#YesAllMen

For over two years I’ve been wanting to put together a speaking topic using the above as a title or as a subtitle. The reason is because the alternative, #NotAllMen is NOT a good thing to use.

Yesterday I came across an article that said it better than I could. I would recommend you read it first: Buzzfeed Article.

It brings up several great points, including ones I had not given much thought to. Look, I know when a friend of yours is upset that a guy just made a pass at her in a professional setting, one of your first instincts is to think “I’d never do that” and are tempted to say “#notallmen” you’re not being helpful. In fact, you’ve just made it about yourself. Just don’t. That’s not what is needed.

Look, I’m pretty confident that all my male readers are pretty decent guys. I work with many of you professionally, some of you in volunteer positions, some are simply friends, and some readers, I suspect I don’t know, but you’re probably ok too. None of you are outright sexist or racist. If you were, I wouldn’t be associating with you. But all of us are still a product of our environments. We make the off-handed comment without thinking about it. Or someone around us makes a comment and we don’t react. This is also why I suggest when it comes to calling yourself an ally, just don’t.

Several years ago I helped organize and then participated in a Women in Tech panel for our local SQL Server User Group. I was the only man on the panel and expected to be asked what was the best thing I thought we, as men could do. The answer was of course somewhat ironic: “Sit down and shut up.” I of course expanded upon this. No, we can’t nor should we ever completely shut up. That wasn’t my point of course. My point was to make sure not to center the discussion about us. When a friend complains about a sexist incident, replying #NotAllMen is doing just that. Centering the discussion on us. Sorry, that’s a time to shut up and listen.

But when others make sexist comments, that’s a time when it may be appropriate to say something. And if someone calls you out, take it in stride. We make mistakes. And if someone takes you aside and says something (I’ve now heard that called a “call-in”) thank them. It means they think well enough of you to help you be a better person.

At the end of the day guys, we’re all still part of the problem, even when we do our best. That doesn’t make us evil. It simply means we have space to grow into. Let’s do that. Let’s grow.

… Other Duties as Assigned

I’ve mentioned once before that at one of my clients I describe my job as “DBA and other duties as assigned.”

This phrase has really been on my mind this week, especially during a phone call with another client yesterday. This second client is a local consulting company that has hired me a few times to back them with my skills in SQL Server and MS Access. This time around the work they’re looking for is definitely SQL Server related. It was refreshing.

But it reminded me of my last two weeks with two of my other clients. One is having an issue with their app (that they always call “the database”) that is most likely a design issue that I need to dig into. This is a perfect example of what I call “software archeology” where I at times have to shift through “pot shards” to determine what the original developer was thinking. At times it can be fun and interesting, at other times, frustrating. I’ll be shifting through more pot shards in the near future to get to the bottom of this problem.

For my largest client, I spent most of my hours with them last week trying to true up a file with some financial data in it. In this case it’s part of an ETL process where I receive data, compile it and send it to a vendor. The process uses a combination of PowerShell and Pentaho. So while they interact with the database, the work I was doing wasn’t in T-SQL or directly on the database server.

The numbers weren’t adding up. There was an undercurrent of “Greg, your numbers are wrong” or “You’re filtering on the wrong criteria.” I kept pointing out that “I simply add up the numbers you give me.” Eventually the problem was narrowed down to the fact that in the source system, which is the system of record, they had deleted rows. Arguably, one should never be deleting rows in such a system, but rather issuing a 2nd row (a credit if you want to reverse a debit, or a debit to reverse a credit) and this was typically what was done. But in this case the maintainers of the source of record decided to wholesale delete these rows. I explained that from day one, since deletions are never supposed to happen (and given the way the system works, extremely hard to detect) all I do is either insert new rows, or update existing rows. In any event, with one minor schema change, some updates to the rows in question and an updated PowerShell script, I was able to make the numbers come out to match with theirs. So, is that really DBA work? Not in the traditional sense. But it’s definitely other duties as assigned.

Now that’s not to say I didn’t do what some might consider actual DBA work. On Saturday morning I patched one of their servers. And at one point during the week, I deployed a script to production. So, out of 18 hours of work for the customer last week, I think I can say maybe 1-2 total was “dba work” or about 5%.

Now, I want to be clear. This is not a rant or a complaint. I’ll admit I tend to prefer to work directly with SQL Server, but I was reminded of a quick discussion I had with a fellow DBA over the weekend about how they probably needed to start to learn PowerShell for their job.

I’ve been arguing for years that the role of a DBA has changed, and will continue to change dramatically over the next few years. Once where we might spend days head down slinging T-SQL code, setting up backups and restores, tuning indices, etc. now much of that is automated or at least far easier to do. Which is a good thing. In years past, a DBA might be responsible for a dozen machines or so at the most. If it was more than that, we’d feel sorry for them. That’s no longer uniformly true. I know a DBA who is responsible for over 100 machines. They’re the soul DBA. But, through PowerShell and other modern tools, it’s generally not an overwhelming job.

However, like the online presentation from the Atlanta Azure Data User Group I attended last night on SQL Database Edge, there is a growing list of things DBAs need to learn. Steve Jones recently posted about whether DBAs need to learn Linux? The short take away is not necessarily, but it’s probably a good idea, but we definitely need to learn about containers.

I have heard for years, “Microsoft will automate everything and the DBA’s job will go away.” Not only is that not true in my experience, the exact opposite is. I think being a successful DBA is in some ways harder than it was a decade ago. There’s so much more to be aware of and to learn.

Off the top of my head, without any real priority I came up with the list below of technologies that a modern DBA might find useful to know. This is not to say I know them all, or that one has to be an expert in all of them. And I will note, this is far from an inclusive list. I also left out third-party tools which are so common place. But I think it illustrates just how broad the required skillset of a good DBA is these days.

  • T-SQL
  • PowerShell
  • Query Store
  • Linux – at least at the most basic level
  • Containers
  • SSIS
  • SSAS
  • SSRS
  • Storage – (at least how different types can impact performance and the advantages and disadvantages of each)
  • Azure
  • SQL Database Edge
  • git or some form of version control

In conclusion, I’ll say, I’m not going to make any predictions about where the Microsoft data platform will be a decade from now, but I can tell you that DBAs will still be needed but their skillset will be as different from today as today is from a decade ago.

And post conclusion, I’ll add I’ll continue to rely on #sqlfamily and all my fellow DBAs to help me out. And continue to help them.

“We’re up to plan F”

I managed to skip two weeks of writing, which is unusual for me, but I was busy with other business, primarily last week leading an NCRC weeklong class of cave rescue for Level 1 students. I had previously lead such a class over three weekends last year, and have helped teach the Level 2 class multiple times. Originally this past week was supposed to be our National weeklong class, but back in February we had agreed to postpone it due to the unknown status of the ongoing Covid pandemic. However, due to a huge demand and the success of vaccinations, we decided to do a “Regional” Class just limited to Level 1 students. This would help handle the pent up demand, create students for the Level 2 class that would be at National, and to do sort of a test run of our facilities before the much larger National.

There’s an old saying that no plan survives the first contact with the enemy. In cave rescue this is particularly true. It also appears to be true in cave rescue training classes!

The first hitch was the drive up the the camp we were using. The road had been stripped down to the base dirt level and they were doing construction. Not a huge issue, just a dusty one. But for cavers, dust is just mud without the water. But this would come into play later in the week.

Once at the camp, as I was settling in and confirming the facilities, the first thing I noticed was that the scissors lift we had used to rig ropes in the gym last time was gone. A few texts and I learned it had only been on loan to the camp the past two years and was no longer available. This presented our first real challenge. How to get ropes up over the beams 20-30′ in the air.

But shortly after I realized I had a far greater issue. The custom made rigging plates we use to tie off the end of the ropes to the posts were still sitting in my garage at home. I had completely forgotten them. This was resolved by a well timed call to an instructor heading towards the camp, who via a longer detour then he expected, was able to get them. Fortunately, had that call waited another 5 minutes, his detour would have probably doubled. So the timing was decent.

I figured the week was off to a good start at that point! Honestly though, we solved the problems and moved on. I went to bed fairly relaxed.

All went well until Monday. This was the day we were supposed to do activities on the cliffs. Several weeks ago, my son and I, along with two others had gone to the cliffs, which were on the same property as the camp, but accessible only by leaving the camp and accessing from a public road, in order to clear away debris and do other work to make them usable. I was excited to show them off. Unfortunately, due to the weather forecast of impending thunderstorms all day we made the decision to revise our schedule and move cliff day to the next day. There went Plan A. Plan B became “go the next day.”

On Tuesday I and a couple of other instructors got in my car to head to the cliffs in advance of the students so we could scope things out and plan the activities. We literally got to the bottom of the road from the main entrance to the camp where we were going to turn on to the road under construction, only to find a the road closed there with a gaping ditch dug across it. So much for Plan B. We went back to the camp, told students to hang on and then I headed out again, hoping to basically take a loop around and approach the access road to the cliffs from the opposite direction. After about a 3 mile detour we came to the other end of the road and found it closed there. Despite trying to sweet talk the flag person, we couldn’t get past (we could have lied and said we lived on the road, but after 8-10 other cars would have arrived in a caravan saying the same thing we thought that might be suspicious). There went Plan C. We called an instructor back at the camp and headed back.

We got there and turns out an instructor had already come up with Plan D, which was to see if we could access the cliffs by crossing a field the camp owned and going through the woods. It might involve some hiking, but it might be doable. While there are dirt-bike paths, there’s nothing there that worked for us. So that plan fell apart. We were up to Plan E now. Plan E was proposed to further swap some training, but we realized that would impact our schedule too much. Now on to Plan F. For Plan F, we decided to head to a local cave which we thought would have some suitable cliffs outside.

That worked. It would out quite well actually. We lost maybe an hour to 90 minutes with all the plans, but we ultimately came upon a plan that worked. We were able to teach the skills we wanted and accomplish our educational objectives.

Often we wake up with a plan in our heads for what we will do that day. Most days those plans work out. But, then there are the days where we have to adapt. Things go sideways. Something breaks, or something doesn’t go as planned. In the NCRC we have an unofficial motto, Semper Gumby – “Always be Flexible”. Sometimes you have to completely change plans (cancelling due to the threat of thunderstorms), others you may have to try to adapt (finding other possible routes to the cliffs) and finally you may need to reconsider how to meet your objectives in a new way (finding different cliffs).

My advice, don’t lock yourself into only one solution. It’s a recipe for failure.

This Post is Free!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stuck, with Responsibility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stuff happens. Take responsibility and move on.

Stop! Basic vs Deep Understanding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open Petzl stop on left, attached to rope on right

Stop! This is the part to read!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whatcha Reading?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guy’s it’s on Us

A short thread on Twitter yesterday prompted today’s blog. Dr. Jen Gunter (who I do not follow) mentioned her planned response to “I don’t have a question, it’s more of a comment.

One of the replies I thought completely missed the point and I tried to respond in a somewhat humorous but pointed way to the man replying. It took him about 9 hours, but he finally replied and I think based on his reply, completely missed my point. Oh well. I had tried.

But it got me thinking. Had I been blunt enough? Should I have been a bit more confrontational? Could *I* stand up at a conference and give Dr. Gunter’s pointed reply? And of course, the nagging question in the back of my head, “had I commented when I a question was the appropriate response?” or otherwise ended up “centering the discussion around me rather than the original person?”

Let me address the last first. I’m sure I have. I like to think “well I’m a friendly guy, I like to relate and show I’m relatable.” And that’s all true, but, that’s also part of the problem. It’s a case of recentering a discussion or something around me. I’ve always tried to be conscious of this since college when I took a class at the women’s college down the hill and realized that what I had heard about men dominating discussions was true. In a class of about 20 students, with just 3 men, one of the men (and no, it wasn’t me) clearly dominated the discussion.

Anyway, back to my response. I actually sometimes am jealous of some of my friends who can have “I have no fucks to give” attitude and will openly confront someone like that. I think sometimes that can be a good thing, especially with a more egregious example. And I’ve seen some that are pretty bad.

My attempt to deflect the one tweeter’s reply with a bit of humor apparently failed. So I started to think about how I might handle this at an actual seminar and then I realized I had.

It was at a SQL Saturday a number of years ago. It was a good topic, though, for reasons unknown to me, the presenter has not, to my knowledge presented again. And then there was the raised hand. It was someone I knew. And, he had more of a question than a comment. Then again about 10 minutes later. And I think probably a 3rd time. Now, he was in now way being mean or malicious. Heck, I think no matter how hard you looked, you’d never find a mean bone in him. He’s genuinely a decent guy.

But, and this is what I think we all need to do, after the talk, I pulled him aside and pointed out what he had done. He as embarrassed and apologetic. And he vowed to do better.

And as I write that, I realize, this happened TO me. See, I said I wasn’t perfect and I had failed. This time it was on Twitter. I typed a reply that I meant to be supportive and add a touch of humor. A friend DM’d me, “Really?” At first I was confused, but when I asked for her to expand, she pointed out what I had done. Yes, I had meant well, but sometimes intentions are less important than results or even perceptions. I decided to delete my comment, despite her saying it wasn’t necessary. I realized I had not contributed to the discussion and my comment could be a distraction that wasn’t needed. And since them I’ve tried to be better. But a comment she said stood out to me. She DMd me because she thought I was one of the “good ones” that I’d listen and accept feedback. That meant a lot to me. She could have ignored my comment and let me continue to be a jerk at times, or she could have publicly called me out and humiliated me, which might made her point publicly, but caused me to be hurt and not grow. She took the time. I appreciate that.

However, yesterday’s Twitter thread reminded me that all too often in situations like this, women and other minority (in that environment) group end up doing the emotional labor of trying to keep the discussion from recentering the discussion the “I have more of a comment than reply” crow.

Therefore, I think often the onus needs to be on us men to call out our fellow men to say, “hey, that’s not cool” or “do you realize how you came across there? I know you didn’t mean that.” We can’t rely on women and other minority groups to do all the emotional labor. So if you see someone trying to talk over a speaker, pull them aside. If you hear them make an off-color comment in a meeting, speak up. Call out behavior. Find a method that works for you.

I prefer, but am not always good about doing it, calling our behavior a bit more publicly. Not necessarily to embarrass the commenter, but to hopefully get them to correct their behavior and so that the original speaker knows they have support.

For example, if someone in a meeting makes a comment about “yeah, let the girls over in accounting handle it”, unless this is an accounting class for teenagers at an all-girls school, you can and should say “Umm, you mean the women right?”

You don’t have to humiliate a person to make the point. In most cases, the person doing it may not be aware and simply needs a nudge. Give them that chance like I was given. Now, in the end, there will be a few folks that do need to be simply called out and made an example of. I’m ok with that, but for the vast majority let’s work to give them the nudge.

We’re all Scientists

Anyone who has had a young child knows that they like to pick up items and let them ago. This can of course be particularly frustrating when trying to feed them in a high chair and they decide they want to keep dropping their spoon.

But, honestly, it’s also sort of interesting. They’re being scientists and they don’t realize it, nor do most parents. They’re learning about gravity and consistency.  Things fall, and they do so consistently.

In the last century, Jean Piaget spent a lot of time researching child development and how kids learn and when they learned. Basically, among other things, they’re constantly doing little experiments and updating their worldview based on the results. Parents often observe this as a child develops language and grammar. A toddler might say something like “Where are Grandma?” and the parent corrects them to say “Where is Grandma?” and the child starts to develop the concept of verb agreement when it comes to singular versus plural. When you stop to think about it, much of the grammar you learned and use often happens long before you actually enter school and learn it in a more formal way. For example, did you realize there’s an order we use for adjectives that I suspect none of us formally learned in school?

While we may call this curiosity, it’s really being a scientist.

Unlearning Curiosity

At some point however, often we have to put a limit on a child’s curiosity. We start to tell them, “don’t touch the stove” because we’d rather they listen to us than to experiment and find out the hard way. This is probably properly cautious, but I think we can often go to far and we end up stifling a child’s curiosity. Sometimes this is overt as we tell kids, “don’t touch that, you’ll break it” or similar admonishments. And for the most part, that’s probably a good thing. But often we stifle in ways that are unintended, the classic “Math class is tough” which only served to reinforce a stereotype that girls didn’t do as well at math as men. As we know now (and honestly, some knew then), that’s not true.

Decades ago when I was teaching an adult continuing education class “Intro to Computers” (which at one point transitioned from Windows 3.11 to Windows 95, to give you an idea of how long ago that was), the biggest lesson I had to teach the students was “try stuff, don’t worry about breaking something. You probably won’t and if you do, I can fix it.” They literally had internalized a lifetime of “don’t touch, you’ll break things.” Once they overcame that fear, the rest of the class was easy. Once they realized they could be curious and try things and experiment all I had to do was provide guidance and encouragement. They generally learned most of what I wanted to teach on their own at that point.

Keep Being Curious

Personally, I love being curious. I love learning. I read 3-4 magazines a month including Scientific American and Discovery. I can’t tell you how many blog posts I read on SQL, PowerShell or random subjects, and on my cell phone, right now I have 47 tabs open to Wikipedia. These include tabs on Operation Barbarossa, Louis Brandeis, the Napoleonic Code (this last one after reading the entire page and multiple others on Common Law), and Neutron Cross Section among others.

But it’s more than that. I’ve also like to see how the real world acts. Last night I bought a bag of potato chips and before I opened them I realized they were very puffed up. I thought that that was curious and perhaps the result of something that happened at the factory until I thought to look at the barometer.

Which is a better barometer?

Ayup, it’s definitely raining

It’s nice when my hypothesis (the atmospheric pressure must be lower than usual) is confirmed. I of course dragged my daughter along to test my hypothesis.

I rewarded myself for my correct hypothesis with some chips. It only seemed fair.

This is not the first time I’ve seen this impact of atmospheric pressure on a sealed package. Back in college my buddy and I drove to the Grand Canyon, hiked it, and then up over the Rockies via the Eisenhower Tunnel. We had with us a vacuum sealed package of Canadian bacon that we had put off opening. We could definitely notice the change in atmospheric pressure as we drove from near sea-level where it was packaged to the top of the Canyon (over 7000′) hiked down to the bottom (closer to 2000′), back out and then drove over the Rockies (over 11,000′). At the Rockies the “vacuum” packaging looked like a balloon! It was actually fascinating to observe.

Takeaway

Keep being curious. Keep being a mini-scientist. Explore the world. Keep learning. And most of all, have fun! Within reason, don’t be afraid of breaking things! Drop that spoon. Make a copy of your database and try to use new tools to manipulate it. Experiment. Be curious and learn.

The Song is Over

So the past few weeks I’ve been writing about PASS in general and about Summit. And now like several of my fellow #SQLFamily members who have already blogged, such as Deb Melkin and Andy Levy, I’ve decided to post a post-Summit post.

First Impressions

Virtual Summit was better than I expected it to be. Let me actually correct that a bit, it was much better than I expected. Now, it was not as great as in person, but my fear was virtually it would completely lack any semblance of the social interaction that makes Summit such a great experience. And while the social interaction was greatly diminished, it was still there and that made it a great experience. I will add that Twitter really helped here, both with the #SQLFamily and #PASSSummit hashtags.

My Sessions

I was honored to have the opportunity to speak at two sessions this year. This is a grand total of two more than I’ve ever had given before. Initially I had been selected to give a session on PowerShell for DBA Beginners. I was a bit disappointed to learn it would be a prerecorded session, but took that in stride. I was very curious how it would work. More on that in a bit. A few weeks before Summit I was asked to take part in another session, this time a live panel session All About PowerShell Panel Discussion. I immediately said yes. And then was later reminded by my wife I’d be out of the house taking her to an appointment and back. This was going to complicate things. But I didn’t want to say no, in part because I felt honored to be among such great luminaries: Hamish WatsonBrandon LeachRob SewellBen Miller. So, I decided I’d do it from my car in the parking lot. And since this would be live I was really excited for that, since I had been looking forward to the real-time interactions. The only other drawback was the timing. It was an 8:00 AM EST session on Wednesday, which meant it was one of the first sessions of Summit, and it would be live, so if there were opportunities for things to go wrong, this would be it. Other than Hamish being up at I think about 1:00 AM his time and a wee bit sleep deprived (or as he put it, the entire world now was on Hamish Standard Time) it went really well. He did a great job of moderating and we had a very good turnout and a number of good questions from the audience. I’ve written about PowerShell quite a bit in my blog and for Redgate and feel very strongly that every DBA needs to have some experience with it, so this was a great opportunity for all of us to evangelize a bit. I was really happy with the this session and can’t wait for the recording to be available. It left me in a very energized state for my session at 2:00 PM the same day.

I had realized several days before my 2:00 PM session that there was a benefit of having it prerecorded. I didn’t have the normal butterflies I have before presenting. It was done. I couldn’t change it. I went into it very relaxed. That said, I did make one change to my normal desktop setup. I added a monitor.

Multitasking at Summit for the win!

The upper monitor is generally my TV but has a HDMI input so I added that to my usual setup. This allowed me to have the ARS window up there so I could see questions and comments and answer them or moderate as needed. The lower left is the video chat window. Though in theory this was only needed during the live Q&A session at the end of my session, I opened it right at the beginning and was able to chat and share with others. You can see my accidental selfie in it. The rightmost monitor showed my presentation as attendees would see it.

After chatting with some other presenters I realized most did not go full-bore like I did and just did one window, generally the ARS window, or maybe the ARS window and their presentation muted in another. For me, the setup above worked well and I’d use it again. I’m used to multi-tasking like this and it worked really well. While I couldn’t modify the presentation itself on the fly in response to audience input, I could interact with the audience in a way I hadn’t previously.

One drawback of the system was while my presentation was on, I had no idea how many were actually “attending” it. Before it started the window with the link to it showed 143 people as “attendees” but I have no idea how many actually ended up viewing, but I’ve got to say even a 1/3rd of that number would have been a win for me. I was VERY happy with those numbers. Also the questions I got during the session and during the video chat Q&A after and then via email really pleased me. It seems like I met my goal of generating interest among people was a success.

Another drawback I realized half-way through (due to a mistake on my part of trying something) was that if you came into the session late, you started at the beginning, not at the same point in time as everyone who had started at the start of the session. While later on I think this is ok, I think during the session presentation times, folks should come into “where the session is at that time”. For me, it meant I had to figure out where most of my attendees were at that point in the session.

After I was done I realized, “that was it. My work is done, the rest is just fun now.”

Other Sessions and Events

I found myself, despite work interfering attending probably as many sessions as I might have at an in person Summit. These included Rob Sewell‘s session on Notebooks, PowerShell, and Excel Automation and LGBTQ+ and Pass Local Groups Birds of Feather sessions on Wednesday.

On Thursday I started with Bob Ward‘s Inside Waits, Latches, and Spinlocks Returns (which is so information rich, but at 8:00 AM EST? Really? And what’s worse, is he makes it seem just so natural), part of Erin Stellato‘s Query Store Best Practices and part of the Diversity in Data Panel Discussion: For the Professional Woman, Itzik Ben-Gan’s Workarounds for T-SQL Restrictions and Limitations which again blew me away with how powerful SQL can be in the right hands.

On Friday I moved on to Brand Leach’s SQL Server Configuration And Deployment With Powershell DSC which gave me some great ideas I hope to implement someday. After lunch I caught Ben Miller’s Getting Started with PowerShell as a DBA (I always like to see how others present on similar topics, gives me ideas to compare and contrast and while we had similar topics, very different approaches and I’d recommend people view both). I finished the day and basically the Summit with Panel Discussion: Consulting 101 – Help Us to Help You. Despite being a consultant for many years, I’m always looking for new tips (and new clients, hint hint)

I also attended several of the keynotes and was especially blown away by the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Keynote by Bärí A. Williams. I would HIGHLY recommend watching that when you get a chance if you didn’t watch it before.

So That Was Summit

So technically that was Summit. I learned a lot and had a great time. But, I have to talk about some of the drawbacks and disappointments.

For the vendors, I think Summit was a bust. This is unfortunate. I think it’s just harder to do it this way. One thing I noticed is that some vendors advertised “one on one” video chats. I avoided them because I didn’t want to tie up precious resources just being sociable (I don’t have much vendor needs these days). But it turns out in at least one case it was really a 1:Many relationship and the vendor would have welcomed more folks just stopping by. I think that’s on the vendors for not being clear enough in their own descriptions. But that said, even with that change, I think an issue with “stopping by a booth” is there’s more pressure to make it solely productive and not about being social. I don’t know how to change that. I’ll also admit I quickly gave up on trying to collect my points or whatever it was like I would stamps at the in person event. I was told this was more straightforward on the mobile app, but I had no desire to download that, especially since I was attending from my desktop. That said, I think in general vendors struggle with making virtual events worth their time and money. That last one is important because it’s what makes PASS possible. So, perhaps it’s still worth showing a vendor some love and mention you saw their name at Summit.

Overall, I’d say I think the prerecorded sessions and the ARS/Video chat stuff went better than I had hoped for. I’d probably do it again if I had to. I really only had two issues. For the prerecorded sessions there was no way to “pop” it out or expand the presentation screen. You were forced to have he Chat/Comment sidebar at all times. This took up precious screen space. For some reason on the live sessions you had this ability. This should have been made available on the prerecorded sessions. Also, it appeared the session window did not scale. i.e. if you had a monitor with higher resolution, it simply kept a certain mount of space around the presentation itself. Overall, the session window did NOT take good use of screen real-estate. This was compounded by the fact that some presenters (me included) did not make their fonts large enough. On my screen when I was recording, the size was great, but once in the presentation window, for many nearly unreadable. I know at least one person left my session because of that. I’ll own up to the fact I should have better headed the recommendations and probably gone overboard on font size, but the fact that screen real estate was so poorly used only exacerbated the situation.

I was disappointed in the turn-out for the two Birds of a Feather sessions I attended. I think the timing was rough, especially for folks on the East coast and perhaps Central timezones. Honestly, I think the Birds of a Feather and some of the other social times should have had FAR wider windows of time, perhaps from lunch until dinner or past. Take advantage of the fact that folks are in different timezones to get more moderators. I know I’d have attended more Birds of a Feather sessions had they been available at times other than when I was making dinner (or eating my salad).

That aside, the one issue that quite honestly angered me and I felt there was no excuse for was the horrible closed-captioning. When I first heard about it I was excited because I’m a firm believer in accessibility. All speakers were told we had to have our sessions recorded early enough so that closed-captioning could be applied. Given the time frame I had wrongly assumed this included time for a Mark I human brain review. It was VERY apparent that the closed captioning was purely automated and had not been reviewed. Some of the errors were comical, apparently at one point I was talking about T-CPU and not T-SQL, and another presenter was creepily talking about skin. Other errors made the presentation at times seem senseless. I had more than one person comment that the real-time capabilities of PowerPoint did a better job in their experience. Pretty much every speaker I spoke with had similar complaints. So, in conclusion I’ll say, I’m not sure the point of having stuff in so early when current realtime tools from other vendors can already do a better job. If you have two weeks to review the closed-captioning, I highly recommend outsourcing it to a human to review. Or somehow give speakers the ability to touch it up (if that was a possibility neither I nor any other speaker I spoke to was aware of it, and it was not on our speaker checklist on the dashboard). Honestly, not only do I think there was no excuse for the poor quality, I think it did an actual disservice to any hearing impaired people trying to attend.

Finally

By the time you read this, it’s probably too late, but if you haven’t VOTE OR YOUR PASS BOARD if you’re eligible. I’ll be blunt, we’re at a crossroads with PASS and we may not have it a year from now. But no matter what happens, if you’re eligible to vote and failed to do so, I really don’t want to hear you kvetching about the future of PASS.

And while it’s too late to register for Summit, if you have already, remember, you get access to ALL the sessions for the next 12 months. Take advantage of that!