“Don’t be so Sensitive”

I’ve mentioned in the past that I have an interest both in the SQL Server world, and the caving world. Often these both overlap in different ways, for example disaster planning and the like.

The other day I was reminded of another way in which they overlap: the ratio of men to women in each activity.  In both areas, though I don’t have firm numbers, far more men participate than women. There are a number of reasons for this, but one I’ll call “the good ol’ boys” attitude. I discussed this in a previous post concerning women in the industry. Recently however I was reminded that sexism continues to be a problem in the caving community. On Facebook, I’m a member of a number of groups with a focus on caving. The other day someone saw fit to post a picture in one of the groups I’m a member of. The picture was of a young woman, in a sports bra and short tights wearing a rock-climbing harness, and holding on to a dangling rope.

Now, there were several problems technically wrong with the picture, including the fact that she was wearing a rock-climbing harness and this was a caving group and the fact that the harness was on backwards.  But, that wasn’t the real problem.  The real issue was, this was that it simply was not appropriate for this group.  Several members posted pointing out that this picture, and pictures like this, objectify women and discourage them from caving.

And then it came, a guy saying, “Don’t be so sensitive.”

In four words, he casually dismissed the concerns and feelings of a large number of his fellow cavers.  He said, without realizing it, “I don’t care how you feel. Your feelings and concerns are not important to me.” In my experience, these are the very same men who then complain there aren’t enough women in caving.

Similar comments included, “Oh, now you’re saying she’s wrong to be proud of her body” or “what’s the matter with a hot body”.  Here the underlying subtext is that anyone who expressed an issue with the photograph in that group was a prude.

I’ve seen similar comments at times in the IT community; “What’s the matter if I call her pretty, she should be proud of that!” “What, DBAs can’t be hot too?”

What some of my fellow cavers and IT professionals fail to understand is that the women in these circles want to be considered by the same standards as their male companions, on their skills and accomplishments, not on what their body looks like.  This does not make them prudes.

Nor, when these same women dress up for a cocktail party, or have a beer, or crack a ribald joke does that make them hypocrites. This is also an important concept for many men to understand. The women I know who cave and are DBAs are just as complex and varied as the men. Some like to dress up, some like to tell off-color jokes in the appropriate setting, some like to smoke a cigar, and often do all the same things that their male compatriots do.  But when it comes to caving or IT, they want to be respected for their skills, not judged for these other attributes.

So, next time you’re about to post a hot sexy photo, or make a comment on a woman’s appearance, ask yourself, “is this the appropriate place for this? Would I do this if it was a hot sexy photo of a man? Would I make the same comment towards a man?” And as a hint, if the name of the group is something like, “Professionals in IT” or “Cavers of the World” the answer is almost certainly “no”. Remember, your fellow cavers and IT professionals are judging you.

The Next Generation

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m a caver. I mention this when I speak as part of a dad joke, that as a caver, I really do know a certain body part from a hole in the ground. I won’t say it makes me unique, there are literally 1000s of cavers in the US and even more around the world.

Like any group of people, not all cavers are the same. Some love long expeditions where they may spend a week or more underground, mapping new caves and plumbing their depths. Others may go in to study the geology or search for fossils. Some are studying the biosphere within caves. I have a lot of respect for those folks. Me, I like to take beginners caving. I also like to teach cave rescue and to talk about it.

And I think my role in taking new folks caving can be as important as what many of my fellow cavers do. Yes, it means I often go into the same caves over and over again, and that may sound boring, but honestly, it’s generally not. I often get to see the cave again through new eyes.

What brought on this post was the fact that I had the opportunity to take a friend and her twins caving for a second time. The wonder and excitement that their 6 year old eyes brought to the cave was wonderful. Passages I took as boring and mundane they saw as exciting and exhilarating. Their enjoyment was a breath of fresh air.

I’m a member of the National Speleological Society  I support the NSS because it supports cavers. But, I have a nit to pick with some (certainly not all) of my fellow members.

Let me preface by saying that caves can be rare and unique areas. While they can appear to be solid, non-changing areas made of stone, they can be dynamic places and the presence of humans can easily have a dramatic, negative impact.  For example, people hiking a mountain don’t have an impact on it simply by breathing near the mountain (they can certainly have other impacts). But, bringing enough people into a cave can have a dramatic impact on fungal and bacterial growth simply due to the amount of moisture they bring into the cave with them. They can also bring fungi and bacteria into a cave that may not have been there before.

In addition, many once beautiful caves have been destroyed by treasure collectors who have broken off cave formations such as stalactites and stalagmites. Once removed, it can be hundreds of years or more before they’ll reform. Even touching a forming one can alter its formation.

As a result of this, I’ve seen a movement that appears to be growing of both gating caves and of not sharing the location of caves. While cavers have often always been a bit protective of cave locations, the perception, at least to me, is that we’ve become more so. We’re reluctant to share the caving experience because we’re afraid “too many people will come and ruin the cave.” And there’s probably some truth to that.

But, while I certainly favor protecting our caves, I think if we’re too protective, we end up risking losing the next generation of cavers.  And the NSS enrollment numbers suggest this may be happening.

So, I personally prefer to take beginners caving. Many will attempt to go anyway, so I’d rather they learn proper caving techniques and cave conservation.  I encourage others to do the same. Take the time to introduce others to this wonderful activity, and teach them how to do it correctly.  And fortunately for every caver that seems to have the attitude of not wanting to “let” novices into caves, there seem to be two cavers that are willing to take novices caving. So, I remain optimistic.

I’ve thought about this also as I look at the presentations some of my fellow #SQLFamily members and realized I do the same there. Many will have great presentations on complex topics and ideas. They’re great presentations. And I respect them for it and admittedly, I’m sometimes jealous of their knowledge and skills. Myself, I seem to prefer teaching more introductory topics. I think continuing to bring new folks into the world of SQL Server and into SQL Saturday and PASS Summit are important. In fact our speaker this coming Monday is Matt Cushing. He’ll be speaking about Networking 101.

To close, I think in any world, but particularly in the two I inhabit, caving and SQL, it takes all types, those who dive deep into the subject and those who take other paths. I don’t think one path is necessarily better than another. The only ones I have an issue with those are those who take the attitude that novices aren’t welcome. You don’t necessarily have to be the person welcoming novices, but don’t be the one that discourages them either. We need to build the next generation.  And that’s my take away for the week.

Busy Weekend Volunteering

As I mentioned previously, I was on vacation for about 10 days and got back to Albany very early Wednesday morning (or late Tuesday night depending on how one looks at it.) And once back from vacation I had to jump right back into two other events I had previously put on my schedule. This meant I didn’t have much time to catch up on work or sleep. But it was worth it.

A confluence of events meant that I ended up being double booked this past weekend. The first event was some special cave rescue training called a Small Party Assisted Rescue (SPAR) class. This was a 3 day class, Friday through Sunday. However, in addition, students had the chance to show up Thursday night in order to test on their skills before participating.  I was both an instructor for this class as well as the site and course organizer. My second event was SQL Saturday Albany, which I had been selected to speak at. I’m also the User Group coordinator that sponsors this event. This double booking meant that I couldn’t instruct at the SPAR on Saturday. I do want to note that at both events there were a number of other volunteers, and some were doing even more work than I was.

Between these two events, it meant I was getting about 6 hours of sleep a night plus putting in a lot of driving. It was a long, tiring, essentially 3.5 day weekend starting on Thursday. Additionally the jet-lag made it seem even longer.

Why do I mention all this? Because, both events are very important to me and cover two large areas of my life. I’ve previously written about some of my SQL Saturday experiences and SQL Pass experiences.  This is part of my professional life. I feel very strongly about volunteering and speaking at these SQL events. I enjoy running our local Capital Area SQL Server User Group (CASSUG) for the same reason. I’m a better DBA because of the shared experiences of my fellow speakers. I’ve written about this previously here and elsewhere in this blog. I hope I’ve helped others.

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Deborah Melkin discusses normalized vs. star schemas.

On the other side, as my slide deck often points out, I’m a caver. More critically I’m the Northeastern Regional Coordinator for the National Cave Rescue Commission. I’ve had the privilege of teaching 100s of people how to perform cave rescue, been a media resource during the 2018 Thai rescue, and have spoken and written on the subject. I am by no means an expert, I’m always learning, as are all my fellow instructors. But, we all are not only willing, but want to spend the time and money and effort to teach others. We are passionate about it.  I don’t mean this lightly. For this particular SPAR, while about 1/2 the instructors lived within 2 hours of the event and it was an easy drive, the rest either drove 5-8 hours, or spent all day flying on standby to get here or to get home. None were reimbursed for any of their expenses and in fact had to pay for linens if they wanted them.  They also had to take 2 days or more days off of work to come to New York.

Next summer, I will be the course coordinator for our 2020 National Weeklong here in New York State. This will bring close to 100 people to New York for a week of 14 hour days of teaching and learning cave rescue techniques. Fortunately, I will have a LOT of help organizing this event. But again, all the instructors and staff are volunteers who will travel at their own expense to be here and help teach.

So I spent my weekend volunteering, because I’m passionate about it. How was your weekend?

 

Tighter than I Remember

I’ve been reading a book off and on for about a year now called, Being Wrong : Adventures in the Margin of Error. It ties into my interest in meta-cognition and how we think.

We build a model in our head of how the world is. Often times it’s accurate, but often times it’s wrong. In my model of the world, the Sun rises in the East. This model is accurate and corresponds with the model most of us have. But I can easily construct related models that are wrong. Looking back I can remember that it was sunny on a particular day, only to find if I check the records, it was raining. My memory is wrong, but it created the model I had for that day. I can also create a model going forward. Last night, going to bed, the world I was going to wake up to was sunny. This was based on the weather forecast and the fact that the Sun rises in the East. Well, the Sun may have risen today, but it’s not sunny. There’s far too many clouds. So that model was wrong.

This all comes to mind because of a caving trip I did this weekend. There’s a fine little cave near here called Ella Armstrong. It’s really not much of a cave, perhaps 250′ of walkable passage total. But I’ve always liked it even though I hadn’t been there in 15-20 years. It’s got a nice vertical drop at the entrance that’s great for beginners. And it has an easy walk-in entrance.  As a result, I had been considering using it for some cave rescue training next year.

So you can imagine my surprise when two of my fellow cavers who had been there just a few weeks ago said I was in fact wrong and it’s not a walk-in entrance and that in fact it’s rather tight. I was surprised. I didn’t really doubt them, but figured perhaps we had a different definition of what we considered a tight entrance.

Now, let me take a little detour here and mention that almost every caver will at some point joke about how a particular cave has gotten smaller over the years. It’s a little lie we tell ourselves to account for the fact that many of us have put on a few pounds since we first started caving and some passages are in fact harder to get through.  The truth is, rarely due caves get smaller, though sometimes passages sometimes do get larger. There’s a cave in Vermont where I’m pretty sure fitting through 2 of the 3 tightest spots is probably close to impossible for me now. And I know the cave didn’t change sizes, so I’ll have to admit I have.

But back to Ella Armstrong. If you had asked me to describe the entrance prior to this weekend I’d have described it as about 12′ tall at its tallest and 3′-4′ wide most of the way to the top of the drop.

Well, as Saturday proved, the model in my head was only half right. The map lists the entrance as 8′. I’ll call that close enough to 12′ since it simply means there’s no chance to hit my head on the ceiling.

On the other hand, most of the entrance from the surface to the top of the drop is NOT 3′-4′ wide. It probably averages 18″ at most and in parts is just wide enough for me to work my chest through with some contortions. My first reaction when I got to the entrance was, “perhaps some rocks have fallen in and narrowed this from what I remember.” But, after I started to scramble beyond some of the rocks on the surface, I got to the bedrock, which I know hadn’t moved and realized that my model was dramatically wrong. It was tight enough that at one point I considered calling off our trip. It wasn’t that I didn’t think I couldn’t make it further down and past a particular spot; gravity would see to that. It was more that I was afraid I might not get back UP past that spot. Finally after some mental gymnastics I figured a way I could not only get down past the choke point, but felt comfortable thinking I could get back up past it. As I’m writing this from the comfort and safety of my home, you can see my mental gymnastics worked.  Actually, it turned out the crux move on the way out was a bit further up that wasn’t nearly as tight, but had a short shelf about 3′ up in a spot that wasn’t great on foot or handholds. On the way in, that spot didn’t appear to be an issue at all. So again, in the narrow space of about 20 minutes my mental model failed me.

The truth is, we make mental models all the time. It’s how we operate in the world. But sometimes those models are wrong. Sometimes in a positive way, the tight spot getting out wasn’t as bad as I thought, or in a negative way, the spot I thought would be easy, was in fact the hardest sport. But regardless of the errors in many of our models, we generally navigate the world in a successful manner. Being wrong isn’t necessarily the end of the world.

Unfortunately though, as much as I love this cave, it really is too tight to be practical for cave rescue exercises. Which is a shame, because it is a great little cave. And if you’re ever in the area and want to check it out, let me know. I’d love to take you. But I’ll warn you, it’s a bit tight in spots!

Being Observant

I was busy last week teaching cave rescue at the annual National Cave Rescue Commission Weeklong training seminar, hence my lack of a post last week.

As always, I had a great time helping to teach a class of 19 students. Our teaching includes classroom time as well as time in the field. We use both caves (obviously) and cliffs for out in the field instruction. The cliffs give us an opportunity to focus on rigging and lets everyone see what’s going on; mostly. In a cave, often it’s too dark and small to let everyone have a good few.  But, you may notice that I said mostly above.

Let me interrupt with a quick video.  Can you count the number of times the players dressed in white pass the basketball? If you got 15, congrats.

Now back to the class being on the cliffs. As part of our exercises, we usually do several iterations of the same thing, such as lowering a patient and then raising them up. Each time we may change a detail or two, such as where they can rig, what haul system to use, etc. The idea is that repetition helps them learn the skill. Often though, at the last iteration we toss in a wrinkle: they’re not allowed to speak, at all. Generally this means, they have to start with a pile of rope and hardware on the ground and without saying a word, rig a safe system to lower and raise a patient.  Generally they use a variety of hand signals and various body motions. While at times it can be quite entertaining, it can also be instructional. It’s often the faster iteration of the day, in part because they’ve honed their skills but also due in a large part because there’s no ideal chit-chat.

The point of the exercise is multi-fold. Partly it’s a great challenge for them that they end up really enjoying. It also illustrates that communication is still possible when you can’t verbalize things. This is actually often common in caves where rushing water or echos can make vocalizations useless. It finally shows that they’ve come together as a team and can work effectively.

That said, sometimes they can miss details. As instructors we ensure though that no safety issues are missed. We will stop the exercise if we see something unsafe and help them make it safe.  Part of this includes an instructor on a separate rope to hang over the edge so they can watch the patient (generally another instructor) go down and come back up. This instructor watches the entire process for safety reasons.

This time around, we decided to add a bit of a twist to the exercise.  Generally the safety instructor stays at the top. This time however, he rappelled over the edge, all the way to the bottom. Nothing overly unusual about that.

However, once he was at the bottom, along with the patient, who happened to be me, I very quickly detached the ropes connected to my harness and connected them to his harness. I then moved over to the line he had been on and started to ascend as the students began to haul him up.

They eventually got him to the top and congratulated themselves on a job well done. Other than the student at the edge of the cliff who had watched the process, none of them appeared to notice that they had lowered me and raised him.

This actually isn’t totally surprising. We like to think of the human brain as a computer, but in many ways it’s not. Or at least it’s not a digital one with perfect recall. We actually ignore a lot of “noise” in order to focus on what’s important at the time. The fact that the person they hauled up was different from the person they had lowered counts as noise in this case because it’s so improbable that the brain won’t bother processing it, lest it take away from more important tasks, like ensure the ropes were handled safely.

And for those of who you didn’t watch the video, the answer is 15, but that’s not what’s important. Go watch it.

Today’s takeaway, our brains are fuzzy and work “well enough” most of the time, but can miss details. And generally, that’s ok.

Too Many Tabs Open

It’s been one of those “busy-slow” weeks. I get these sometimes when I’m consulting. On one hand I’m busy, but work is slow. What do I mean? Well Monday I was on a train all day (literally other than a 1.5 hours layover in NYC) coming back from Atlanta. That’s another story but suffice to say, I wasn’t much in the mood to get work done. Tuesday, when I generally write this blog, I had a couple of customer meetings and was busy, and then the rest of the day busy with non-client work. Same with Wednesday and Thursday.

Finally today, I had a few minutes to catch up on some stuff. I FINALLY took the time to look at one of the tabs I had open in my browser. Admit it, you do it too. “Oh look, that’s cool I want to read/watch/listen to that, but not now, I’ll just keep that tab open.” And then weeks later you’re like, “what is this tab?”

In this case it was a video post by Grant Fritchey on “Why friends don’t let friends upgrade to SQL 2014.”  I was curious about this because at a client I had to recently upgrade two servers to SQL Server 2014. I had preferred SQL Server 2016 or 2017, but the 3rd party software vendor said “no”.  Fortunately nothing bad has happened, but, it’s posts like Grant’s that I appreciate because it helps broaden my knowledge base.

One thing that makes humans incredible is our ability of language and ultimately our ability to create forms of communication that transcend time.  None of us can learn EVERYTHING. But what we can learn is who knows more than we do, or how to access that information. If I want information on query tuning, I’m going to ask Grant or pick up one of his books. If I have a question on Power BI, I might reach out to Kellyn Pot’Vin-Gorman or Cathrine Wilhelmsen. In other words, I don’t need to be an expert on everything, though I’d like to be! I just need to know who to reach out to.

Similarly with my cave rescue world. I’m proud to say I work with some of the greatest people in the world, people who literally have written the book on cave rescue. And yet, at our recent meeting (the reason I was down South), two of my colleagues, Roger Mortimer and Eddy Cartaya reported back on their trip to Europe where they attended the ICARS conference and brought back some great information on how the Europeans are doing some things differently when it comes to cave rescue. This has prompted some discussion between Roger and myself on some medical topics.  Again, none of us are the complete expert on the field, but we know enough to know what we know and don’t know and how to learn more.

So, keep those tabs open and keep adding to them. I know I’ve got at least one video on air plane accidents I need to listen to when I get 30+ minutes. What tabs do you have open?

 

Use the steel carabiner!

“It’s stronger.”

As I’ve mentioned I’m an instructor with the National Cave Rescue Commission. During our classes we teach a variety of skills using a variety of equipment. Among the equipment we use are carabiners of various sizes and materials. The two most common materials are aluminum and steel.  Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Aluminum is almost always lighter and this can be a real advantage when you have to carry a lot of them.

An aluminum carabiner may have a MBS (mean breaking strength) of 20kN (kiloNewtons or about 4,500lbs) along its long axis. (Different designs and different manufacturers will have different values, and orientation can make a huge difference).

A steel carabiner may have an MBS of 25kN along the same axis. So, it’s obviously stronger.

But here’s the thing. When we’re moving a patient, we have to look at the entire system.  In the NCRC we call this the system safety ratio (SSR).  You can’t look at just one component. Imagine using a carabiner (steel or aluminum) and trying to haul a patient with dental floss. It doesn’t matter what carabiner you use, that dental floss won’t get you very far.

And honestly, if you’re at the point where the strength of the carabiner is that critical such that the difference between 20kN and 25kN is critical, I would recommend you review your entire system.  There might be a better way of doing it. But yes, sometimes you MIGHT need that extra strength.

That said, why do students often reach for the steel carabiners in some cases? It’s not strength. It’s size and durability. Generally the largest carabiners we have are steel and they work best in the eyeholes of the Ferno litters we use. The Ferno has a load limit of approximately 2.6 kN. (Note how much less this is than the carabiners holding the litter! At this point 25kN vs. 20kN isn’t really important).

Besides fitting better, the steel carabiners tend to be more resistant to dings and scrapes and other forms of damage. In other words, it’s not as simple as “use the stronger one”.  It’s more complex and really comes down to “use the one that best fits the situation.”

I’ve mentioned previously the use of passwords and how we have rules we often follow in regards to them. I think it’s always worth understanding the WHY of rules and when to best apply them. For some accounts, I might have an easy to remember password because if it IS breached, the harm will be negligible.  For example, I’m a moderator for the sci.space.tech group on USENET (look it up if you’re below 40!). I have to log in about once a week to moderate an article. That account has a fairly simple password because in the worst case scenario, if someone DOES breach the account, the most they could do is… approve the 1 or 2 articles that come in each week. So it’s a password that’s “secure enough” (i.e. nothing anyone is going to guess from knowing me) but easy to remember.

On the other hand, the login for my E*Trade account is far more secure because if someone could access that, I could lose a lot of money.

So it’s not always “use the stronger one” it’s “use the one appropriate to the situation.”

This applies to many areas of life.