

Another had a nice screen shot of her pool in Texas freezing over. I should point out, that’s COLD. Not just “oh it’s 31F cold” but much colder because generally a pool has quite a bit of latent heat in it and even though it’s just the surface freezing, it means that the heat in the water deeper in the pool can’t keep the surface warm.

I’m reading reports of rolling blackouts in Texas and portions of the Rocky Mountain states. For example, Texas hit a new record for a single day demand as everyone turned on any electric heating device they could find.

That said, even for everyone who survives this deep freeze (and let’s be honest and clear here, there are some who won’t. Most of us will never know their names, they’re the ones sleeping under a bridge overpass, living in a trailer on the edge of town without access to better resources, the person living in their car who can’t get to a shelter) the problems are just beginning.

There’s going to be a lot of folks reporting water damage due to burst pipes. There’s going to be a lot of car repairs for folks whose cars have been damaged or even totaled due to accidents.

And I highly suspect there’s going to be a marked increase in energy prices over the next few months. From what I understand, the largest refinery in the US shut down yesterday due to the weather. A number of well heads have frozen, and more. Now, this is not an apocalyptical catastrophe. Most will be up and running in the next few days, but such a disruption will cause ripple effects.

Combine that with the ongoing economic impact of COVID on jobs and the economy in general, let me just say Spring can’t come soon enough.

I’m fortunate and I know that. I’m warm. I have heat and electricity. I have plenty of food in the house and neither my wife nor I have lost work in the past year. But I think and worry about those not as fortunate. I’ve contributed more to charities this year than the past and expect to continue to do so. I’ll continue with my other charity work and continue to advocate for policies I think that will help others that need it.

But I still hope for Spring, both literally and figuratively.