T-SQL Tuesday

I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about today and then saw it was T-SQL Tuesday, this month’s question from Kenneth Fisher. The topic is “Your First Technical Job”.

I had to actually stop and think about this one for a second. The requirement was to not talk about ones first DBA job, but ones first technical job.

I entered RPI, my alma mater in the fall of 1985. This means I should have graduated in 1989. However, I graduated in 1990 and that made all the difference in my career. One thing that RPI had then, and still has, is a very robust Co-Op program. These were (and I believe still are) an opportunity to work for a company in your field for a summer and at least one semester. Unlike some college programs like this, RPI’s Co-Op office made sure that you were doing actual work in your field, not relegated to say filing papers in an office, or getting coffee for the full-time employees. You also were paid, just like an employee. Given my financial status as a student, this was a huge help.

Through a series of connections, I found myself working at company in Troy called Laboratory MicroSystems. It’s long gone, but it was a good company. It was founded by a pair of RPI alumns, one of which who had also been an Outing Club member and for awhile, tended to hire Outing Club members. It was our own networking group.

That said, my housemate and best friend had just completed his Co-Op there, so there was an opening. After a quick interview, I was hired and started working a few weeks later.

Let me say that this was a great opportunity for me. I had learned a lot in the classroom (even if my grades didn’t always show it!) But, I had never actually applied such skills in the real world. And to further complicate things, my manager was on vacation my first week. Not only was I thrown into the deep end, I didn’t even have a lifeguard.

My friend, when he was there, had taken the PC version of a package they had, called Thermal Analysis and ported it over to a mini-computer (I believe some sort of HP model). To give you an idea of how long ago this was, all the work was done in Fortran.

My job ironically enough, was to take the HP version of the software, that now had been updated and improved and back-port it BACK to the PC. Up until now all my projects in school had been 1, maybe 2 files. So any linking (yeah kids these days are wondering what I mean there) could be done by hand and I had never created a make file. (go google it kids). So very quickly in my first week I learned how to actually compile and link large groups of files in a complex, real-world environment.

Within a few weeks I was deep into the code and really starting to understand how it worked and how to apply my classroom skills. It was a great experience. After about 8 months on the job, it was time to go back to the classroom. But I wasn’t through yet. After another semester of school, I went back for another Co-Op and worked another semester and summer. At this point my manager had moved onto another company and the rest of the company moved onto a new product and project (one that ultimately made the company valuable enough to be sold and for the founders to move on.) I found myself in an unusual position of being 20 years old and the lead developer on a product with no other teammates other than a 20 something sales manager who spent more time on the phone talking about his supposed sexual exploits than actually make sales. But he’s a story for another time.

During this time there are several things that stand out as I think greatly helping me in my career.

The first was adding pop-up help to the Thermal Analysis program. One has to remember, this was back in the days of purely DOS programs, so one normally didn’t have overlapping windows, and the like. But a few customers had wanted some sort of help system added. It took some work, but I finally found a way to do it. Fortran was great for the computational aspects and the 3rd party library helped us display plots on the screen. However, Fortran wasn’t great for developing a UI. After reading and research, I realized I could do what I wanted with some C and Assembler code. This is also when I learned that their call stacks were reversed from Fortran. So I ended up having Fortran calling C code, using a keyword Pascal to ensure the stack would read in the right direction (don’t ask me why it used that for the keyword) and then the C code called ASM to call the DOS interrupts to allow a pop-up to be displayed, and then the C code populated the pop-up with the help text. Learning how to do this, really helped me with my problem solving skills and to learn that “solutions exist” it’s just a matter of finding them.

Another project was one completely unrelated to Thermal Analysis. I can’t recall the name we gave the problem, but it was software we wrote for GE Plastics that basically involved setting up a material on a tensile test machine (a machine that would pull stuff apart at whatever speed you told it to. In this case, the test took a year to run!) GE had provided the hardware and the hardware specific language to write this in and I was off. This had to handle reboots, power outages and the like. Fortunately we were using an external A/D (analog/digital) converter box made by Perkin-Elmer that could store a certain number of data points. This meant we could reboot the PC and reread in data to see if it were new or not. The software was the first I’d seen that had any sort of try/catch (though I believe they called it something else). So I was able to learn and develop good error-handling techniques. Something I’m still working on and improving on to this day.

But, ultimately, this job really led me to where I am today through a convoluted series of steps. The office network was Novell Server with Thinwire ethernet. For those who don’t recall what Thinwire is (or was) the key details was that rather than every network cable running back to a central switch, the cable ran in a serial line from computer to computer and any break in it resulted in a network outage. There were many ways this could fail.

Well between my software work, I started to be the go-to guy for diagnosing network issues. And then for issues with the Novell Server itself.

After college, for various reasons (including I suspect because both my parents had worked for themselves) I wasn’t eager to work for another company right away. So I went into consulting and my first client was, you guessed it, Laboratory MicroSystems. I started handling all their IT needs, which continued to grow. When I had started, they barely filled one floor of the building they were in. By now they were spread across 3 floors and still growing.

And that product everyone else had started working on during my Co-Op? Well by now they were porting it to use SQL Server 4.21a, and they realized that they could use a specialist to go to customer sites and install SQL Server before they sent out their specialists to install the actual software.

And that folks is how, I started out programming in Fortran and ended up as a SQL Server DBA.

Someday, I’ll tell you how the Streets of Laredo figures into this story or how the last I had heard about the now formal sales manager involved him and a radio contest or even how after I stopped consulting I did one last gig for them as a 1 day Oracle consultant or the time I saved them (after being bought) from moving into a new office with only 2 outlets for 24 people.

But in the meantime, now back to studying for a test for my next change of career to hopefully become a Physicians Assistant!

An Ode to my Mom

Three-quarters of a century. That time frame seems both like forever and a blink of an eye. They say one doesn’t speak of the age of a lady, but I think in this case, I’ll make an exception. This past weekend, besides celebrating Easter a day early, my family and I celebrated my mother’s 75th birthday.

Now when one thinks of an Easter celebration, one might think of a ham or lamb dinner with all the trimmings, or at the very least some sort of formal sit-down meal. And yes, for much of my life that’s what we had, especially when we would celebrate at my grandmother’s.

But no, this year my mom, now the matriarch of at least this little corner of the family decided she’d rather do take-out sushi and loads of Thai food from a local restaurant. And a great repast it was.

That’s not to say we eschewed all tradition. Ever since my kids, her only grandchildren have been old enough, she and her partner Jimmy have hidden plastic Easter eggs around their house for the kids to find. Even at 22 and just about 19, they still enjoy the tradition and while being quite competitive about it, end up sharing the rewards equally. And inevitably there’s one plastic egg that seems to go missing.

This year, that tradition was changed a bit to accommodate my cousin’s children who are much younger. For them, the eggs were multi-colored and placed on the floor. And yet, they still managed to find a few of the ones higher up. I suppose a child’s reach should exceed their grasp.

And of course, as always in our family there was the tradition of cracking colored, boiled eggs.

Easter Eggs, ripe for cracking

But as I mentioned it wasn’t just an Easter celebration, it was a celebration of 75 years of my mother’s life travelling around the Sun. Of course I wasn’t around for some of those years, but I know she’s always been the unconventional one in the family. She’s the one that went to art school, the first to get married, the first to get divorced. She was the one that opened a store for interior design in a small town in Northwest Connecticut. She later managed one of the first antique centers in the area. While she may not have had the formal education of some of her peers, but she often could out smart them anyway.

During college, I’d often stop by after a hiking trip with friends in tow, and no matter how many, she somehow always had food in the house to feed them all, no matter how muddy or stinky we might be. I even managed to get her into a couple of caves one time.

Other times I’d come home from college for vacation or break and we’d end up in deep philosophical discussions or discussions about politics. We still do from time to time, though now, more often on the phone.

She’s taught me much of my appreciation for music, and I will never think of Joni Mitchell or Billie Holiday without her. And my kids will always have memories of sitting on the floor eating sushi with her. You might start to notice a theme here that involves food. I will add “wavy pizza” without any context.

I think I should add at this point that my mom is, in my opinion an awesome cook and I developed my love of cooking and baking from her.

All these memories and many more have been running through my head over the past few days. 75 seems like a magical number and I think it is. And the truth is, given the events of Covid over the past few years, this honestly was perhaps the best Easter and birthday I recall in awhile. I’m glad I was able to celebrate it with her and look forward to many more.

And while as she admit, her body is showing her age a bit, her spirit hasn’t slowed down one wit and I love her for that.

And Mom, I look forward to celebrating number 76 and many more with you. In the meantime, don’t trip over the robo-vac and enjoy all the flowers and so much more in your life.

A Birthday

For most people, today stands out in two ways: the one that happens every year is the anniversary of Washington’s Birthday. The other is fairly unique to this year, it of course being the date of 2/22/22 on a Twosday… err Tuesday. And of course at 2:22 AM (when most of us are asleep) or 2:22 PM for those who us who are awake. I won’t be doing anything special at that particular time, other than taking notes for class.

But for me, February 22nd has always had a different meaning in my heart, and this year even more so. My father was born 75 years ago today. He always got a kick out of sharing his birthday with the Father of our Nation, but for me, it was always more important to share it with the Father of me.

It’s been just under six and a half years since he left my life. But that’s not entirely accurate. While his voice has faded in my head and he’s no longer a physical presence in my life, he’s still there. More than once I’ll say something to my kids like “Oh your grandfather would….”. They were fortunate enough to be old enough to know him when he died, but of course I have far more memories of him than they ever will. Part of the reason I say such things to them is that it helps to keep his memories alive one more generation. I think that’s a worthy goal. And one I think he’d support.

He was an English major in college, so of course became a builder to pay the bills, and later in life an architect. He understood the power and the value of “the story” no matter what the story might be about. While we didn’t agree on genres, we agreed on that much. He was never much of a fan of Star Trek for example, but even years ago when the only Star Trek was the original series, he respected the stories it told and the archetypes it often drew upon, such as its reliance on Greek mythology and Shakespeare. So, I think it would tickle him pink to know he’s become a part of oral history, if nothing more.

A few weeks ago, I wondered to myself, “I wonder if my dad would be proud of what I’m doing (going back to school).” I immediately corrected myself and said “I know he would be.” Back when I first went to college, he decided he couldn’t be a builder his entirely life, his body just wouldn’t handle it, so he decided to become an architect. I’m still not entirely sure how he talked his way into Columbia, but he did. So for awhile we were both in college at the same time, me getting my Bachelor’s, him getting his Master’s. And to show that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, his mother, Chestene, at the same time decided to take some classes at her local community college in New Haven.

And in sort of an echo to the past, I find myself in college at the same time as my daughter. So history repeats itself.

I started by mentioning he would have been 75 today had he not succumbed to C. Difficile Colitis in 2015. It of course saddens me to know he’s not here. I won’t hear his voice again. I can’t ask him for advice on something. I can’t even argue with him over some trivial point where neither of our stubbornness will allow us to concede. He was part of my life for decades and I had hoped he’d be there for decades more. He was simultaneously one of the wisest and most compassionate man I knew, and also the most stubborn. He was a giant to me, both figuratively and at 6′ 4″ literally. And yet my memory of him, laying their in his hospital bed, he’s so small.

As I like to say, he wasn’t just my father. Biologically that’s the easy part. He was my dad. And at that, while sometimes he stumbled, he always would strive to do better. And this humble jumbled attempt doesn’t do him the service he deserves in recognizing him. But, I have now, included made you part of his story. And though not here, and he’d never admit it, I think he’d appreciate that.

2021 in Review

Ayup, it’s that time of year where I look back on what I wrote just short of one year ago and heap praise or shame on myself. It’s not original, but gives me some perspective. You can make of it what you will.

So, how did I do for my goals?

  • I did better writing for Red-Gate than I thought. It appears they published 4 of my articles (and in the back of my mind I thought it was only 1 or 2). So check that one off.
  • Expanding my client base: Sort of. Talked to 2 potential clients, one fell through, the other is still in the works. And had another client come back to me with another project which is still in progress. So call that half-way.
  • NCRC Weeklong – Well, a hit and a miss. The National Seminar which was scheduled for June we postponed to August figuring things would be better with vaccines. BUT, there was enough interest in a Level 1 Regional, we used the original June dates for that. And then ended up cancelling the August one, not because of fears here in New York, but more so elsewhere in the country, including the fact that a number of our instructors were being told by their employers they were essential during the end of August and as such could not leave work for a week. So we had A seminar, but not THE seminar. Next year is scheduled for Virginia and isn’t my baby this time around.
  • Continue blogging: This turns out to be my 2nd best year yet in term of page views (unless I get over 300 on this particular post which I suspect I won’t). Last year I was boosted because Brent Ozar happened to retweet one of my blogs. So I think without that I did well anyway. A friend jokes he tells his jokes not to amuse others, but because they amuse him. Well, my blogging is a bit like that. While I always hope others take away something from my blog and writing, I do it as much for myself, both as an exercise in discipline and to keep my writing skills honed (though some may snark I could be failing a the latter).
  • Travel: Nope. Didn’t really do much of that this year. I did get down to Washington DC twice to see old friends (and hopefully make new ones). Those two trips were the first time in close to two years I’ve stayed under a roof outside of New York State. One was via train, so I did get to see the new Moynihan Train Hall in NYC.
  • Continue Biking: Definitely did. But I didn’t get a new bike. This was due to two reasons. One, I stopped by a bike store I had visited years ago, but this time the indifference of the staff was partly a turn off, as was the fact that they didn’t have the bike I really wanted to try in stock. The second was, even if they had the model, getting the one I wanted, apparently had an 18 month backlog. So, we’ll see what 2022 brings. I did NOT do a century ride this year. And instead of 1300 miles, only did 843. Still not too shabby.
  • Hike More: The goal was at least one or two overnight hikes. That was a big fat zero. Mostly due to scheduling and other events just didn’t happen. But, on the flip side, did do several hikes with Randi towards the end of the summer, including one that was a bit more rugged than I remembered (and we almost ended up having to assist in a carryout rescue, which would have really sucked, but the rangers decided to airlift her out).
  • A Book: This was not on my official list since I added it later in the year. I had given some thought and even wrote an outline and 1 or 2 chapters for an idea for a new book, but that didn’t come to fruition. Call is partly due to the Covid Doldrums.
  • Continue to enjoy life: This I definitely did. It was definitely a different year. In some ways 2020 was both harder and easier. 2020 at some point I think I simply accepted the fate of Covid and that we wouldn’t get back to normal until a vaccine was widely available. So I stopped getting my hopes up. 2021 was in some ways harder because with a vaccine, it was easy to get ones hopes up, but due to various surges and now Delta and Omicron, have them dashed again and again. I’ll say right here I’m frustrated and angry with those who continue to ignore the science and tout conspiracy theories about the vaccines and refuse to take them for “freedom” and the like. But I’ll save further thoughts for another day.

Tomorrow I’ll post my goals and hopes for 2022 (and one will surprise most of my readers!) (yeah, a bit click-baiting there!)

But in the meantime, for the close of 2021 (and for some the bell has tolled) let me wish you a happy and safe end to the New Year. If you do insist on going out, be safe, and for the love of all that is holy, and for the sake of my friends who will be working in EMS and elsewhere tonight, do NOT drink and drive!

P.S.: I will link two fellow bloggers who are also ending their blogging year:

  • Steve Jones – The End of 2021 The amount this man writes is simply amazing. Follow him if only for his Daily Coping tips.
  • Deborah Melkin – My 2021 In Review Deborah doesn’t blog as much as Steve (but who does) but when she does, it’s top notch.
  • If others have year and blogs, I’ll add those here if they want.

Life Shortened

As I start to write this, the TV reminds me, that this is the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor; and that there are still a few veterans alive from that day.

This is both a somber note, and a somewhat celebratory one to start the day. Horrible things can happen, and yet life can still go on. I was reminded of this over the weekend.

I woke up on Saturday morning to read on Facebook that Scott Alarik had passed away. Some of my readers will recognize the name immediately, but for those who don’t, a little background. Scott was a singer-songwriter who was also a columnist for the Boston Globe and write a book on folk music and wrote for a number of other columns. I first met Scott at Mother’s Wine Emporium so many years ago. He had performed his opus Fresh-Water Whaling, telling the little known history of the glory days of whaling on the Great Lakes. I must add that the history is so little known as to be non-existent. But, for those who do recall it, remember those little harpoons you sometimes find in drinks memorialize it. Or so it was said by Scott. As much as Scott liked to sing, I think he preferred more to talk and write. He was a living, walking history of the world of folk music. I still recall one night, after he had performed at a Mother’s Wine Emporium show at RPI where we discussed “what exactly is folk music?” We agreed it was “music of the folk” but beyond that we decided it had no easy definition. As I write this, I’m listening to the first video I found on YouTube and it is Scott at his best. Yes, there’s a song or two in there, but mostly it’s him telling stories. It’s as I remember Scott.

Scott Alarik at Mother’s in 2019

That news was hard enough, but to myself I said, “at least Bill is still with us.” I had read late last month that another singer-songwriter I knew, Bill Staines was fighting cancer and the battle was not going well. Alas though, on Sunday I woke up to more tragic news. Bill had journeyed to the next folk stage. Bill was another performer I had met through Mother’s Wine Emporium many years ago. I have several of his albums, at least one I believe signed. He was known for the prodigious miles he would put on his car, I believe at one point he said he averaged 100,000 miles a year, as he drove from performance to performance. Three of his albums reflect this: The First Million Miles, The First Million Miles, Vol 2, and The Second Million Miles. His best known song was perhaps River,(Take Me Along). I think his final journey though is longer than all his rest.

Finally, later on Sunday I also read of the death of fellow caver Mark Hodges. I can’t say I knew Mark very well. I want to say I caved with him at least once, but I honestly can’t remember. But I knew the impact he had on the cavers around him. He apparently suffered a heart attack while exiting a cave over the weekend. The tributes left to him from his friends and fellow cavers are touching and serve as a reminder, that one doesn’t need to write books, or travel 100,000 miles a year to have an impact on those around him.

I’m going to close with a memory of another friend and also former “Mother” at Mother’s Wine Emporium: Tom Duscheneau. Tom was a fixture at Mother’s for more years than I can remember, and many an attendee will recall him taking a seat at the front of the room, settling in as the music would wash over him, and closing his eyes. Yes, occasionally he’d need a nudge if had started snoring, but otherwise he would simply sit there, soaking in the music until the set ended. He passed in 2006, but I still recall him from time to time. I suspect if there’s a great beyond, he’s just pulled up a chair and sat down, preparing to take in a great concert as Scott and Bill decide to tell a few tall tales and perform a duet or two.

Mother’s Wine Emporium aka Mother’s Coffehouse – For those who don’t know what Mother’s was, it was a magical place at RPI, a place where one could retreat from the hustle-bustle of the busy world and sit back and listen to singers, raconteurs and more. It had moved at least once over the years (the above photo is the latest incarnation). For the longest time, it was the oldest, continuously student run coffeehouse in the nation. Scott liked to talk about how if you made it here, you knew you had probably gotten your ticket to the college coffehouse circuit. Those of us who had the honor of working here were known as “Mothers” and it is were my wife and I met. Due to a variety of circumstances, including the death of Tom Duscheneau, it had its last show sometime in 2007. In 2019, I worked with the RPI to bring back Scott Alarik for a performance, with a hope for future shows. Covid has unfortunately put a hold on that plan, but I do hope in the coming years to again sit back and soak in the music of some great performers.

Impact and Legacy

One of my favorite movies for many reasons is Dead Poet’s Society. Robin Williams is excellent in this role. Shortly after his death, Apple repurposed a short segment that I’ve always loved where he quotes my favorite poet, Walt Whitman: What will your verse be?

“That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” – Walt Whitman.

I’ve been thinking more about my legacy and the legacy of others and this week seemed a good time to muse on that. This is the week that in the past many of us would travel to Seattle (or in years before my time, other cities) and gather at PASS SQL Summit. This year things area bit different, but Pass Data Community Summit is happening, albeit remotely. Though at times like this, I can’t but help think of and riff on a line from the Passover Seder, “Perhaps next year in Seattle.” So in any case #SQLFamily is on my mind. And here’s my thoughts on the impact of some individuals.

Let me start with saying this is FAR from a comprehensive list of the people who have had an impact on me. If I didn’t name you, that’s more an oversight on my part and please don’t take it as a slight. And there’s really very little order to this.

Grant Fritchey – I’m sure I remember my meeting with Grant better than he remembers meeting me (is oft the case when a presenter or instructor teaches so many) but it was at a SQL Saturday in Boston where I first heard him speak, in this case on HIPAA. From there I learned not only more about SQL but about #SQLFamily itself and how important this community truly was.

Rie Irish – I want to say it was a SQL Saturday in Philadelphia, but I could be wrong. I was one of two men in her talk  Let Her Finish: Supporting Women’s Voices in Technology. Turns out the other was a friend she had asked to attend. I still wish more men had attended, it’s still a great topic. Rie has helped me be more aware of diversity issues in this community and called me out at least once or twice when I needed it. She’ll be speaking at my user group in a few months and can’t wait.

Andy Mallon – There’s just something infectious about being around Andy that no matter what my mood makes me want to smile.

Bob Ward – Despite him being a Dallas Cowboys fan, he’s an all-around good guy. More seriously, despite how hard he works for Microsoft, he always takes time out to speak to the community and I’ve been honored to have him speak at my local User Group more than once. And despite the general advice to “not type during a demo” he’s brave enough (or crazy enough) to pull out the debugger and debug SQL Server live!

Kathi Kellenberger aka Aunt Kathi – At my first Summit I attended a talk by her on writing a book. What a long strange trip it’s been since then. I wrote my first book and numerous articles for Redgate since then. And yes, I did say first book. I have ideas for others.

Jen and Sean McGowan – Not only have I spent plenty of time on their coach in their booth at Summit, I still find Sean’s class on regexp usage in SSMS, especially for find and replace to be one of the more useful technical skills I’ve learned that arguably isn’t really T-SQL specific.

Tracy Boggiano – For being their during Covid and for making me more aware of mental health issues. And I’m proud to say I’ve got her first ever signature on a book she co-authored with Grant Fritchey!

David Klee – My go to man on certain subjects who knows more about VMWare tuning than I’ll ever hope, let alone want to know. His current Twitter profile picture is a bit misleading, as it suggests a rather sedate, mild-mannered person, but the reality is there’s a mischievous streak there.

Deborah Melkin – I first saw her speak at our Albany SQL Saturday and was immediately impressed, especially as it was her first SQL Saturday. I immediately cornered her and didn’t so much ask as told her to prepare a topic to present to our user group. She happily obliged. One of the aspects I really like about her presentations is she can take a topic that may appear to be a 100 level topic, but still have something new to teach to experienced DBAs.

Andy Yun – I of course now can’t mention Deborah without bringing up Andy’s name. We first met at a SQL Saturday Chicago where I had a blast. At the time it was my most western SQL Saturday gig (since surpassed by two in Colorado Springs). Always helpful and just fun to be around.

Steve Jones – If nothing else, his Daily Coping Blog posts have been a light in my day (even I only skim them). That said, I honestly, don’t know how he gets time to write so much AND do actual work!

Hamish Watson – Despite being literally half a world away, great fun to be around and has shared his great chocolate me, and for that alone he gets a mention.

There are so many more folks that have had an impact: Monica Rathbun, Chris Bell and Gigi Bell, Andy Levy, John Morehouse, Matt Gordon, Kimberly Tripp, and so many more. If I’ve left a name off, I apologize. Honestly, there are dozens of members of the #SQLFamily that have had an impact on me. The only folks I’m not intentionally naming are folks local to me, simply because I want to focus on the larger, worldwide community as a whole. The folks local to me hopefully already know how important they are.

In years past, I’d be looking forward to seeing many of them in person at Summit, but this year the best I can do is perhaps see them virtually and remember them this way.

You may notice a theme too: the impact hasn’t always been directly database related. While it’s true I’ve learned some great database tips from everyone above, their impact has been larger than that. And all of the above folks are more than simply folks who “work on the Microsoft Data Platform”. They’re folks who have lives outside of that. Some rock-climb, some run up buildings, some love to cook, others love to bake, others love to work on their houses, or love to talk about their dogs or cats. And I care about all of them

They’ve each introduced a verse (or more) into the powerful play of both #SQLFamily and to my life. And I’m eternally grateful. Thank you.

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.

Inbound and Outbound to NYC

I still recall the first computer program I wrote. Or rather co-wrote. It was a rather simple program, in Fortran I believe, though that’s really an educated guess. I don’t have a copy of it. It was either in 7th or 8th grade when several of us were given an opportunity to go down to the local high-school and learn a bit about the computer that they had there. I honestly have NO idea what kind of computer it was, perhaps a PDP-9 or PDP-11. We were asked for ideas on what to program and the instructor quickly ruled out our suggestion of printing all numbers from 1 to 1 Million. He made us estimate how much paper that would take.

So instead we wrote a program to convert temperature Fahrenheit to Celsius. The program was as I recall a few feet long. “A few feet long? What are you talking about Greg?” No, this was not the printout. This wasn’t how much it scrolled on the screen. Instead it was the length of the yellow (as I recall) paper tape that contained it. The paper tape had holes punched into it that could be read by a reader. You’d write your program on one machine, and then take it over to the computer and feed it into the reader and it would run it. I honestly don’t recall how we entered the values to be converted, if it was already on the tape or through some other interface. In any case, I loved it and fell in love with computers then. Unfortunately, somewhere over the years, that paper tape has since disappeared. That saddens me. It’s a memento I wish I still had it.

In four or five short years, the world was changing and quickly. The IBM PC had been released while I was in high school and I went from playing a text adventure game called CIA on a TRS-80 Model II to programming in UCSD Pascal on an original IBM PC. (I should note that this was my first encounter with the concept of a virtual machine and p-code machine.) This was great, but I still wanted more. Somewhere along the line I encountered a copy of Microsoft’s Flight Simulator. I loved it. In January of 1985 my dad took me on a vacation to St. Croix USVI. Our first step on that trip was a night in NYC before we caught our flight the next morning. To kill some time I stepped into 47th Street Photo and bought myself a copy of Flight Simulator. It was the first software I ever bought with my own money. (My best friend Peter Goodrich and I had previously acquired a legal copy of DOS 2.0, but “shared” it. Ok, not entirely legal, but hey, we were young.)

I still have the receipt.

For a High School Student in the 80s, this wasn’t cheap. But it was worth it!

I was reminded of this the other day when talking with some old buddies that I had met when the Usenet sci.space.policy was still the place to go for the latest and greatest discussions on space programs. We were discussing our early intro to computers and the like.

I haven’t played this version in years, and honestly, am not entirely sure I have the hardware any more that could. For one thing, this version as I recall was designed around the 4.77Mhz speed of the original IBM PC. This is one reason that some of my readers may recall when the PC AT clones came out running the 80286 chip running at up to 8Mhz (and faster for some clones) there was often a switch to run the CPU at a slower speed because many games otherwise simply ran twice as fast and as a result the users couldn’t react fast enough. So even if I could find a 5 1/4″ floppy and get my current machine to read the drives in a VM, I’m not sure I could clock down a VM slow enough to play this. But, I may have to do this one of these days. Just for the fun of it.

I still have the original disks and documentation that came with it.

Flying outbound from NYC

A part of me does wonder if this is worth anything more than the memories. But for now, it remains in my collection; along with an original copy of MapInfo that was gifted to me by one of the founders. But that’s a stroll down memory lane for another day.

And then I encountered SQL Server only a short 6 or so years later. And that ultimately has been a big part of where I am today.

Time Flies

It was either only 20 years ago or a lifetime ago that I had received the news. Peter was on Flight 175. That’s all I needed to hear. That was all anyone who knew anyone on any of the 4 flights needed to hear. There was no hope, no questions that followed. My best friend from high school had been killed because a man in a far away land had hatched a plan to turn four airliners into deadly missiles.

I have to be honest, Peter and I hadn’t really kept in touch after high school. I can’t really say why. But I had finally reached out to him a few weeks before 9/11 and we had made plans to get together in the next month. That moment, like all my memories of him is now frozen in time. His smile that lit up a room will always be in my mind.

On this 20th anniversary, I have mixed feelings on how much 9/11 has been played out as a national tragedy for most of the last 20 years. It was no doubt a horrible day for many. Friends and family were lost that day. And yet, it seems to have taken a special hold in our national consciousness for two decades. Like Pearl Harbor, the attack was a complete surprise and caused the US to launch a war overseas. But unlike Pearl Harbor, it seems as if at times we are stuck in time. I think this is perhaps because in this case, our own planes and passengers were turned on us and because unlike WWII, there has been no distinct victory. There is no simple closure. But, thanks to people like Peter’s family, there is hope.

It was tempting for many after 9/11 to want revenge, to strike back. Some I think lost the distinction between justice and vengeance. Peter’s family did something different and I think unique. And that has been what has been on my mind.

In their own way, and a way that the Peter I knew from high school would have approved of 100%, they struck back at the Taliban. They didn’t go on the warpath. They didn’t call for attacks or bombings or even deaths in return. Instead, they opened a school for girls in Afghanistan. They setup a scholarship program for students from Afghanistan to attend the private high school, Berkshire, where Peter and I met. They decided to fight hatred and ignorance with lovingkindness and education. They fought for a future. Peter was gone, but they fought for a better world, despite him not being in it.

As the Taliban slowly regained control of parts of Afghanistan over the past years and especially the past months, I was saddened. With the fall of Kabul, I was nearly in tears. While I grieve at times for Peter, I grieve more for the dying of the dreams inspired by his murder. And this happening near the 20th anniversary of 9/11 has only made it more poignant.

That said, I actually have hope. I think it’s a dark time in Afghanistan, the current promises of their leader not withstanding. Currently it appears they will continue to allow the education of girls, but I don’t know for how long and how well.

The land, like the country is a harsh environment, but yet things grow. His family and countless others I believe have planted seeds in Afghanistan. Seeds that when the time is right will sprout and grow. So, I have hope. His death may have led to just one school and a few students coming to Berkshire, but I know his family wasn’t alone.

It may take years, perhaps decades, but I think have to believe that Peter’s death was not in vain and that more good will ultimately come of it.

Peter Morgan Goodrich
Peter’s smile as I remember him

More on the foundation setup by his family: The Peter M. Goodrich Memorial Foundation

Paywalled (sorry) recent article on him: The Berkshire Eagle

From his college: Bates

About his mother: a powerhouse of a woman that cancer took far too soon

P.S. One last comment about Peter himself. I think one reason we got along so well was because he was so inquisitive and always learning. At his memorial we were all told how among his possessions was found a copy of an English copy of the Qur’an, replete with many dozens of bookmarks. While we were all looking for solace and understanding the preacher reminded us, “For the love of God, he read the Qur’an.” That was Peter, always wanting to learn and understand. And he would have appreciated the wordplay in that statement.

Time Crawls On

There’s a crevice at the top of a ridge, about 18.5 miles from my house as the crow flies. And as time flies, it’s been in my life for 36 or 37 years.

The crevice is locally known as The Snow Hole because it retains snow late into the year. Decades ago it had snow through August and sometimes beyond. Unfortunately the time for that is long past due the overall temperatures increasing a day or two.

I first visited this in the Spring of ’84 or ’85. I honestly can’t recall which year. As part of the Outdoor Education club or “OE” as we called it in high school, we did an overnight trip. The instructor liked to challenge us and in this particular case we literally arrived at a random parking lot at the base of a ridge and were purposely given a vague map and told to find a particular peak to camp on. With some bushwhacking we made it to the top of the ridge, struck south and arrived at the peak with a gorgeous view. We camped there and then the next day headed north, crossed a road, and eventually arrived at a crack in the ground full of snow. We explored the crack and I’m sure threw a few snowballs at each other. The crack has sheer walls on three sides and a walkable slope on the west side. At the very top of that slope there is a hole in the ground. Alas, no hobbit lived in it, but it was large enough to wiggle into and with some effort find oneself completely underground. It wasn’t much of a cave, but it was there. (Arguably, by some definitions, because one never got beyond what’s known as the twilight zone, it’s not really a cave, but to us, it was a cave.)

We hiked back to the road and in the parking lot there, not the one we started at, we packed up the vehicles and headed home. At the time, I honestly had no clue where we had gone. But I knew it was fun.

It was a couple of years later, I was now in college, when I joined the Rensselaer Outing Club on a day hike to Berlin Mountain. We drove east from campus and arrived at a parking lot. We unloaded and hiked south. I was having a mild sense of deja vu, but I wasn’t sure why. Several miles later, we arrived at the top of Berlin Mountain and I instantly recognized the view. I had camped there. To our east was Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts. I had returned.

On a later hike, we headed north to the Snowhole. This was the first of many return trips to both locations, the most recent being a hike this past weekend to the Snowhole with my wife.

As we headed north, I was trying to remember my last time there and I want to say close to a decade ago. As I move on in my years and I revisit locations from the past, I try to recall what they were like years ago. In some cases my memories are clouded and faded, in others though, I know my memories are accurate but the places have changed. Both were true on the hike in. In this case, there are two rather open spots about 2/3rds of the way in where one has gorgeous views. Or, more accurately had. The areas themselves are open, but the trees just downhill have continued to grow over the decades and now block much of the view.

View north of Berlin Mountain in the distance, but numerous trees in the foreground blocking much of the view. Taken from the Taconic Crest Trail on the way to the Snowhole.
Decades ago, you could see far more!

And as I mentioned above, the snow doesn’t persist as long in the Snowhole as it used it. But the Snowhole itself hasn’t changed much. Oh, I’m sure a rock or two has fallen since then, more leaves have filled the bottom and decade and I think there’s a bit of a subsistence at the bottom that’s opened up a bit, but overall it’s the same.

And one thing waiting there was that cave. For whatever reason I had not reentered that cave since my first time. This time I decided to do so. I’ve talked about in the past how sometimes we remember caves being bigger than they actually are. Well, in this case I swear the entrance was larger than I remember. I do think in fact the rock had shifted a bit, so perhaps it had been smaller in the past, but in any event, in this case I was able to crawl in without much effort. And the cave itself was deeper and far larger than I recall. Unlike most caves in New York, this is not a solutional cave formed by the breakdown of limestone. Instead, it’s really more of a breakdown cave, where as other stuff erodes away or shifts the layers of rock shift, break, or otherwise move. In my memory, the cave was about 6′ long and just enough to turn around in and peep out a much smaller window near the entrance. Now, it was probably a good 12′-15′ feet long and it dropped down about 6′. Technically I could probably have crawled over a ledge and down just enough to get out of the twilight zone. It truly is a cave, at least now. And it’s one of those rare cases where it’s far larger than I remember. I don’t know in this case if it’s just my memory, or if the cave had changed. It didn’t matter.

After a few minutes I crawled back out and started to do the math. That’s when I realized it had been nearly 40 years since I had last crawled in there. I do hope it’s not another 40 before I crawl in again.