Learning and Teaching

This past weekend was the first of 3 weekends I’ll be spending in teaching a cave rescue class. As I’ve written before, I usually spend at least 1 week a year teaching students how to help rescue folks out of caves. I don’t get paid money, and in fact have to pay for my own travel and sometimes other expenses. But, I love it. Unfortunately, the large event we had planned for NY this year had to be postponed due to Covid-19.

A Little Background

Fortunately, New York is one state where folks have been very good about social distancing and wearing masks, so that gave me the opportunity to try something new: teaching what we call a “Modular Level 1” class. Instead of taking an entire week off to teach, we spread the teaching out over three weekends and several nights. This can often better accommodate peoples schedules. After a lot of planning and discussions I finally decided to go ahead and see if I could host a class. Through a series of fortunate events4, by the time I was ready to close registration, I actually had more than enough students. What makes this class different from other classes I’ve taught is that more than 1/2 the students have never been in a cave. However, most of those are in medical school and a goal of mine has been to get more highly trained medical folks into cave rescue. So, we greenlighted the class.

Teaching

The first day of class is really mostly about “check-ins”. Each student must demonstrate a certain set of skills. When I teach the Level 2 class, this generally goes quickly because the students have already gone through Level 1 and the students tend to be more serious in general about their caving skills. But for Level 1, we get a broader range of students with a broader range of skills. And in this case, some folks who were just entering the community of being knot tying and SRT (Single Rope Technique).

There’s a mantra, I first heard among the medical education community, but is hardly unique to them, “See one, do one, teach one.” There’s a logic to this. Obviously you have to see or learn a skill first. Then obviously you need to be able to do it. However, the purpose and goal of that last one eludes some people.

Without getting too technical, let me give an example: in SRT, cavers and rescuers need the ability to climb the rope and, while attached to the rope, successfully change-over to be able to descend the rope. I’ve literally done this 100s of times in my life. I obviously have the first two parts of that mantra down I’ve seen it, and and done it. But teaching it is a whole other ball game. Being able to DO something, doesn’t mean you can successfully teach it. We do many things based strictly on experience and muscle memory. If you think about walking, you may realize you do it naturally without any real thought. But imagine trying to teach someone how to do it. You probably can’t, unless you’re a trained physical therapist.

Much is the same with the aforementioned change-over. Just because I could do it, didn’t mean I could successfully teach it. However, over the years, as I’ve taught it more and more I’ve come to recognize certain mistakes and certain areas I need to focus on. I’ve gotten better at teaching it. So by teaching more, I’m learning to become a better teacher. By being able to teach it, I also understand it and know it better. The “teach one” part of the mantra is important because it means you can give forward the skills you’ve learned, but also means you have a better understanding of them in the first place. You can’t effectively teach what you don’t understand.

In addition to learning how to teach better, I’ve also realized that some approaches work better than others for people. There’s a common knot we tie in the rope community called an “alpine butterfly”. There are at least four ways I’m aware of to teach it. One method involves looping the rope over your hand 3 times in a certain pattern and then pulling on the right loop in the right way through the others, the knot “magically” appears.  I’ll admit I’ve never been able to master this and as a result, obviously don’t teach this way. The method I use is a bit more off-color in its description. Writing it down it comes down to:

  1. Take a bight of the rope
  2. Put two twists in it
  3. Take the loop, aka head, pass it between the legs of the rope
  4. Shove the head through the asshole formed between the two twists
  5. Pull tight and dress

At the end of that, you have a beautiful alpine butterfly. On Saturday night I was helping a student perfect her butterfly. She was having trouble with the 3 loops over the hand method. I showed her the asshole method. She almost instantly got it. Now, that’s NOT to say the asshole way is the better way, it’s simply the way that worked better for her.

Learning

Besides learning how to teach better, I actually learn a lot from my students. For example, one of the students who does have extensive alpine rescue experience was asking about our use of what are known as Prusik loops to tie Prusik Knots. In her training and experience she uses something similar called a VT Prusik. I had seen these before in previous training, but had not had a chance to see them in action or play with them. She did a quick demonstration and then on Monday sent me a link with more information. Needless to say, by the end I was ordering a pair so I could start to play with them myself. I can already see where I might use them in certain cases.

Another example of learning is that I’m starting to adopt a different way of tying what’s known as a Münter hitch. I’ve been tying these successfully for decades, but started noticing another method that’s fairly common and in my mind, if not more intuitive, it is at least a bit more of a visual mnemonic. I think it’ll reduce my chances of tying one poorly so I’ve started using it more and more. And this is because I saw how quickly students would pick it up.

Gelling

By Saturday night most of the students had passed their check-offs, but not in what I’d call a solid fashion. They were still at the stage where they were simply reproducing what they saw. This is common in the early stages of learning. As a result, I decided to adjust the Sunday morning schedule and spend a bit more time on simply practicing and honing their skills. What we really want at some point is for the skills to “gel” (i.e. go from a liquid state where their ability is in flux to a state where there abilities are more solid). What can be interesting about this is for some folks, this can be a fairly quick process and in fact I noticed by lunchtime for a number of students, their abilities had gone from simple rote reproduction to an actual more gelled state. After lunch we put in some more time and with some of the students I’d simply walk up, call out a knot for them to tie, walk away, give them a minute or so and come back to see what they had done. In most cases, they were successful. The night before that would not have worked. They’re still a long way to go from being as good as I or they might like, but they were no ready to go out in the field and safely put a patient over the edge.

Level 1 students pull a patient up over a cliff

Safely getting a patient over the edge

Concluding

So we have two more weekends to go before they can call themselves trained as Level 1 students and hopefully they’ll keep learning and improving beyond that. For me, as long and tiring as the weekend was (I think I got about 5-6 hours of sleep each night, at most) it was rewarding because I got to see students learn skills we taught AND because I got to learn stuff too. It was a great weekend and I look forward to the next two.20200829_134511

 

 

Caving and SQL

Longtime readers know that I spend a lot of my time talking about and teaching caving, more specifically cave rescue, and SQL Server, more specifically the operations side. While in some ways they are very different, there are areas where they overlap. In fact I wrote a book taking lessons from both, and airplane crashes to talk about IT Disaster Management.

Last week is a week where both had an overlap. One of the grottoes in the NSS (think like a SQL User Group) sponsored a talk on Diversity and Inclusion in the caving community. The next day, SQL Pass had a virtual panel on the exact same subject.

Welcoming

Let me start with saying that one thing I appreciate about both communities is that they will welcome pretty much anyone. You show up and ask to be involved and someone will generally point you in the right direction.  In fact several years ago, I heard an Oracle DBA mention how different the SQL community was from his Oracle experience, and how welcoming and sharing we could be.

This is true in the caving community. I recall an incident decades ago where someone from out of town called up a caving friend he found in the NSS memberhsip manual and said, “hey, I hear you go caving every Friday, can I join you?” The answer was of course yes.  I know I can go many places in this country, look up a caver and instantly be pointed to a great restaurant, some great caves and even possibly some crash space to sleep.

So let’s be clear, BOTH communities are very welcoming.

And I hear that a lot when the topic of diversity and inclusion comes along. “Oh we welcome anyone. They just have to ask.”

But…

Well, there’s two issues there and they’re similar in both communities. The less obvious one is that often anyone is welcome, but after that, there’s barriers, some obvious, some less so. Newcomers start to hear the subtle comments, the subtle behaviors. For example, in caving, modesty is often not a big deal. After crawling out of a wet muddy hole, you may think nothing of tearing off your clothes in the parking lot and changing. Perhaps you’re standing behind a car door but that’s about it. It’s second nature, it’s not big deal. But imagine now that you’re the only woman in that group. Sure, you were welcomed into the fold and had a blast caving, how comfortable are you with this sudden lack of modesty? Or you’re a man, but come from a cultural or religious background where modesty is a high premium?

In the SQL world, no one is getting naked in the datacenters (I hope). But, it can be subtle things there too. “Hey dudes, you all want to go out for drinks?” Now many folks will argue, “dudes is gender neutral”. And I think in most cases it’s INTENDED to be. But, turn around and ask them, “are you attracted to dudes?” and suddenly you see there is still a gender attached.  There’s other behaviors to. There’s the classic case of when a manager switched email signatures with one of his reports and how the attitudes of the customers changed, simply based on whose signature was on the email.

So yes, both groups definitely can WELCOME new folks and folks outside of the majority, but do the folks they welcome remain welcomed? From talking to people who aren’t in the majority, the answer I often get is “not much.”

An Interlude

“But Greg, I know….” insert BIPOC or woman or other member of a minority.  “They’re a great DBA” or “They’re a great caver! Really active in the community.”  And you’re right. But you’re also seeing the survivorship bias. In some cases, they did find themselves in a more welcoming space that continued to be welcoming. In some cases you’re seeing the ones who forged on anyway. But think about it, half our population is made up of women. Why aren’t 1/2 our DBAs?  In fact, the number of women in IT is declining! And if you consider the number of women in high school or college who express an interest in IT and compare it to those in in their 30s, you’ll find the number drops. Women are welcome, until they’re not.

In the caving community during an on-line discussion where people of color were speaking up about the barriers they faced, one person, a white male basically said, “there’s no racism in caving, we’ll welcome anyone.”  A POC pointed out that “as a black man in the South, trust me, I do NOT feel safe walking through a field to a cave.”  The white man continued to say, “sure, but there’s no racism in caving” completely dismissing the other responder’s concerns.

There’s Still More…

The final point I want to make however is that “we welcome people” is a necessary, but not sufficient step. Yes, I will say pretty much every caver I know will welcome anyone who shows an interest. But that’s not enough. For one thing, for many communities, simply enjoying the outdoors is something that’s not a large part of their cultural.  This may mean that they’re not even aware that caving is a possibility. Or that even if it is, they may not know how to reach out and find someone to take them caving.

Even if they overcome that hurdle, while caving can be done on the cheap, there is still the matter of getting some clothing, a helmet, some lights. There’s the matter of getting TO the cave.

In the SQL world, yes anyone is welcome to a SQL Saturday, but what if they don’t have a car? Is mass transit an option? What if they are hearing impaired? (I’ve tried unsuccessfully 2 years in a row to try to provide an ASL interpreter for our local SQL Saturday. I’m going to keep trying). What if they’re a single parent? During the work week they may have school and daycare options, but that may not be possible for a SQL Saturday or even an afterhours event. I even had something pointed out to me, during my talk on how to present, that someone in the audience had not realized up until I mentioned it, that I was using a laser pointer. Why? Because they were colorblind and never saw the red dot. It was something that I, a non-colorblind person had never even considered. And now I wonder, how many other colorblind folks had the same issue, but never said anything?

In Conclusion

It’s easy and honestly tempting to say, “hey, we welcome anyone” and think that’s all there is to it. The truth is, it takes a LOT more than that. If nothing else, if you’re like me, an older, cis-het white male, take the time to sit in on various diversity panels and LISTEN. If you’re invited to ask questions or participate, do so, but in a way that acknowledges your position. Try not to project your experiences on to another. Only once have I avoided a field to get to a cave, because the farmer kept his bull there. But I should not project MY lack of fear about crossing a field onto members of the community who HAVE experienced that.

Listen for barriers and work to remove them. Believe others when they mention a barrier. They may not be barriers for you, but they are for others. When you can, try to remove them BEFORE others bring them up. Don’t assume a barrier doesn’t exist because no one mentions it. Don’t say, “is it ok if I use a red laser pointer?” because you’re now putting a colorblind person on the spot and singling them out. That will discourage them. For example find a “software” pointer (on my list of things to do) that will highlight items directly on the screen. This also works great for large rooms where there may be multiple projection screens in use.

If caving, don’t just assume, “oh folks know how to find us” reach out to community groups and ask them if they’re interested and offer to help. (note I did try this this year, but never heard back and because of the impact of Covid, am waiting until next year to try again.)

Don’t take offense. Unless someone says, “hey, Greg, you know you do…” they’re not talking about you specifically, but about an entire system. And no one is expecting you to personally fix the entire system, but simply to work to improve it where you can. It’s a team effort. That said, maybe you do get called out. I had a friend call me out on a tweet I made. She did so privately. And she did so because, she knew I’d listen. I appreciated that. She recognized I was human and I make mistakes and that given the chance, I’ll listen and learn. How can one take offense at that? I saw it has a sign of caring.

Finally realize, none of us are perfect, but we can always strive to do better.

So, today give some thought about how you can not only claim your community, whatever it may be, is welcoming, but what efforts you can make to ensure it is.

 

On a separate note, check out my latest writing for Red-Gate, part II on Parameters in PowerShell.

“We want information…information… information!!!”

For anyone who has ever watched the classic British mini-series “The Prisoner” this is a very recognizable line. But it applies to many parts of our lives.

This is a tale of hiking, a non-cave rescue, and yes, eventually Extended Events.

“I went to the woods…”

This past weekend I spent some time in the woods hiking and getting away from it all. This is the first time in literally decades I had done an overnight hike on the Appalachian Trail. My goal was to get in an overnight and work on closing a gap of it that I had not yet hiked.

The last time I hiked the trail, cell phones were a very rare item, carried by business people only and often weighing several pounds, they certainly weren’t something the average hiker could afford, and even if they could, they would be too heavy to carry.

I mention this because I had fully intended to carry mine with me, so that I could take pictures, and perhaps even, I’ll admit it, if I had connectivity when I camped that night, catch up on some Wikipedia reading, or send a picture or two to friends and family. But alas, about 2 miles into the hike, at a gorgeous viewpoint (see older photo above), I stopped, tried to pull out my phone and realized that unsettled feeling I had at my car before locking it wasn’t “Am I sure I have my keys” but really should have been “am I sure I have my phone!”

It turns out, other than my inability to document my trip with some photos, and not being able to call my wife to let her know I’d be at the pick-up point much earlier than we had planned, not having access to information of the outside world was a refreshing change of pace. I’m almost glad I didn’t have my phone.

A Missed Call

As some of my readers know, besides being a DBA, I also teach and at times perform cave rescues. As I tell folks once they get past the “That’s so cool” phase, it’s not really all that glamorous. If I get called out to one actual rescue a year here in the Northeast, it’s a busy year. But, on warm weekends in the summer, the odds are higher than say the middle of the week in the winter (though that has happened too).

So a concern I had in regards to not having my phone was that I would miss a call for a potential rescue.

It turns out I was partially correct in my concern.  On the way home, I saw my phone buzz. I didn’t answer it, but a few minutes later did glance down to see “Missed Call”. It was from my team co-captain. (To be transparent here, the terms team and co-captain are used loosely, it’s not a very formal setup). She rarely calls, especially if it’s a weekend, except in an emergency. I waited until I got home to call her back. And it wasn’t an actual call-out, yet. It was at this point a “potential missing caver.” What this meant in this case was a vehicle had been spotted outside a popular cave, and it had been there for at least 18 hours. That is unusual for this cave, most trips are 2-3 hours in length. So, this was concerning. But, we didn’t have enough information. Was someone in the cave? If so, where? Were they in need of assistance? We needed information, and by hook or by crook we were going to get it. Or at least some of it.

In general, one of the biggest issues we have when starting a cave rescue is the lack of information. In this case case it was even, “are they in the cave?” Had we determined they most likely were, the next question would have been, “where?”. That shapes our search. “How long?” That might shape what equipment we bring on our initial search. “What injuries?” That would also shape our response. In any cave rescue we eventually get the information, but it can be frustrating to have to wait. Caves don’t have cell service inside. (We often do literally put our own phone system into caves during a rescue however!) When we train folks, they often find it hard to believe at first that a patient could be 300 feet into a cave, and it would take a skilled, fresh caver 45 minutes to simply get to them, and another 45 minutes to get back. So as simple a request as “can you get me information about the patient” could easily take 90 minutes or more. And yes, that’s a real life incident.

In this case, eventually the authorities ran the plates and it appears the plates had expired before 1990, the VIN that could be found on the insurance card sitting on the dashboard was made up (or belonged to a vehicle decades older) and the address on the card was fake. We stood down. There wasn’t going to be a search that day. It was entirely a police matter.

#TeamExEvents

I said I’d get to Extended Events and here we are.  I’ve written about them before and I’m a huge fan of them. Simply put, if you’re not using them, you’re probably missing information that you can very useful. I started in the days of SQL Server 4.21a, but really started to cut my teeth on SQL Server with 6.5 came out. Back then our problem sets were probably easier and smaller, but we still dealt with similar issues, the biggest has often been performance related. In the early days there were some decent tricks and ways of diagnosing where your performance bottlenecks were, but to be honest, sometimes it was hit or mess. Over the years, Microsoft has added a lot of functionality to SQL Server including DMVs and Extended Events. I now routinely use Extended Events to track down performance issues or other problems. Last night at our local User Group Meeting, Grant Fritchey did a lightning round where he highlighted one of the features of Extended Events that honestly, I know about, but don’t use enough: Causality Tracking

Causality Tracking Checked

Causality Tracking extends the power of Extended Events to a new Level!

Let’s just say this is a feature that makes picking out the specific events you want to follow much easier. The example Grant gave showed a ton of detail, more than you’d normally need, but extremely useful if you did in fact need it. In other words a simple checkbox can now give us a great deal of useful information.

With the right information, you can often identify bottlenecks and make huge performance gains.

At times I feel like I’m Number Six, trying to get information about a database problem or a potential cave rescue

Number Six: Where am I?

Number Two: In the village.

Six: What do you want?

Two: Information.

Six: Whose side are you on?

Two: That would be telling. We want information…information… information!!!

Six: You won’t get it!

Two: By hook or by crook, we will.

In conclusion, there are times when disconnecting from the information around us can make a weekend in the woods more enjoyable, but a dearth of it is standard at the start of a cave rescue, while having ready access to it can make solving a problem far easier.

Where do you stand on the information spectrum today? Do you have a lack of it, the right amount, or too much?

 

“Houston, We Have an Opportunity”

This is not quite the famous quote from the movie Apollo 13, one of my favorite movies. And, well we have a problem. But also an opportunity.  I’ll get to the opportunity in a bit, but first, the problem.

My Event and Disappointment

The problem of course is COVID-19. As the end of the week in which I’m writing this, I was scheduled to help host the National Weeklong Cave Rescue training seminar for the NCRC. For years, I and others had been working on the planning of this event. It’s our seminal event and can attract 100 or more people from across the country and occasionally from other countries. Every year we have it in a different state in order to allow our students to train in different cave environments across the country (New York caves are different from Georgia caves which are different from Oregon caves and more) as well as to make it easier for attendees to attend a more local event.

Traditionally, the events held in NY (This would have been the fourth National Seminar) have attracted fewer people than our events in Alabama which is famous for its caves. But this year was different, with lots of marketing and finding a great base camp, we were on track for not only for the largest seminar yet in New York, but for one on par with our largest seminars anywhere.

Then, in February I started to get nervous. I had been following the news and seeing that unlike previous outbreaks of various flus and other diseases, COVID-19 looked like it would be something different. This wasn’t going to pass quite as quickly. This was going to have an impact. As a result, I started to make contingency plans with the rest of my planning staff. I consulted with our Medical Coordinator. I talked to the camp. By March I started to regain some optimism, but I still wasn’t 100% confident we could pull this off. And then, the questions from attendees started to come in. “Are we still having it?” “What are the plans?” etc.  Another week or two later, “I need to cancel. My agency/school/etc won’t cover the cost this year.”  Finally by the start of April, after talking to several of my planning staff and my fellow regional coordinators it became obvious, we could not, in good conscience host a seminar in June. Yes, here in upstate New York the incidence of COVID-19 is dropping quickly. We’re starting the re-opening process. Honestly, if folks came here, I would NOT be worried about them getting infected from a local source.

However, we would have nearly 100 people coming from across the country, including states where the infection rates are climbing. Many would be crammed into planes for hours, or making transfers at airports with other travelers. So, while locally we might be safe; if we held this event, where folks are in classrooms for 3-4 hours a day, then in cars to/from cave and cliff sites and then often in caves for hours, it’s likely we would have become ground zero for a spike in infections. That would not have been a wise nor ethical thing to do. So, we postponed until next year.

I mention all that because of what happened to me about three weeks ago and then the news from last week: 2020 PASS Summit is going Virtual. About three weeks ago I was asked to participate in a meeting with some of the folks who help to run PASS as well as other User Group leaders. The goal was to discuss how to make a Virtual Summit a great experience if it went virtual. This was one of several such meetings and I know a lot of ideas we brought up and discussed. NONE of us were looking forward to PASS 2020 being virtual, but we all agreed that it was better than nothing. And of course, as you’re well aware, last week PASS made the decision, I suspect due in large part for the very same reasons we postponed our cave rescue training event.

Sadness and Disappointment

Mostly I’ve heard, if not happy feedback, at least resigned feedback. People have accepted the reality that PASS will be virtual. I wrote above about my experience with having to postpone our cave rescue training (because it’s so hand’s on, it’s impossible to host it virtually). It was not an easy decision. I’ll admit I was frustrated, hurt, disappointed and more. I and others had put in a LOT of hard work only to have it all delayed. I know the organizers of Summit must be feeling the same way. And I know many of us attendees must feel the same. Sure, Houston is not Seattle and I’ve come to have a particular fondness for Seattle, in part because of an opportunity to see friends there, but I was looking forward to going to Houston this year (as was my wife) and checking out a new city.

One thing that has helped buoy my emotions in regards to our weeklong cave rescue class is that over 1/2 the attendees said, “roll my registration over to next year. I’m still planning on coming!” That was refreshing and unexpected. Honestly, I was hoping for maybe 1/4 of them at best to say so. This gave me hope and the warm fuzzies.

Opportunity

Let me start with stating the obvious: a virtual event will NOT be the same as in-person event. There will most definitely be things missing. Even with attempts that PASS will be making to try to recreate the so-called “Hallway track” of impromptu discussions and hosting other virtual events to mimic the real thing, it won’t be the same. You won’t get to check out the Redgate Booth in person, hang out on the sofa at Minionware, or get your free massage courtesy of VMWare.

20191106_123733

After a great massage courtesy VMWare.

And we’ll miss out on:

20191105_143514

Achievement unlocked: PASS Summit 2019 Selfie with Angela Tidwell!

But, we’ll still have a LOT of great training and vendors will have virtual rooms and more.

So what’s the opportunity? Accessibility!

Here’s the thing, I LOVE PASS Summit. I think it’s a great training and learning opportunity. But let’s face it. It can get expensive, especially when you figure in travel costs, hotel costs and food costs. This year though, most of those costs disappear. This means that when you go to your boss, they have even less of an excuse to say, “sorry it’s not in the budget”.  And honestly, if they DO say that, I would seriously suggest that you consider paying for it out of your own budget. Yes, I realize money might be tight, but after all the wonderful training you can then update your resume and start submitting it to companies that actually invest in training their employees.

I would also add, from my understanding, while convention centers by law ADA accessible, this doesn’t necessarily mean everyone with a disability can attend. There can be non-physical barriers that interfere. Hosting virtually gives more people the ability to “attend” in a way that works for them. It might be in a quiet, darkened room if they’re sensitive to noise and lights. It might be replaying sessions over and over again if they need to hear things in that fashion. It very well could be taking advantage of recorded sessions and the like in ways that I, an able-bodied person isn’t even aware of. So that’s a second way in which it’s accessible.

Now, I know folks are questioning “well if its virtual, why should we pay anything, especially if vendors are still paying a sponsorship fee?” There’s several answers to that and none of them by themselves are complete, but I’ll list some. For one, I haven’t confirmed, but I’m fairly confident that vendors are paying a lot less for sponsorship, because they won’t get the same face to face contact. For another, PASS takes money to run. While we often think of it as a single big weeklong event, there’s planning and effort that goes on throughout the year. This is done by an outside organization that specializes in running organizations like PASS. (Note the PASS Board is still responsible for the decision making that goes on and the direction of PASS as a whole, but day to day operations are generally outsourced. This is far from uncommon. Those costs don’t disappear. There’s other costs that don’t automatically disappear because the event is no longer physical. And of course there are costs that a virtual event has that the physical event doesn’t. Now EVERY single session will be available as a live-stream (as well as recorded for later download) and this requires enough bandwidth and tools to manage them. And it requires people to help coordinate.  Making an event virtual doesn’t automatically make it free to run.

The Future

Now, I know right now I’m on track for hosting the NCRC Weeklong Cave Rescue training event next year at the location we planned on for this year. Our hope of course is that by then COVID-19 will be a manageable problem. But in the meantime, I’ll keep practicing my skills and sharing my knowledge and when and where I can, caving safely. And as always willing to take new folks caving. If you’re interested, just ask!

I don’t know what PASS 2021 Summit will bring or even where it will be. But I know this year we can make the most of the current situation and turn this into an opportunity to turn PASS into something new and more affordable. Yes, it will be different. But we can deal with that. So, register today and let’s have a great PASS 2020 Summit in the meantime!  I look forward to seeing you there. Virtually of course!

It’s too late?

I want to start with a sobering thought. It’s too late to contain this pandemic. I’m watching the news as slowly more and more states in the US issue versions of “shelter in place” or “stay at home” orders. But I think in most cases, it’s too late. The virus has probably already spread so much that self-isolation won’t be nearly as effective as it would have been had the states issued the same orders a week or two earlier. That said, it’s most likely still better than doing nothing.

Human beings at times are lousy with risk analysis. If a risk is immediate, we can react well, but the longer it stretches out or the further away it is, the harder it is to get people to react. Almost any climate scientist who has studied anthropogenic global warming has known for a decade or more we have a problem and we have a very quickly narrowing window for solving it, and the longer we wait, the harder it will become.

Yet too many of us put off the problem for another day.

So it is with the Covid-19 virus. “Oh we don’t have to lock down just yet, let’s wait another day.” And I’ll admit, sitting in the state that is the center of the virus outbreak here in the US, I’m tempted to say, “25,000 isn’t TOO bad, we can manage that.”  But that’s the lizard part of my brain reacting. It’s the emotional part. Then I kick in the rational part. If we use one of the numbers bandied about, doubling every 4 days, that means by this weekend, in New York State alone, it will be 50,000. By April 1st, 100,000. By the end of April, it could be the entire state.  Those numbers are hard to comprehend.

That said, I’m also hopeful. Modelling pandemics is pretty much pure math, but reality is more complex and often luck can play a huge factor. Let me try to explain.

First, we need to heed the words of experts like Dr. Fauci and others who are basing their remarks and recommendations on the inexorable exponential rise in expected infections. They are giving basically the worst case scenario if their recommendations are followed. And that’s proper. That’s really what you have to plan for.

Let me take a little side trip and mention a cave rescue in Vermont several years ago. By the time I had gotten the call to show up and to call out other rescues, the injured party had been in the cave for several hours. I didn’t know much about the extent of their injuries other than it was a fall and that it was in a Vermont cave, which almost certainly meant operating in tight quarters. I grabbed a box of Freihofer cookies, a lawn chair (my fellow cave rescuers will understand the reference), a contact list of other potential rescuers, and my son. While I drove, he’d read off a name and I’d say “yes call” or “Nope, next name.”  On the hour plus drive to the rescue we managed to contact at least two other people who could get there. (It turns out, as I surmised, several of the folks I wanted to call were members of the original caving party.)

Once there, my son and I were driven partway to the cave entrance and trudged the rest of the way. I talked with the folks on the scene to gather information and then dressed to go into the cave to gather first hand information. I still hadn’t gained too much information other than to know it was potentially shaping up to be a serious rescue. The person had been climbing a cable ladder when they fell and injured themselves. This meant, based on the information at hand, a worst case scenario of an evac through tight passages with the patient in a SKED stretcher.  I was playing the role of Dr. Fauci at that point, preparing for the worse based on the information I had.

Fortunately, literally at the moment I was about to enter the cave, one of the members of the original caving party crawled out and said, “he’s right behind me, he’ll be out in a minute or so.”  It turns out his injuries were fairly minor and with the members of his own caving party, he was able to get out of the cave under his own power.

I got back to Incident Command about an hour later and was informed, “oh, by the way, you’ve got at least 3 cavers who showed up to help. We held them at the bottom of the road. What should we tell them?”  My answer was simply, “Thanks and to go home.”

I relate this story not so much to talk about cave rescue specifically but to point out that even when planning for the worst, you may get a lucky break. But you can’t rely on them. Let me give an alternate scenario. Let’s say I had not called out the other rescuers and had gotten to the cave and crawled in, realized the situation was a worst case scenario, crawled back out and then initiated a call-out. It would have at that point probably meant at least an extra 90 minutes before the extra resources would have been on the scene. It would have meant the patient was exposed to hypothermic condition for another 90 minutes. It would have meant 90 more minutes of pain. It would have meant fewer brains working to solve the problem.

Getting back to Covid-19. Will we get lucky? I don’t know. I actually suspect we might. One “advantage” of an increasing population of sick people is we can better model it and we can also perform more drug trials. We may discover certain populations react differently to the disease than others and be able to incorporate that into the treatment plan. I don’t know. But I do know, we need to plan for the worst, and hope for a bit of luck. In the meantime, hunker down and let’s flatten the curve.

And if you’ve read this far and want to know how to make some pita bread, I’ll let you in on the two secrets I’ve learned: VERY hot oven (I typically bake mine at about 500-550F for 2 minutes on 1 side, and 1 minute on the other) and roll it out thinner than you might think.

2020 in Preview

Ok, time for the obligatory dad joke: I can’t see what’s coming in the next year, I genuinely do not have 20/20 vision!

But I suppose my vision looking back was better. So I will try to prognosticate for the coming year and set some goals. I said last year I’m not a fan of New Year’s Resolutions, but I suppose I may have to reassess that claim as this is the second year in a row I’ve gone out on a limb and set goals, and what are goals if not a form of a resolution?

  • I’m going to continue to blog at least once a week. While I hope my readers get something out of it, I also blog for my own personal reasons: it helps me keep my writing and creative juices flowing. If years ago you told me I would have written a book and was blogging I’d have laughed and not believed it. I also would have wondered what blogging was!
  • Related to that, I will continue to writing for Red-Gate. This is a bit different from my blogging. It’s far more technical in nature which requires more effort. Since I’ve set aside an hour a week (and in fact my calendar just reminded me it was time for that hour) I’ve found I’ve been more productive. It’s in part why I wrote 5 articles last year and got 4 published. All so far have been on PowerShell. Generally my approach as been either, “here is a problem I had at a client and how I solved it with PowerShell” or lately it’s been a bit more of “hey, here’s a challenge, let’s see how to do it in PowerShell.” The best example of this last year was my article on using PowerShell to create a countdown timer with a GUI. It’s perhaps not the most productive way to do it, I think other languages and approaches would be easier, but it was a fun challenge and I learned a lot.
  • Extended Events! Or as Grant Fritchey would say #TeamExEvents! I’m a proud member and my goal is to learn more about them and to write more about them this year. It’s just a question of how much. But I’m a convert and a definite fan!
  • Read more blogs on a regular basis. I sporadically read Grant’s and also Monica Rathbun’s and would recommend both. I also sometimes read Cathrine Wilhemsen’s and she’s recently been on a tear with her guide to Azure Data Factories. I’ll admit I haven’t worked with it, but 25 posts in 25 days is an incredible feat and she’s great and knowledgeable on the topic, so I can highly recommend it in any event. I also want to add a few non-technical blogs to the mix. We’ll see.
  • Keep speaking at SQL Saturdays. I have yet to put in for any, but I will. Perhaps I’ll be visiting a city near you!
  • Create a couple of new topics to speak on. I’ve suggested a collaboration with someone and now I have to get off my butt and put together notes and see if they’re still willing to speak with lil’ ol’ me.
  • Speak at SQL Summit. This is an ongoing goal. Someday I’ll achieve it.
  • Have a successful NCRC Weeklong Cave Rescue Seminar here in NY. I’m the site coordinator for it this  year. I’ve got a great team backing me up, but as they say, the “Buck Stops Here”.  Registration is looking great, but until I get hit my goals, I’ll be stressing.
  • Read more! – I received several books for the holidays, including:
    • The Power Broker, I biography of Robert Moses
    • Station Eleven, a fiction  book (and if you’re the one that recommended it to me, please remind me who you are so I can thank you.)
    • Headstrong, 52 Women Who Changed Science and the World

And finally some rather generic goals

  • Love more!
  • Cave more!
  • Hike more!
  • Bike more!
  • Travel!
  • Vote the bastard out!
  • Have fun!

And I’ll conclude with one more dad joke because… that’s the way I roll!

When does a joke become a dad joke?

When it becomes a-parent.

Hey, don’t blame me if you groaned. I warned you it was coming!

Have a great New Year!

2019 in Review

Last year I did a review of 2018 and then the next day I did a post of plans for 2019. I figured I would take time to look back on 2019 and see how well I did on some of my goals and then perhaps tomorrow set goals for 2020.

One of my first goals always is to make one more revolution around the Sun. I can safely say I successfully achieved that.

But what else? I vowed to blog once a week. I did miss a few this year, but pretty much succeeded on that one. But, perhaps those misses where why I failed to break 2000 page views for 2019. That said, I don’t feel too bad. In 2018, I had one particular post in 2018 that sort of went viral, and that alone really accounts for the higher number in 2018. So if I ignore that outlier, I did as well or better for 2019. That said, I think I’ll set a goal of 2020 page views for 2020. It’s a nice symmetry.

I’ve continued to speak at SQL Saturdays in 2019 and will do so in 2020. Still working on additional topics and may hint at one tomorrow.

But I again failed to get selected to speak at SQL Summit itself. That said, I was proud to again speak at the User Group Leadership meeting this year. My topic was on moving the needle and challenging user group leaders to bring more diversity to their selection of speakers (with a focus on more women, but that shouldn’t be the only focus).  It was mostly well received, but I could tell at least a few folks weren’t comfortable with the topic. I was ok with that.

I set a goal of at least 3  more articles for Redgate’s Simple Talk.  I’m pleased to say I not only succeeded, but exceeded that with 4 articles published. It would have been 5, but time conspired against that. That said, I should have another article coming out next month.

I never did take time to learn more about containers.

I continue to teach cave rescue.

I think I caved more.

I didn’t hike more, alas.

And there were a few personal goals I not only met, but I exceeded. And one or two I failed it.

But, I definitely succeeded at my last goal, having fun. 2019 was a great year in many ways and I spent much of it surrounded with friends and family. For reasons I can’t quite put my finger on, I think I enjoyed SQL Summit this year far more than previous years. It really was like spending time with family.

I’ve been blessed with great friends and family and 2019 just reminded me of that more than ever.  Thank you to everyone who brought positive contributions to my life in 2019. I appreciate it.

 

‘Tis Better to Give than Receive

My family complains that I’m hard to buy gifts for, and I have to admit, I suppose they’re right. Things I want, I’m likely to buy for myself. And honestly, I’d rather give than receive.  But sometimes, it’s two way street:

CASSUG

This is the local Capital Area SQL Server User Group I head up. I haven’t added up the number hours a year I spend on this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s in the triple digits. And I don’t get paid. It’s all volunteer.  Now that’s not to say I don’t get something tangible out of it, I do get to attend PASS Summit every year at no cost. But that’s not the only reason I do it. I do it for #sqlfamily.  I’ve mentioned them before, but let’s just say, that the help and advice I’ve received from them is amazing. It’s made me a far better DBA.  So I give a lot, but get a lot more in return. Thanks #sqlfamily.

NCRC

If I give a lot of time to CASSUG, I give even more time to the National Cave Rescue Commission. In a normal year, I will teach at least one 2-day OCR and a Weeklong. To be clear, a “week-long” for instructors typically means arriving sometime on a Thursday and working 14-15 hours days until the following Saturday. I’m planning the 2020 Weeklong, which means I will spend far more hours than usual doing work for the NCRC. I also am a Regional Coordinator, which means meetings with my fellow coordinators as well as working with local resources.  Now I’ll admit, there’s an additional reason I do this. I figure if I ever get stuck, I want some trained folks out there.

RPI Outing Club

I still work with the RPI Outing Club, mostly on caving, because it gave me so much I want to give back. That and being around young people does make me feel younger.

Blood (and more)

This and the holiday tomorrow is what prompted this post. I give blood pretty much as often as I can.  It literally is the gift of life. I figure I’ve got plenty and I can make more. I’m partly inspired by a childhood friend who had a rare platelet diseases and needed multiple transfusions. I was too young to give then, but I figure I’ve more than made up for it since then.

I’m also a registered bone-marrow recipient and a certain friend knows, if the time comes and I’m a match, she’s got dibs on one of my kidneys.

My Family

I’ll admit, I thought twice about putting this down. Not because I don’t love giving them things, but because I figure it’s sort of my job. But I’ll admit, I take enormous satisfaction at times at sitting back and seeing the smiles on their faces and knowing that I had a role in that. And ultimately, they’re the most important to me. And for everything I’ve given them, they’ve given back to me 10x.

What do I want?

Now, I know I’m not on the gift list of most of my readers. So I don’t expect anything, but I’ll say what I want. Be kind. Give time. Give your skills to another. To quote Whitman:

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

Answer.
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

What will your verse be in this holiday season?

 

Hampton Roads User Group Recap

I’ve talked about how I think it’s important to be part of the #sqlfamily community and how I enjoy talking and giving back. Last week was another example of this. Much earlier this year (it might have even been at Pass Summit last year) I convinced Monica Rathbun to do a quid pro quo. I’d speak at her user group in Virginia Beach if she’d come to upstate NY to speak at my user group. I’d seen Monica speak and knew she would be a great speaker for my group. Fortunately, despite seeing me speak, she apparently felt I’d be good enough for her group.  Seriously though it was a good deal.

My original plan had been to drive down Wednesday, address her group, stay at an AirBnB on the beach and then spend a few nights in the Washington DC area visiting with some friends.  Unfortunately, less than a week before I was ready to head down, my DC plans fell through. This radically changed my travel plans and I scrambled to make various plans to make the trip a practical one and one that wouldn’t break my budget. One of the unfortunate facts of being as consultant is that I don’t have an employer that can cover travel expenses. On the other hand, I often have a lot more flexibility in when and how I travel.

I ended up taking the train to Wilmington Delaware and getting a rental car from there. This allowed the most flexibility, was second in time to flying, and overall the least stressful. I love taking the train because I can sleep (which I did on the Albany to NYC segment) and get work done (which I did on the NYC-Wilmington segment, working on a future article for Redgate Simple-Talk and reviewing my talk) Unfortunately, due to a missed turn, some slow traffic due to the rain and then the rain in general, rather than showing up at 5:30 like I had hoped, I was in the door at 6:15 or so. This gave me time for a single chicken wing before I launched into my talk.

I had been monitoring the Meet-up page to see how many people were expected and at my last count it was 8. I was comfortable with that. I was hoping for more, but hey, I’ll take what I can get.  Imagine my surprise when I walked in and there were closer to 20 people there. Honestly, a great turnout! But, between running late, the usual hardware issues of getting my laptop and the monitor talking, and not being able to get one last run through of a 10 minute section of my talk, I’ve got to say I was a bit flustered.

I love to teach. But I would be lying if I said I don’t love it when I see or hear a student have what I call that “Aha moment!” This is that moment when you explain or demonstrate something and you can see the look in their eyes or the tone in their voice when something just clicks. It might be a small thing to you, but for them you’ve just rocked their world.

A number of years ago while teaching the Level 2 cave rescue class in Colorado, we were doing an instructor lead evolution. During these, the instructors take the lead and guide the students through the problem. It’s usually the first real new teaching experience of the week-long class, before that it’s mostly review. In this case I had a single student working with me and we were charged with setting up two lines to be used as a safety and for another purpose.  I told her to grab a single rope and a carabiner. She looked at me questioning because she knew we needed to have two lines rigged. I then showed her the tree I had selected and told her to basically double the rope, tie what’s known as a high strength tie-off using the middle of the rope, clip it in with the carabiner and toss both ends down. Then the aha moment, “wow, I’d never thought of that. That’s worth the price of the class right there.” I’ve got to say I was proud. My job was done, 2nd day of teaching. I could take the week off. Of course I didn’t.

This time around, I was talking about the Model Database and how most DBAs completely ignore it and overlook it. I was demonstrating how when you put objects in it or change various options in it (such as from Simple Logging to Full Logging) any new databases will pick up those objects or options (unless you override the options using a script.)  As I was bending over the keyboard to type the next demo I heard it, someone in the middle of the classroom suddenly said, “Woah…” and you could tell their world had just been expanded. That alone made the entire 36 hours (including travel time, sleeping etc) of the trip worth it. I knew someone had learned something. I live for those moments.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy getting paid as a consultant, but honestly, I speak on SQL Server topics and teach cave rescue for those aha moments, for knowing that I’ve just expanded someone else’s world a bit.

Oh that, and in this case, the free wings!

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Tasty wings at Hampton Roads SQL Server User Group

Just a reminder, I will be at the 2019 PASS Summit in Seattle and look forward to meeting with anyone who wants. My Twitter handle is @stridergdm and I often hang out with the folks at MinionWare (they’ve got a comfortable couch) and will be attending the Birds of the Feather luncheon (undecided where I’ll be sitting) and the Women in Technology Luncheon.

And I’m hoping for my nest article on PowerShell for Redgate’s Simple-Talk to be submitted before then!

 

He’s dying Jim!

Less than a minute after the mountain biker blew by me on the trail I heard the wail. It was scary. I raced forward with my hiking partner and very quickly came upon the accident scene. Thomas was laying in a crumpled mess, his $1500 mountain bike further down the trail with one more bend in the frame than the manufacturer had created it with.  This didn’t look good.

The hillside was steep and Thomas was on his side. I dropped my pack and went to backside of Thomas. Quickly my training kicked in. I introduced myself and asked him his name. His response re-assured me. He was breathing and had a pulse. And in medical terms, he appeared to be alert and oriented times three.

I put on my gloves (yes, I do carry nitrile or latex or material gloves pretty much anyplace I go, you should too!)  I then moved to his backside and palpated his head. So far, so good. No blood or cerebral-spinal fluid.  Since he was on his side, it was an ideal (if one could call his situation that) position for me to check his spine. Working down, so far so good until I got to the top of his lumbar portion. There I felt something very wrong.  Ok, shit just got real.  Upper torso, so far so good. Lower torso, right side, a reaction to pain. Barely noticeable, but definitely some mass internally. Again, not good. I continued down his legs. I got to his feet and normally I’d have saved this for the secondary survey, but since I already had a bad feeling and this wouldn’t take very long, I asked him to press his toes against my hands like he was pressing the gas. Nothing. I asked him to pull up his toes, again nothing.  This was not good. Same lack of reaction on the other side.  I could hear the panic in his voice, “why I can’t I move my legs?”

In all my past training they always taught us, “never lie to the patient. But also remember you’re not a doctor.” So I was honest. “Look, it could be a lot of things. I’m not a doctor so I don’t want to speculate. We’ll leave that to the professionals.” But deep down I knew. Bad tumble off a bike, bad position of a lumbar vertebra, and lack of sensation distal to that all added up to some sort of spinal injury. Would it be permanent, I had no idea.

I also checked his right arm since it was immediately available and this time came up with blood and point pain over the radius/ulna.  This matched what the accident most likely was.  He had hit a rock or something and wrapped his right side around a tree, breaking his arm, damaging his spine and most likely causing internal bleeding.

But I still had the left side to check.

With my partner’s help, we got a ground pad behind him and then rolled him very gently onto it. It’s always a risk moving a patient with apparent trauma like this but we needed to get him isolated from the could ground which was stealing his body heat and I needed to check for injuries on the left side.

Fortunately, this was the only bright news. A thorough check of his left side showed no apparent trauma. But, his shivering was getting worse and his mental state was decomposing. Whereas he was had previously been alert and oriented to who he was, where he was and approximately the time, now he kept asking the time.  Taking a set of vitals, things were not what one would like to get.

My partner was writing down all this information and giving me gear as needed. We had gotten the groundpad under him and clothing on top, but we needed to do more.  At this point, since we confirmed he wasn’t about to bleed out, we worked on splinting his arm. Providing traction in-line proved to be a bit painful at first, but ultimately gave him some pain relief and temporarily solved that particular issue. We did as much as we could in the back-country.

I took another set of vitals, and the numbers were a wee bit worse. In addition, Thomas was now wondering where he was. I repalpated his lower right abdomen and got an increased pain response and the firm area was larger. This was a very worrying sign.

While doing this, my partner ran down the trail with a copy of his notes until he got cell service and called 911. He gave them the details and then came back.  At this point, with his help we decided to get Thomas into a bivy sack to help keep him warm.  This took some effort since Thomas was bigger than either of us, fairly muscular and we were doing out best to protect his spine. But eventually we got it around him. Between this and some liquid “squirt” we were able to give him, his pending hypothermia appeared to stabilize and eventually improve.

But his vitals continued to degrade and the pain and mass in lower right his abdomen continued to get worse. He was dying and there was nothing I could do about it.

Well there was one thing I could do. I looked at Thomas and said, “well I think that’s it. Did I miss anything or do you think we got this exercise covered?”

He looked up and smiled, “Nope, I think you got it.  By the way, the biv sack really did help a lot. I was actually starting to get cold for real.” We removed the biv sack and he remarked, “Wow, you really did have a lot of warm stuff on me.”

Now, fortunately, all this had been an exercise, part of a SOLO Wilderness First Aid class I was taking over the weekend in order to renew my certificate.  The scenario was completely made up. But, I have to say, the feeling of helplessness was real.

Strangely though I’d say that was a good thing. For any skill we want to maintain competency in, we need to practice. Fortunately, I haven’t come across a crumpled mountain biker and most if not all back-country medical emergencies I’ve encountered have basically been fairly simple (an abrasion here, a blister there, or most commonly, mild hypothermia). But, continual practice does help. When arriving at the staged scene, I knew what I wanted to do and I knew how I wanted to do it and how to do it. The years of training and practice came back very easily. I knew how to do a primary survey and what I wanted to look for. I knew what vitals I needed and what trends I wanted.  There wasn’t much searching for knowledge, it bubbled up as needed. Practice really does in a sense “make perfect.”

And, even knowing that my mock patient most likely had internal bleeding that was leading to hypovolemic shock was good to know. Knowing that there was very little I could do if this was a for-real in the back-country was scary, but also strangely reassuring. I was confident that I had done all that I could reasonably do. And sometimes that may have to be enough.

I’ve talked previously about training as one fights. This should be true in any situation you may find yourself in: caving, the back-country, or even something as mundane as being a DBA. When’s the last time you practiced restoring a backup or doing a failover test?

Practice may or may not make perfect, but it does provide confidence.

P.S. if you’re in the Hampton Roads area tomorrow night (October 16th) come check me out speaking on System Databases at the Hampton Roads SQL Server User Group. Rumor has it, they’re serving wings!