Feeling Good but…

I think it would be fair to say that like everyone, I’m a bit sick of Covid (thankfully not sick from it.) I just got my booster on Friday and then I’m hearing about the Omicron variant.

I submitted talks for SQLBits in the UK for next year, hoping to present in person. And I’m hearing about numbers rising.

I’m planning a mini-vacation/cave rescue training trip to Hawai’i next year and making sure everything is refundable. Just in case.

So I’m feeling god but…

At the start of each year, I set some financial goals for myself. Some include what things I may pay off, save, or how I’ll spend it (now admittedly most of those are fixed, such as knowing I’ll tax property taxes, etc.) As a contractor I also set a couple of various goals for new work and how much I’ll hopefully earn in the coming year. I find these are important as they help keep me focused and moving forward.

The good news is, financially I’ve hit all my goals, and then some, this year. The downside, with that, and with Covid continually popping up its ugly head, I’ve lost some of my motivation for the rest of the year.

Fortunately, this has freed up some time for some projects around the house. Almost two years ago, with help from the kids, I started on a project to replace some leaking pipes and replace the resulting damaged drywall in the basement. I’m proud to say I’ve finally gotten around to taping and painting the drywall in the basement and patching around where I put in the new bathroom fan. Things get done, albeit slowly.

I’m also feeling good because a major project for one of my clients is mostly completed. But it also came very close to burning me out and I’ll admit I even considered walking away from the client over it. The strange part is that it wasn’t a particularly complicated project, though it did involve a combination of SQL, PowerShell, and using a product called Pentaho. Technically it was fairly straightforward. But, for awhile, the project management was absent and the then lead was actually another agency who, I think it’s safe to say didn’t clearly understand the full scope of the project. With the addition of the client adding their own PM and working with a different agency taking over a bunch of the work, things have gone much more smoothly. Now we’re simply dealing with small niggling details that got missed before.

What kept me from walking away (besides it being my largest client) was a sense of responsibility to the client. Without my efforts, I think the project would have easily been set back a month as they would have had to bring someone else up to speed on my efforts.

Now the upside is that because of the overtime required (and it’s still ongoing) I met my financial goals for the year (and hence now have time for the house projects). So that’s a good thing.

But it did highlight how frustrating being a single-person consulting agency can be at times. It’s made me re-evaluate my goals for 2022. I’ll be writing more about this in a future blog, but it has got me thinking more about getting back to working for an company as a full-time employee, ideally in a management position. Strangely one thing I’ve come to realize is I actually enjoy making decisions and I enjoy managing. I sort of miss it.

And perhaps after nearly 2 years of Covid (and nearly a decade of pure consulting), it’s time I get out of the house more and travel a bit and interact face to face with people.

We’ll see.

But that’s it for today. I’m feeling good but…

P.S. One thing I did finally accomplish is submitting my latest article to Redgate’s Simple-Talk.

Thanksgiving 2021

One of the holidays I’ve really come to enjoy over the years has been Thanksgiving. It’s also perhaps the one that has varied the most in my life. One of my earliest memories of it was when my parents were still married (I believe) and spending part of the afternoon playing some tag football with some friends the next street over in Falls Village. (Part of the reason that day was so memorable was the inadvertent discovery of some dog crap after sliding through it!)

After my parents divorced, typically my father and I would go to my paternal grandmother’s house in New Haven and then go out to dinner. She never cooked, for a variety of reasons, including the fact that her kitchen was rather cramped. I recall one year having to shovel out her driveway so we could get back out. Her house was a converted carriage barn at the bottom of a hill in the Westville part of New Haven.

We did this tradition for as long as she lived. But once she passed I decided to take up the tradition by doing it, first at our apartment in Troy, and then later our house. Over the years various friends and members of the family have joined us.

Thanksgiving 2014

While in college, I also did a few early-bird Thanksgivings with a couple of the groups I was involved with. One literally was an “early-bird” where it turns out the students responsible for cooking one of the two turkeys didn’t thaw it first and brought it to the event in a half-raw state. Fortunately my mom caught it in time, mentioned it to Dean Dave and we sidelined that turkey! Thankfully the second turkey was properly cooked and we could enjoy that and the other sides and desserts, including the apple pie I brought.

At some point my dad, who was never much of a cook himself, but enjoyed spending time with his family, suggested we start rotating it from year to year. He went so far as to buy a gas stove (haven gotten rid of the wood-fired kitchen stove well over a decade previously) just to have a place to cook the turkey. I suspect it’s the only time of the year the stove got use. Part of the tradition while driving there, at least for me, included tuning the radio until I could find at least one station that was playing Alice’s Restaurant (that’s the name of the song, not the restaurant of course). One year, we even took a very slight detour and took some photos of the family standing outside of a particular former church in West Stockbridge. (I should note, somewhere in the dirt bike race scene my father has me nestled in his CPO jacket while he’s standing next to my mom. Both were extras, as I suppose was I.)

We also would then on the third year, go to his half-sister’s house outside of Boston where she would host. One one hand I missed hosting every year, on the other hand it gave me a chance to enjoy someone else’s efforts. Unfortunately, this tri-yearly rotation did not last overly long. I think we got in two dinners at my father’s before 2015 when he passed away.

Since then, while we’ve enjoyed a few thanksgivings at my Aunt’s, both last year and this year have conspired to prevent us from gathering with here. Last year it was strictly due to Covid and this year, to other health issues. It’s frustrating as we’d love to see her again.

My Dad and my Aunt Thanksgiving 2013 in Boston

So, on Thanksgiving, I will miss my father and my aunt. But both kids are home from college, my mother will be joining us (since her mother passed several years ago, she’s started doing Thanksgiving at our house when it’s held here) and perhaps a few others.

I’ll watch the Macy’s parade while preparing the turkey and fixings and catch part of the Great American Dog Show.

We’ll go around the table before digging in and each give thanks for something in the last year. I think it’ll be easier this year than last year when the days were darker, not only because of the angle of the Sun, but also the general temper of the year.

And then, at some point, later that evening, probably around 8:00 PM, I’ll go to the fridge, carve off some leftover turkey, grab some mayonnaise, a dash of salt and bread and make myself a turkey sandwich.

Thanksgiving 2011

No matter where you are, or who you are with, I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving. And here’s looking forward to 2022.

Feeling Older

This is probably far from the last time I’m going to write on the subject, and certainly not as in depth as I plan to someday, but this past week made me feel past my prime.

While in many ways I believe age is just a number, the truth is, it does change us. While I am still very active, such as biking a century ride last year, still caving and teaching cave rescue, the reality is, the body and mind are slowing.

I’ve been working with SQL Server in one form or another since 4.21. I’ve spoken at PASS Summit, I’ve presented at more SQL Saturdays and User Groups than I can remember. I’ve published a book and numerous Red Gate articles and I’ve mentored more than a few people over the decades. I’ve worked at two start-ups (not counting mergers and acquisitions) and been a consultant before, between and after those gigs.

So I think I can safely say I’m comfortable with my credentials.

That said, the past week really made me consider if it was time to hang up my cap, or at least change caps again. I won’t go into details, other than to say a particularly stressful project for one of my clients reached a major milestone. I’m actually just one small cog in a much bigger piece of the project, but it’s a fairly important cog. And, it had issues. Now, I’ll put on my shoulders that a bit was due to issues with my code and some assumptions I had made. Most of the issues actually stemmed at a far higher level and with another consultant agency working on the project. Let’s just say that GIGO still thrives. But some of it I realized was, I was slightly off my game, and I think a bit of brain fog was involved. I don’t know if that was age related, simply a result of being cooped up for well over the last year due to Covid or what.

Regardless, the culmination of all that and other issues, some personal, started to come to a head. By Friday I was seriously wondering how much more I had left in the tank, physically and mentally.

Today I will admit I’m in a better place. The last major piece of code I needed to get working finally succeeded in production last night and the GIGO problems seem to be disappearing.

But that was after a long weekend of introspection about where I’m headed. I am at that age where retirement is no longer some far off nebulous goal, but an actual reality I have to consider. I’ve always known I’ll probably never truly retire; I do enjoy being busy and working too much. However, I have for several years now done the delicate balance between making sure I hit certain target goals for income and actually enjoying my work. Last week that balance was way off. I need to get it back.

This is my long-winded way of saying that for the first time in years, I’m honestly not sure what I’ll be doing a year from now. Perhaps I’ll still be consulting in my current form and enjoying it. Perhaps I’ll go back to a full-time 9-5 gig; I have come to realize, I deeply miss the management side of work. For my two stints as a full-time employee I was a manager and honestly, I loved that. I miss it. Perhaps I’ll be consulting in a very different way going forward. Maybe I’ll invest in real-estate. Perhaps become a vagabond teaching cave rescue across the country (this last one is not as far fetched as it sounds, I am planning on teaching at least 2 if not 3 different classes next year.)

But I think change is coming again. It’s the season.

Extruding Keratin

I have been thinking about getting a 3D printer for awhile and even briefly looked at getting one during the height of the pandemic last year. Then a meme on Facebook made me laugh and got me thinking. It was a graphic of Skeletor saying how your head is simply 3D printing hair. I pointed out that fingers are doing the same thing.

And as most will probably recall from high school, hair and nails are basically both keratin so it’s the same basic thing, just in a slightly different form.

First, I have to say, I find it amazing and wonderful on how conservative nature really is in the form of evolution. It really makes a lot of sense when one things about it. Once a basic structural protein has evolved, it’s probably easier making certain tweaks to it that are good enough for other uses than expecting something completely new to evolve. Hair and nails fill very different functions, but adapting keratin structures for each use works well enough.

Perhaps one can think of evolution as a bit object oriented and keratin is the base object and nail and hair are simply inheriting its features and deriving new classes.

Anyway, as a side effect of all this, humans especially have, pretty much as far back as we can look, modified hair and nails. It’s one way we distinguish ourselves from each other.

Head Hair

In my personal life I’ve both paid a lot of attention to my own hair grooming habits and very little. In ways I’ve experimented with its length and style over the decades. My grandfather apparently had very strict ideas on hair length and was known to give money to bagboys at the supermarket if he spied long hair and would tell them to get a hair cut. I don’t think he’d have approved of most of my hair experiments.

In high school, we had a dress code that wasn’t overly strict, basically it was boys hair could not be longer than “lightly touching the shirt collar.” That was fine for me. Beyond that, I probably didn’t pay much more attention to my hair than that. A few years later I met a fellow graduate (he was probably 6 years behind me) that had a mohawk that he had maintained while attending the same high school. He pointed out that when spiked out, it was no where near his collar and when it wasn’t, it flopped over and was still just lightly touching the collar. I have to applaud him for both following the letter of the rule, and completely flaunting expectations.

Back in the 90s when the original version of MacGyver was popular, mullets came into being. I’ll admit to being a fan of MacGyver for many reasons and it may or may not have influenced my hair style for a bit. Later I grew a bit of a rat-tail. I liked it for a number of reasons. Strangely, I found it sort of helped me as a consultant. I could dress in business casual, and look serious when meeting a client, but then they’d notice I had a bit of the look they expected from a computer geek. I’ll admit too, I didn’t mind the attraction some women found for it.

But, as I got a bit older, and honestly, as the gray started to appear, I decided I had to either grow out all my hair and go with the 60s hippy look (something I probably could have pulled off honestly, and had the family history for) or trim it. And so trim it I did. Since then, until recently I’d go in for the obligatory hair cut, but that was about it. At first I didn’t really care who cut my hair. I’d go to a place, take the first open chair and let them go to work. That stopped after one stylist kept butchering my hair shorter and shorter trying to fix the mistakes she kept making. I got up, paid and walked out.

Then while working in DC I happened to find a stylist I liked and would wait for her to cut my hair. Once back home, it took me a while to find another one I liked. She eventually moved but recommended someone else, who I liked. Then Covid hit.

At first I just let me hair grow, but finally it started to annoy me enough I ended up joining the crowd and buying a set of clippers with attachments. Now, I cut my own hair on a more regular basis than I did before Covid and according to my wife, I’m getting pretty good at it. She still helps me trim the very back but that’s about it.

Beard

In the summer between my Freshman and Sophomore years of college, I went on a road trip with a college friend. He had a full beard. We both shaved the day before we left. Three weeks later we arrived home. It looked like he hadn’t shaved. My dad’s only comment (who was bearded) was “Oh, trying to grow a beard?” It was evident then and for decades later that any beard growth for me would be an exercise in either futility or patience.

But Covid changed that. Sometime last year I decided though to give up shaving. No real reason other than, “Hey it’s Covid, why not?” And since I wasn’t going to be seeing clients, visiting people, etc. I could take my time. Though in some ways too it was very much an experiment, “let’s see what can happen?” This time the beard took. Again I’ve played with lengths. At the longest, it was probably an inch long and very fuzzy. I sort of liked it, but my wife wasn’t and I also felt I wanted something that looked less “mountain man” and a bit more professional. So now I keep it trimmed fairly close and like that even more. That said, I suspect sometime in the next year or two it’ll finally go. It may make reappearances later in my life.

I started this post talking about a meme and evolution, but it’s grown. Funny that. And it’s down done growing.

Nails

One last bit though. I also mentioned nails. I suppose one could say over the past few months I’ve done some experimenting with those. At least the ones on my left hand. I’ve often had a slightly longer pinky nail, useful if only for a deep satisfying scratch or the like. But this time I’ve let all of them grow and well it’s been interesting. The pinky, because it had a head start is visibly longer. The others, from the backside, just now peaking over the pads of my fingers.

And, I’ve learned a lot:

  • For example, within the past few days, removing contacts has become a bit trickier given the way I’ve done it. I have to be very careful to make sure only the pads of my fingers are there, and I don’t scrape the cornea with my nails. (I thought I had a few days ago. That’s a hard thought to fall asleep to. Trust me.
  • Scratching myself definitely gives different feelings between the right (trimmed) and left hands.
  • Typing is a tad different.
  • Putting on an oven mitt was a surprising difference, at least with the extra-long pinky nail. Hard to describe, but I can’t pull it on quite as far and as a result gripping stuff is a bit different.
  • I find in general, with my left hand I have to be a bit more dainty in my usage, both to protect the nails and in some cases to protect what I’m handling (see contacts above).

As I was musing on what to write this week, that thought above really ran through my head; in two ways. The first being how the longer nails, even at this fairly short length, has impacted hand movements. But also on the adjective. At first I was going to say something like feminine, but realized that wasn’t accurate. I think it’s mostly because at this point in society, while we may associate long nails with being a feminine quality, there’s nothing inherently feminine about them. Men and women, cis or trans can obviously grow them. They are much like hair in this aspect. For years, as my grandfather seemed to believe, men had short hair and women had long (his wife, my grandmother had gorgeous red hair that cascaded down her back). But again this is simply a cultural norm, not an inherent characteristic. We look back at Samson with long hair and it was considered a sign of virility. And in 20th century America, women wearing short hair has also become acceptable. So obviously hair length itself doesn’t have a feminine or masculine inherent characteristic.

Conclusion

We assign to many things characteristics that are not an inherent part of them. Fortunately, in my mind society is getting better about this, though there are still far too many people that insist that their definitions are an inherent truth.

As for me, my head hair, I’ll probably keep cutting myself when it gets long enough to annoy me, the beard will stay until it doesn’t and the nails, we’ll see. Who knows, maybe I’ll paint them once before I trim them, or maybe I’ll simply cut to trimming them. It’s been an interesting experiment, and I’ve enjoyed it, but also not something I’m necessarily huge on keeping. But that’s ok. It’s my body and I’ll do what I want.

But I think if it weren’t for Covid, I might not have experimented like I did above. Both age, and the time of being away from people, has given me a little more confidence to explore, both my own expectations of my body and presentation and just in general. It’s one of the few good things to come out of Covid for me.

Updating My Avatar

A want to thank in part, fellow DBA, Cathrine Wilhelmsen for the topic today. She posted a tweet this morning asking we all look like our Twitter profile pictures when we meet again at in-person events. I replied that I wasn’t sure I was ready to shave my beard. So, instead, in the meantime, I updated my avatar on Twitter photo to my latest headshot, which does include a beard. I figure I can always shave it and update my photo later.

I was at a loss for a topic today until that tweet came in and then a request from Adam Hafner came in reminding me to send him an updated bio for my upcoming talk at his User Group in Sioux Falls later this month.

Between these two events, it was another reminder of how much as changed in the last 18 or so months and how much will change again in the next 18 months. For example, I signed up to do an in-person User Group presentation next May for the Hampton Roads SQL Server User Group.

The beard is perhaps my most obvious change. But I’ve also come to realize how much I miss my #SQLFamily. I’ve been fortunate in the past 18 months to teach two in-person cave rescue classes and still avoid Covid. And yet, I missed travelling. I miss getting out. Last month my wife and I drove our out to Buffalo to help my son move into his apartment for his final semester of college. That’s the furthest I’ve been from home in 18 months. Other than teaching the cave rescue courses about 30 miles away, I don’t think I’ve slept under another roof in all that time. This is unusual for me.

I had even stopped doing remote SQL presentations. My writing for Redgate dropped off (though I just had a new article published, check it out here!)

But, that’s all starting to slowly change. I can feel the winds shifting and I think next year will be a great year for travel and I’m excited about it.

And, I may or may not have a beard. Hopefully you’ll recognize me. And I hope I recognize you.

And Now the Good News…

The good news is my 2005 Subaru only needed some very minor repairs to get it back on the road so my son can take it to college. This is in contrast to the local dealer telling me last year that it had significant leaks and there was no way for it to pass inspection. I didn’t really believe their diagnosis, but figured they knew what they were talking about and ended up buying a 2015 Subaru last fall.

So why am I telling you about my car ownership? Because this is sort of a follow-up to my post from last week on decision making. After posting it and getting several positive comments, I realized it was actually a bit incomplete and decided I need to write a follow-up. You see, I sort of ignored a huge fact in my last post and it’s both generic and personal. The fact is, decision making in the abstract is easy, it’s when it gets personal it can get far harder. Generically this applies to everyone. Personally, last week I was struggling with the decision about my car repairs and realizing the emotional factors involved.

One of my favorite TV dramas of all time addresses this problem in a few episodes, the most clear one being Mr. Willis of Ohio where President Bartlet explains to his daughter Zoey the real concern:

My getting killed would be bad enough, but that is not the nightmare scenario. The nightmare scenario, sweetheart, is *you* getting kidnapped. You go out to a bar or a party in some club and you get up to go to the restroom and somebody comes from behind and puts their hand across your mouth and whisks you out the back door. You’re so petrified you don’t even notice the bodies of a few Secret Service agents lying on the ground with bullet holes in their heads. Then you’re whisked away in a car. It’s a big party with lots of noise and lots of people coming and going, and it’s a half hour before someone says, “Hey, where’s Zoey?” Another fifteen minutes before the first phone call. It’s another hour and a half before anyone even *thinks* to shut down all the airports. Now we’re off to the races. You’re tied to a chair in a cargo shack somewhere in the middle of Uganda and I am told that I have 72 hours to get Israel to free 460 terrorist prisoners. So I’m on the phone pleading with Be Yabin and he’s saying: “I’m sorry, Mr. President, but Israel simply does not negotiate with terrorists, period. It’s the only way we can survive.” So now we got a new problem because this country no longer has a Commander-in-chief, it has a father who’s out of his mind because his little girl is in a shack somewhere in Uganda with a gun to her head. Do you get it?

The West Wing: Mister Willis of Ohio.

This later becomes a plot point in a later season where basically this scenario gets played out and President Bartlet decides to invoke the 25th Amendment and temporarily steps aside (which, in my opinion leads to some great scenes with John Goodman who proves his acting chops include more than comedy).

The point is, he realizes he can be the President, or a father, but at times he can’t be both. And now back to my 2005 Subaru.

Last year when I thought I was facing over $3000 in repairs, it was a fairly easy decision to not get it repaired. I thought in the back of my mind that perhaps I’d make it a Covid project with my kids and do the work over the summer. As both the summer and my motivation slowly ran away, I realized this wasn’t going to happen.

That said, I still harbored an interesting in getting the car fixed, even though economically it didn’t seem to make sense. Thinking about it, I realized that several factors were driving my decision, one of which of course was it gave my son a car for his final time at college. But also, honestly, it was a fun car to drive. In some ways far more fun than my current Subaru (but I love the bells and whistles of my current car). But there was another factor, my dad had essentially helped me buy the car, just months before he got ill and passed away. There was a distinct emotional attachment to the car. It was looming larger than I had cared to admit.

But recently a new wrinkle appeared. Due to the Covid pandemic, there has been a distinct uptick in the price and value of used cars. A recent search of Subarus in a similar age range showed them now being sold for close to $4000. Suddenly putting that much money into an old car wasn’t an entirely bad idea. But again, I had to wonder, “was it worth it?”

I decided to take a “wait and see” attitude and got it insured and registered and took it to a local mechanic I’m starting to use more and more. I told him basically “Hey, if we can get it inspected without doing all the work, let’s do it.”

A few hours later he called me back. He had bad news. He couldn’t pass it. But, not because it needed the work the dealer had claimed. But because I had forgotten that the battery had recently died and I had had to jump it and recharge the battery. This meant the computer data on emissions wasn’t sufficient and it wouldn’t pass. Fortunately, this is an easy cure: drive it for around 100 miles. With that, it should pass!

I got lucky this time. I could get the car on the road for very little cost. The whole emotional attachment part could go away, at least for now. So what would I have done? Thinking about it, I suspect, since honestly, we had the money, and having the extra car would be useful and because of the increase in car prices I’d have gone ahead with it.

But what about bigger decisions? Fortunately I’ll never be in the position that writers put President Bartlet in. But, there are other situations where emotions might come into play. In cave rescue there’s a skill called a “pick-off” which can be used to help rescue a patient who is stuck on rope. We used to teach it at our standard weeklong cave rescue course and require proficiency in it to pass one of the upper levels. It can be very useful and if your patient is conscious and cooperative, it’s not hard to do. If they’re unconscious however, it can be very hard to do and in fact can be quite dangerous. If you do it wrong, you can also end up stuck on the rope with no way to go up or down. This can be fatal. I know of at least one situation where a friend tried to rescue another friend stuck on a rope in a cave in a waterfall. Both died. He didn’t have the skills (or honestly the best equipment to do so) and allowed his emotions to cloud his decision making. It’s easy to say that here, sitting in my nice dry office when I don’t hear a friend dying. In rescue, one of the hardest decisions one has to make is when to stop a rescue. It’s not easy and emotions and emotional attachments can come into play. But one has to look at the overall picture and try to not let emotions cloud ones decision making process.

As an aside, an excellent look at a real-life scenario where a climber had to cut the rope of his buddy: Touching the Void by Joe Simpson. I highly recommend it.

So, what is the take-away here?

When making decisions, there are often personal and emotional factors that come into play. Sometimes one can allow them (in my case with the car, it’s just money), in others (such as a pick-off) one might allow them, but probably shouldn’t, and if you’re President of the US, you probably should avail yourself of a way out so that your emotions don’t cloud your decision making process. Actually, even if you’re not President of the United States with a kidnapped daughter, I would recommend either turning the decision making process over to another competent person, or at least searching out the input of several folks, ideally ones without the same emotional biases as you, and getting a consensus of opinion. Ultimately though, be aware of the factors going into your decision and the possible consequences.

That’s it for now, until I decide to write another post about this topic.

Let’s Start with the bad news…

Last Thursday I had to send out an email that started with this line. I had to tell over 4 dozen students that the upcoming Cave Rescue training had to be cancelled due to the ongoing uptick in Covid infections.

Long-time readers of this blog are probably aware of the history of this class. In short, it was originally scheduled for last June. Last February we decided to postpone it to this June. This past February, based on where we thought the infection curve would be and vaccinations would be, the decision was made to postpone the major event to late August and do a much smaller, more limited event in June.

In hindsight, one could say, “well you should have had the National Class in June.” Most of our folks would have been vaccinated and the infection rate in June was extremely low.

And the reality is, we might find in the next 12 days or so before the class was scheduled a dramatic drop in the infection curve.

Since the Training Coordinator and I made the decision to cancel, I have received numerous emails expressing sympathy for all the hard work I had put in and how disappointed I must be. I appreciate them, but the truth is, I’m not disappointed or upset. And I’m definitely not second-guessing the decisions that got us here.

The thing is, despite an earlier post, I’m generally comfortable with making decisions and even enjoy making them at times. One thing to keep in mind, especially with decisions like this, is that one makes them based on the information one has available at the time. Back in February, when the decision was made to postpone, we didn’t know that the vaccination rate would be as high as it would be by May. We also didn’t know that there would be such a huge surge in infections in August. Had we known that, we’d have made a different decision.

The other factor that can help is to not make decisions in a vacuum. Ultimately, this seminar was my responsibility and I was the one who made the recommendation to our Board back in February to delay. While there was a vote and decision and vote by them, ultimately my input was a big factor there. (It was unlikely that the BORC would have rejected my advice to delay). In this most recent decision to outright cancel, it came down to the Training Coordinator and I. Neither decision was made in a vacuum (that can lead to bad decision making and also means less information is available) but ultimately the decision and responsibility came down to one or two people.

There were two overriding factors that led to this decision. One was a very practical factor. A number of our students and instructors simply had to cancel. Either they felt the risk was too great, or in several cases, their employers had revoked their time off since they were needed at work to help handle the impact of the ongoing rate of infections. So we simply were facing the fact that we were having a diminishing number of instructors and students and that fact alone was causing us to cancel portions of the seminar.

And the other was: we are charged with training and doing so in a safe environment. As the covid spike gets larger, we felt we could not do a training in a way we felt that was safe.

I’ll admit, had we gone ahead with the training I’d have been a nervous wreck for at least two weeks after the seminar until we knew we were safe (or not) from Covid.

Yes, it’s disappointing that we had to cancel, but I know it was the right decision. And I know each decision was the right one that led to this point.

It’s often tempting to second guess decisions. While at times it can be useful to review what went into making a decision, I would caution against dwelling on decisions.

So to review:

  • Remind yourself, decisions made in the past are generally made on the best information at the time. Don’t revaluate them based on information not available at that time.
  • When possible, get input from multiple people, but have a clear process for making the decision and at times that’s best done by one or two people.
  • Generally, decide towards safety. In our case, there was no pressing reason to lower our safety standards.
  • Also, it can be important to remember no matter how much effort or work was put in in the past, not to count that in the decision. A LOT of work has gone into planning this upcoming training. But that doesn’t change the factors that are currently in play. This is the sunk-cost fallacy. That work is done. But new factors determined the decision.
  • Don’t live in the past. Move forward.
  • Get vaccinated. (that has nothing to do with decision making, but is a good idea).

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!

2020 in Review

Yes, I’m joining the chorus of so many others who are publishing a lookback on the previous year. This has become a tradition for me. And I of course followed last year’s review with a preview for 2020. I made the obligatory dad joke then and I’ll make one now, that I can’t wait until 20/20 is truly hindsight!

2020 I think upset everyone’s goals, and mine were no different. But I figured I’d start with my goals from last year and then try to end on an actual up-note.

  • I had a goal of blogging at least once a week. I think I missed 1 this year, but a few weeks I blogged more than once, so, including this post, I will have 56 posts this year. Not to shabby. And my overall page count is up. So that’s good.
  • I vowed to write more for Red-Gate and I did. But not as much as I’d like. I do blame this partly on Covid. I lost some of my enthusiasm. But I am working on another article. I was hoping to have it done this week, but lost motivation. I did learn one of my articles there is one of their top read articles. I’m quite proud of that!
  • I did read more this past year, that’s for sure.
  • One goal I had was to keep speaking at more SQL Saturdays. Well, that didn’t quite go as planned. I did speak at the Albany event, but that was about it. This one I 100% blame on Covid. On the other hand, I finally attended the Portland Oregon SQL Saturday, albeit virtually.
  • Speak at SQL Summit: well I did achieve this one, sort of. It was virtual, but I was selected and that was a HUGE highlight. And in fact I ended up being part of two presentations, the 2nd a live one that I ended up doing from my car while waiting for something else. And my presentation on PowerShell for Beginners apparently was very popular. So, I can at least say I went out on a high note.
  • On one hand, we postponed our NCRC Weeklong Cave Rescue Seminar here in NY to 2021. On the other hand, I was able to work out a Modular Level 1 Seminar here in September, the first of its kind in my region ever. And we did it safely and effectively.
  • Started to use git on a far more regular basis, including from the command line (previously I had limited myself to the GUI in Visual Studio).
  • I did read more! – including:
    • The Power Broker, I biography of Robert Moses
    • Station Eleven, though in retrospect, reading a book about the world after a global pandemic was NOT a great way to start the year!

So, overall, I did accomplish a number of my goal. I had some generic ones that included caving more, biking more, and hiking more. More on those in a moment.

Overall, the year was a bummer in many ways. I really missed travelling. I really missed seeing friends and family (I think we saw my mom in person twice during the entire year). I missed my seeing my #SQLFamily in person. I missed my NCRC Family. I missed having our normal annual pool party.

I missed, normalcy.

But…

You know what, for me personally, 2020 was actually a year of some ups. I’ve been very fortunate and I was able to do things I had not done as much as in the past.

  • For one I accomplished my first overnight hike in perhaps over a decade, a nice 18 miles on the Appalachian Trail. Due to scheduling I couldn’t quite get in a 2nd hike that would have completed a gap in Massachusetts, but perhaps next year. I did find I needed some new equipment, which I purchased in anticipation for next year.
  • As for biking, I definitely did a LOT more this year. I biked over 1300 miles this year (I can’t recall the last time, if ever, I did as much) including my first century ride (100 miles in one day) since my senior year of high school. I’m really proud of that one. Who knows, maybe I’ll do another in 2021.
  • Despite a contentious election season, America voted the Orange One out.
  • Spent more time with my family! We did several walks around the area including some paths we had not explored in the 20+ years my wife and I have lived in the house.
  • I fixed the dryer that had been making a horrible rumbling sound for years.
  • I made a bunch of sourdough bread, pancakes, waffles and even a pizza crust or two. And I’m back to making sourdough again.
  • I finished binge-watching Haven, a quirky fun show based on a Stephen King story.
  • I rewatched (and for my family, they watched for the first time) the entire Prisoner series. Yes, everyone still wonders what the hell the final episode is still about.
  • We’re binge-watching Schitt$ Creek and wondering why we didn’t watch it sooner.

All in all, it was a very mixed year. It wasn’t a normal year in many ways and some of the normalcy, I really missed. But, on the flip side, I think it encouraged and in some cases forced me out of my comfort zone and to do things I might not have had time to do otherwise.

I can’t say it was a great year. While I’ve been fortunate and have not had anyone close to me succumb to Covid, I know too many people who have had friends and family die of it. So in that aspect, it’s been a terrible year. As of the latest count, over 342,000 have died in the US and yesterday set a new record in the US for daily deaths. At this rate, by the start of next week we’ll have over 350,000 deaths and predictions are of over another 80,000 in the next three weeks. PASS has been a side casualty of this too.

Too many lives have been impacted and effected and I don’t want to minimalize those.

But, I do want to highlight that even in a dark year, at least personally, I’ve been able to find some positive things to focus on. I hope others have too. Hopefully everyone reading this has at least one thing they can look back on and say, “Yeah, that was good” or “That’s a special memory, I won’t forget.”

And to quote Colonel Potter from MASH: “Here’s to the New Year. May she be a damn sight better than the old one, and may we all be home before she’s over.”

Has PASS Passed? Does it Really Matter?

The last week or two of the Twittersphere and blogosphere has left me unsettled. Three members of the PASS Board have resigned in protest: Hamish Watson, Melody Zacharias, Mindy Curnutt. These are three people I’ve had the honor of working with and in Hamish’s case, even sharing the stage (albeit virtual) with. They’re great, hard-working, dedicted people. Rumors are that the Board is consulting with lawyers, presumably to see what is required for an orderly and legal dissolution of PASS as we know it.

Yesterday, a friend posted on my Facebook timeline that she hoped to see me again in a year when I came back out to Seattle for Summit. I had to say, it wasn’t clear there would be a Summit next year.

These things sadden me. Winter, at least here in the Northern Hemisphere is a time of literal darkness, but the situation with PASS, on top of our time of Covid and our bitter partisan divide brings darkness to other parts of my life.

But, I’m reminded of the good things too. Sitting on my kitchen butcherblock are 6 bags of cookies, plus a pile more for ourselves. Tonight is the 6th night of Hanukkah, where again my family and I will gather to light candles to remind ourselves of hope and joy among a dark time millennia ago when evil was vanquished. In a few days, Jupiter and Saturn will be in conjunction and create a single bright “star”. This will happen on the darkest, longest night of the year and then light will start to return and a new year will begin. A vaccine is out and being distributed and hope for 2021 builds.

And last night, I was reminded that PASS itself may be an organization, and I don’t know its future but an organization is made up of the people in it. It’s more than just the founding papers and bylaws and NDAs. To quote Shakespeare, “O brave new world, that has such people in it!”

What exactly do I mean? Well in more normal years, last night would have been our holiday party for the Capital Area SQL Server User Group. This means we would have gathered at a local restaurant, in person and shared stories and memories over food and drink. Months ago it became apparent that this could not happen this year. I struggled with several ideas to do instead. For one, we could have cancelled, but that just seemed too depressing. I could have found yet another remote speaker, but that just seemed boring. I can’t recall exactly where the idea came from, but I decided to do a version of “3 Truths and a Lie”. It turned out to be 4 Truths and a Lie. For those who aren’t familiar with the idea, or who do not listen to NPRs “Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me” which has a version they call “Bluff the Listener”, the idea is some number of people (in my case 4) tell a true story, perhaps a bit outlandish. One additional person tells a lie. The others in the group then cast their votes for whose story is made-up. It can be quite fun.

I struggled a bit with who to ask to be guest speakers. I wanted folks that I knew could tell a good tale and that had probably some quite unusual stories. So I reached out and very quickly got back positive responses from everyone I asked. THIS is the #SQLFamily I’ve grown to know and love, always willing to help out and if it involves a good story, all the better. One of them, David Klee was positively giddy with excitement. And then it happened: several of the others had to drop out for personal reasons. They all reached out to me and apologized for having to drop out. I understood. Life happens and I know none of them did so without some anguish. But fear not, I had others to ask and other contacts of mine helped suggest names. Originally I was going to go with 4 total story tellers, but because time was now short, I reached out to at least one extra person to ensure if someone said no, I’d still have enough folks. Amazingly, all the folks I asked said yes. Now I had a total of 5 and that was fine, I decided to run with it. So, besides David, I ended up with Kellyn Pot’Vin-Gorman, Ed Leighton-Dick, Rick Lowe, and Amy Herold all weaving tales; of upgrades that included a Cheshire cat, the coworker who thought you had to sit and watch SQL jobs run to completion before going home, a trigger that would routinely update 63,000 rows, JBwelding USB ports in the name of security, and upgrading a server to something 31% slower for the low low cost of only $4M.

Unfortunately, the actual turnout for my group, despite the sign-ups on Meetup, was about 1/2 of what I had expected, but everyone had a great time. Surprisingly, no one guessed which of the above stories was made up (and I’m not giving it away). But we had plenty of prizes so everyone will be going away with something.

The one thing I went away with, was the confirmation that while I have no idea what the future of PASS is (ok, I have some thoughts, perhaps for another time), I do know that it’s far more than just the organization, it’s really the people, the demonyms of PASS that are the #SQLFamily I’ve come to know and love. In this season of darkness, knowing that there are such people out there fills me with hope.

So thanks to the folks named above and to all my other #SQLFamily members, and fellow CASSUG folks, including Ed Pollack and Ray Kim for your help over the past year.

One a finale note: for my birthday this year, I’ve added a link on my Facebook page to the local foodbank. I already exceeded two early goals and have added a third, stretch goal. Watching a segment on hunger and food drives on The Today Show this morning I am again reminded of how much I have and how lucky my family is. I would ask, if you can, donate, either to your local food bank, to the link on my Facebook page or to a charity of your choice.

Thank you and to all, a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, and happy holidays for other holidays that you may celebrate.