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.

Changes

Let’s start with what I’m not doing this week: teaching cave rescue. As I wrote two weeks ago, those of us in charge of annual upcoming National Cave Rescue training class decided to cancel it in light of the ongoing Covid pandemic. Of course over the weekend, on Facebook popped up images of the modular version of the Level 1 class I taught last year (because the National planned for June of 2020 had ben postponed due to Covid). This got me thinking about the numbers. Using the site 91-Dovic I was able to compare the infection rate year to year, and let’s just say it’s shocking. In New York State, the infection rate was roughly 3 people per 1000. Currently it’s hovering around 23 people per 1000. And this is with a high rate of vaccination. National numbers are similar in terms of the ratio of numbers. Clearly, despite vaccinations we’ve got a long ways to go, but I feel more confident in our decision to cancel.

That said, there were of course other personal consequences. For one, I’m able to actually spend time with a client on a project that’s seriously backlogged. I won’t go into details, but suffice to say, only recently, with the addition of a very competent project manager has this project gotten on track. My role is sort of the middle-man whose scripts passes data between two systems. It’s a critical part of the process, though my development work is mostly done at this point. But had I been teaching this week, it would have created issues for the goals for the project. So, I guess the client wins out on this one.

But there were some other positive consequences. While I couldn’t go to my daughter’s college to drop her off on her first day (the school was limiting move-ins to the student and two others, so my wife and son went, he had never seen the campus) I was able to see her off that morning. Something that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. (though, despite that, all four of us forgot to take the cookies I had baked out of the fridge and put them in the car!)

Heading off to college!

But also, it meant my wife and I were able to drive my son to his college for his last semester. (the plan to provide him with his own car hasn’t quite gone according to plan).

My son, with my wife, settling in to his new apartment

Looking back, I realize the last time I had gone to my son’s school was last May to take him out there so he could pack up his dorm room after the school went entirely virtual. At some point, while driving the New York Thruway something creepy struck me: how empty it was! Due to the ban on all non-essential travel and the reduction in consumption, there were far fewer vehicles of all sorts on the highway. On the way back, the truck stop we stopped at to get some gas at was basically empty. I think it was ourselves, and 2 other cars and just the person working the counter. It reminded me very much of the post-apocalyptic scenes you see in some movies!

These two drives also represent the furthest I’ve been from my house in about 18 months.

Also last week, my wife’s job finally went back to in-person. So in the space of a week, I’ve gone from a full house to an empty nest. It’s quiet here not. Too quiet.

In the past 18 months or so I’ve gone from semi-regular travel all over the country to not going more than 30 miles from my house (except for very rare occasions) and from not wearing a mask to wearing one almost all the time and now more recently, from a full house to a much emptier one. Let me just say, the cats aren’t overly social.

So changes… Some big. Some small, but they all add up.

Oh the Places I’ll Go… Someday

I’ll admit, I was sitting here, struggling for a topic when I received an email alerting me to Deborah Melkin’s latest blog post. So, to take a phrase from Pablo Picasso “Lesser artists borrow; great artists steal”. To be clear, in this case, I’m borrowing an idea from Deborah, a great artist, I’m not. At least not in this case.

In the past few months I’ve come to realize how much I missed travel. I think many of have. But instead of listing real places I want to visit, I’m going to change things a bit and talk about a few fictional places I might enjoy visiting.

Firstly, Middle-Earth. Some may know that my twitter handle is @stridergdm. This came out of my youth of hiking parts of the Appalachian Trail. It’s common when signing into logbooks to adopt a trail name. Being a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings, I adopted Strider. I still use it. But online, I found Stridergdm was pretty much guaranteed to be unique. So, back to Middle-Earth. It is still one of the richest most fleshed out fictional worlds and there’s too much to see. But I suspect I would want to ride the plains of Rohan as dawn rose over the horizon. Sail up Anduin towards Osgiliath in its prime. Perhaps look over the fallen foundation of Barad-dur and then travel back to the First Age and see Gondolin. (yes, I’d want a bit of time travel too.) But simply put there is so much to see there.

Earth-Sea – To sail from the Gont to Havnor and visit some of the islands in between. I always found Ursula Le Guin a unique world, a world of only islands, no continents.

Dune – deserts have always fascinated me, but to visit a world that is entirely desert and life is focused on the lack of water intrigues me. Perhaps to enter Sietch Tabr in the evening as the Fremen are waking up, with the sunsetting at my back, casting my long shadow ahead of me. To break bread and share water with Stilgar and others. Then leave on a Highliner and visit the polar opposite, the ocean world of Caladan.

Mid-World – Of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. This is very much a broken world, not just the buildings of Lud, but physics itself where sometimes the Sun doesn’t rise in the East and time seems to flow strangely. But to perhaps visit the Halls of Gilead in their prime and then ride The Drop and overlook the Clean Sea, but finally to walk among the field of roses at Can’-Ka No rey and enter the Dark Tower itself.

Ringworld – it may be unstable, but is probably arguably the largest “world” of any I would want to visit. To look up at the Sun, always at Noon and to realize one could walk multiple lifetimes and still barely make their way around the world. It’s big enough that it has 1:1 maps of Earth and Mars.

Narnia – C. S. Lewis and Tolkien were comrades in arms and members of the inklings but had very different ideas of world-building and different ideas on the proper place for allegory. Tolkien was never a huge fan of Lewis’s Narnia because it hit the read over the head too much with allegory, but I still think it would be interesting to sail on the Dawn Treader to the edge of the world.

One Hundred Acre woods – Technically this is based on a real woods and one could visit it, but not with Pooh and Piglet. This place has a special place in my heart. It’s the first “real” book I ever owned. As a young child, I want to say 3 or 4, a friend of my father’s loaned it to me. More accurately to my father to read to me, but that’s just technicality. After it was read, I tried to return it as I had been taught, after all, it wasn’t mine, it was only loaned. But the owner (who I can’t recall) looked at me gravely and asked me if I enjoyed it and I affirmed I did. “It’s yours then. Keep it.” And I did. And I have since given it to my son.

Stephen King’s Maine – this is a fascinating world filled with a town taken over by vampires and where Mrs. Toad can find shortcuts. What else wonderful and scary things could be found there?

There are almost certainly other worlds, but I think I’ll stop here. While I can never visit any of the above places in reality, the beauty is I can visit time and time again anytime I pick up a book.

2021 in Preview

I’ll admit I was tempted to just have a blank page here and say I’m starting 2021 with a blank slate. But that seemed too easy.

But with hope in hand, I will set some goals:

  • Continue to write for Red-Gate! I enjoy this and have to admit, the little extra spending money isn’t so bad.
  • Expand my client base. A concern I’ve had for a few years, and 2020 really reminded me of this, too much of my current consulting depends on one large customer. I want to change that. I’ve already reached out to some colleagues in regards to possible clients and will continue to do so. Part of my goal is to really define my business model here.
  • Have a successful NCRC Weeklong Cave Rescue Seminar here in NY. This was originally planned for 2020, but in light of the risk of becoming a super-spreader event, we postponed. Right now it’s still not clear if we’ll be able to safely host the event, but the odds are slowly improving. I’ve been monitoring my Facebook feed and it’s amazing how many folks I know already who are in the process of getting vaccinated against Covid-19. If this continues at this rate, we’ll be able to have an event!
  • Continue blogging. 2020 was my best year year, but I hope to improve in 2021. Of course I have to admit my numbers were helped when Brent Ozar mentioned one of my posts. So, I guess the real secret is to get Brent to retweet my blogs! Seriously though, I enjoy blogging and as much as I often do it for others, I’ll admit, some of it is really just vanity for me, but also serves as a practice to keep up on my writing and creative skills.
  • Travel! Once it’s safe to travel again, I hope to do a LOT more this year. One benefit of being an independent IT consultant is I basically can work any place I have a steady Internet connection. I hope to take advantage of that.
  • Continue biking. This probably means finally getting a new bicycle. I had hoped to replace my Trek 520 that is now 30 years old this year, but due to Covid basically avoided bicycle shopping. But after 1300 miles last year, I think it’s time to seriously consider a new one.
  • Hike more. I loved my overnight trip last year. I hope to complete the section of the Appalachian trail in Massachusetts I haven’t done yet and then perhaps finish Connecticut or Vermont.
  • Continue to enjoy life. I mentioned yesterday that as crappy as a year it was, I actually enjoyed much of the year. If anything, Covid forced me to take stock and focus on enjoying life. I want to continue to do this.

And, most of all, make it through another year with you all.

Projects You’re Proud Of?

When I present, I start my presentations with a brief bio of myself and one item on there I generally have is a comment that I like to solve problems. This may sound obvious, but it’s true and I think describes my goal well. Yesterday, while on a 3 hour zoom call with a client, we got talking about various projects and it made me think about some of the problems I’ve solved over the years.

There are several I could talk about, but one came up yesterday. Several years ago at a previous client, the head of their call center came to me with an issue. They had a process where they’d export their call center logs and input them into SQL Server. Except to call it a process was a bit of an overstatement. It was a series of about 4-5 steps, all except the initial export were done manually. This meant that every morning one of their IT people would take a file from a Linux server, copy it locally, and then import it into Access where several macros were run on it to transform it and then the person would import it into the SQL Server where they could then run reports. There were several possible areas for mistakes to happen and while mistakes weren’t routine, they tended to happen about once or twice a month. On a good day, it would take about 1/2 an hour to do the manual import, on a bad day, over an hour. So in a month, one of their IT people could easily spend 15 or more hours on it, or over 180 hours a year.

In addition, adding new meta-data into the process was error-prone and he couldn’t do as often as he liked. He asked if I could take a look at it and automate it. While SSIS is not an area of expertise, I was familiar enough with it to know it was a good fit and said I’d work on a solution. It took some effort, but eventually I had a solution in place. The entire process now runs automatically in about 5 minutes and he can add or remove the meta-data he needs to by updating a single SQL table. He was quite pleased.

I’m also proud to say the only real time there’s been an issue with the process is when they had to for business reasons IP their entire internal network. They unfortunately scheduled this for a week when I was not only on vacation, but spending that week at some National Parks and Forests in the South Dakota area. The remoteness of these locations meant that my connectivity was very limited. I let their IP team know what changes had to be made to a config file to make things work, but in the aftermath of other issues they had to deal with this was missed. Fortunately, once I found the right place to sit in the National Forest we were camped in and get enough of a cell signal to log into their network, I was able to make the update and fix things. Since then, things have worked without a hitch.

I like this particular project, not just because it’s been so problem free, but because I think I can clearly point to a problem a client had and that I helped solve. Now that IT person can spend their time on more important issues.

It also is an example of a mantra I think is generally true:

Anything that can be automated should be automated.

There’s other projects I may write about at other times (including a few involving PowerShell) but that’s it for today.

What projects are YOU proud of? I’d love to hear from you.

Goals

A week ago an email alerting me to a new post from Steve Jones showed up in my in-box. I had to chuckle a bit because the topic was one, Goal Progress, that I had seriously thought about writing about for last week’s blog.  But I decided to write about teaching instead and put off a post on goals. There was a reason for that. I thought it would make a better post for this week.

There are some goals I’m fairly public about. I’ve started to write about my yearly goals and my results at the start and end of each year. But often I have more private goals. These are usually of a more personal nature. This post is about one such goal.

My Biking History

Ever since I got my first 10 speed, on I think my 10th birthday, I’ve loved to bike. Learning to read gave me intellectual freedom, but learning to bike gave me physical freedom. Growing up in a small town meant that to go any place interesting, biking was often the fastest and easiest way to do so. I could cover miles in fairly short order. Before I knew it, I was biking everywhere.

In high school, in the spring sports season I continued my relationship with the outdoors with the Outdoor Experience (OE) program. Part of that time was spent biking. I quickly upgraded my original 10 speed to one I bought from my original OE coach, Ben Kaghan. It was a beautiful Italian bike I continued to ride through high school and college until I was in a serious accident with it where I ended up going head over the handle bars and destroying the front forks. Twice in high school, as part of the OE program I managed to get in a Century ride, once my freshman year and once my senior year. They were nice bookmarks to my high school experience. Surprisingly to me, my senior year ride was a bit tougher, I think the route selection was a bit worse and we ended up with more hills.

For college graduation, I received a beautiful Trek 520 from my mom. I continued to ride, though not as much as I’d like. But several times, in September or October, I would ride to an annual event that my college outing club hosted known as “Fall Lake George”. This was an IOCA event where as many as a dozen colleges would canoe, sail, swim (yes a few have over the years) or powerboat to Turtle Island and camp for the weekend. I’d send my gear up in another vehicle and arrange for a car-ride back. Depending on factors this was generally about a 65-70 mile ride. The last time I did this was in 2015, the day before my father died. For various reasons, including changing college policies which have resulted in cancellations of this event, I haven’t done it since.

That said, most years I’ve routinely gotten in at least a few rides over 30 miles, with a few 50 mile rides snuck in there. But the elusive 100 miles had not been accomplished.

Due in part to COVID and wanting to get out more, and long stretches of good weather, I’ve found myself riding more this year than any year in memory. As of this morning my mileage for the year is over 1200 miles in the saddle. That was sort of a personal goal I had set for myself without publicizing it.

But there was one more goal. One I finally managed to realize this past weekend: the Century ride.  I had actually already accomplished 2 half-Century rides this year which I had felt good about, including one with some significant altitude gain. So I felt good about my chances. But I still wasn’t 100% sure.

Near Lake George is an amusement park, The Great Escape. My entire family has season passes and while I enjoy a day or two there, the rest of the family loves it there. My original goal was bike there, join them for a ride or two, and then bike home. And if I felt my legs weren’t up to it, toss the bike on the back of my wife’s car and ride home with them. Alas, due to Covid-19, The Great Escape has not been open at all this year.

But, I still sort of wanted a bail-out option. So I came up with a back-up plan. Right across from The Great Escape is a really incredible ice-cream place known as Martha’s Dandee Creme, which is a traditional stop for the family after a day at The Great Escape. So, about a month ago, I figured, if the weather worked, this past Labor Day weekend would be a good weekend to attempt my ride. And I’ve got to say the weather was nearly perfect for it. Not to warm nor too cold (though the first few miles from the house which was mostly downhill so I had lots of wind, but little muscle action, and still early in the morning were noticeably chilly.)

So at 7:45 AM I set out. The first 2-3 miles are basically coasting downhill from my house to the Hudson River and then the next 5 or so are avoiding potholes and city traffic as I make my way north to the first river crossing.

20200905_094609

32 miles in and going strong, but fuel and bio break.

I find that on longer rides, after about 2 hours, I need generally need some sort of refueling stop. Fortunately, in my area there’s lots of Stewart’s Shops. It’s generally easy to plan a break around them and I did.

20200905_095543

Milk (and a brownie) does the body good!

At this point I was more than half-way to my turn-around point, which was actually at about 55 miles, not 50. Once I had taken care used the facilities and refueled, I was back into the saddle for another stint. This was a shorter stint, but finally I would be gaining some altitude. Up until now the ride was basically along the Hudson, but in about 15 miles, I’d pass through Fort Edward and Hudson Falls where the river turns west and I would have to do some, albeit minor hill-climbing.  

My original goal had been to hit Martha’s by 12:30 PM. I had given myself lots of time because I had no idea how fast or slow I’d be. Well at this point I texted my wife to say that my new goal was now Noon.

20200905_113408-1.jpg

11:45 at Martha’s Dandee Creme!

I beat even that goal and that included a stop to make sure I hadn’t missed a turn.

One of the peculiarities I’ve found with endurance events like this is that my appetite essentially disappears. I knew I needed calories and as such ordered a soda, some chicken fingers and fries. The soda I had no problem drinking. Of the 5 chicken fingers, I managed to down 2 and of the fries, not even 1/2 of them. I saved the rest for my family.

Once they showed up, we ordered ice cream. I mean, what’s the point of biking to an ice cream place if you don’t get ice cream?

A very surreal experience, The Great Escape on Labor Day weekend, empty, and soundless

Finally it was time to get back in the saddle and head southbound. I felt strong about it, but wasn’t sure about the wind and all. And the wind at spots was definitely a factor and it definitely slowed me down.

But….

The big 100!

I made it. There was just one problem. As I had mentioned, my turnaround point was about 55 miles from my house. This meant I was still over 10 miles from home. I made a quick pit stop just south of here (again at a Stewart’s) and then raced home. Honestly, the about 2 miles near the house was the worst, not because of the distance per se, but because I finally had to regain all the altitude I had lost from my house to the Hudson 9 hours previous.

But I pulled into my driveway right before 5:00 PM.

Finally home, 111.6 miles later

I had, for the first time in 35 years, finally completed another Century ride. Actually a bit more than a Century ride. Goal accomplished.

Final stats:

  • 9:44 Door to door including stops
  • 111.6 miles covered
  • Crossing the Hudson, 4 times
  • Altitude changes: 515->13 feet and then slowly back up to 476 feet. And then all that in reverse
  • 1 Stewart’s Chocolate Milk consumed
  • 1 Stewart’s large brownie devoured
  • 2 chicken fingers digested
  • Some french fries eaten
  • 1 small (which is actually quite large at Martha’s) salted-caramel soft-serve cream in a cone ingested
  • 7:16:12 actual riding time
  • 29.20 top speed on some random hill.
  • 15.3 mph average speed overall (down from 16.3 mph turn around and 15.8 at 100 mile mark, the hills at home and city traffic killed me)

Conclusion

So, the first question that comes to mind, “would I have written this blog post had I failed to achieve my private goal or always kept the failure private?” – Good question. I think it depends on the reason for the failure.

“How did you feel the next day?” – Honestly? Pretty good. Other than my knees, I find if I’m in shape, long rides like this don’t really leave me overly sore the next day. And taking doses of ibuprofen definitely helps with the knees and more.

And of course, “Would you do it again?” – Well I probably won’t wait another 35 years. We’ll see what happens next year or the year after that.

“What other private goals do you have?” – That would be telling! 🙂

Seriously, it was a great time for me, I’m SO glad I did it and am feeling great. Not to bad for someone my age in a year of Covid.