Snow Daze

I’ll be honest upfront. I have a love/hate relationship with snow. I love the sounds of a snowstorm. I don’t mean the wind if it’s there, I mean the quiet hush that can settle over the land, a muffled calm. It’s peaceful.

I love the starkness it can leave behind, everything white with a gray or black background. The lack of color is beautiful in its own way.

I love how it slows down life for a bit. You can’t go fast. You have to stop and take a measure of the moment.

And, I hate shoveling it. Sure, it’s a good workout, if you’re fit enough and not at a risk for a heart attack. But, it can be a pain. I drive a Subaru, so often I only shovel the end of my driveway where the snowplows leave their pile of detritus as they go by since once that freezes in place it can become an implacable wall. But this snowstorm, I did the entire driveway. It was deep enough I thought it prudent.  And it’s not just the weight of the snow that’s the issue. It’s moving it to a place that’s out of the way.

I’m a person who actually loves the seasons. I love how they mark the inexorable passage of time.

“One Christmas was so much like the other, in those years around the sea-town corner now, out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve, or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.” – Dylan Thomas A Child’s Christmas in Wales

I’ve been alive for over a half-century now and at times it seems the years fly by faster. The snippet from Dylan Thomas reminds me so much of Falls Village CT, the town I grew up in. In some ways it never lost a certain Victorian charm.  We were part of the modern world, but separate enough that we were ensconced in a tiny bubble. In the winter, I’d lay awake on a snowy morning hoping to hear the snow plow go by.  We’d build forts in the snow and have epic snowball fights. We’d come in sopping wet and warm ourselves by the wood stove and drink hot chocolate and share epic tales amongst ourselves.

When it got a bit closer to Christmas we’d go to the nursery and buy a 14′ tall tree, because we could.  We’d decorate the first 8′ and then above that, the best we could.

It’s not Christmas yet here, but at GMS Headquarters it’s slowly arriving:

20191203_094342

Christmas Lights

And soon I’ll start listening to Christmas music.

And I’ll try not to think about the next round of shoveling I have to do.

I’d love to sit around all day sipping hot chocolate and doing nothing, but there’s work to do and eventually more snow to shovel.

And I can hear the occasional plow go by, getting the roads fully clear.

All is well here at GMS Headquarters.

 

Sleep, Perchance to Dream

I’ve skipped two weeks of blogging, which is unusual for me. The first time I’ll admit I was simply too tired after flying back from SQL Summit in Seattle. That, combined with catching up on work for my largest client meant I simply didn’t have time. And last week, well Monday night I was sure I was coming down with the flu and had a terrible night’s sleep and was in a brain fog all day Tuesday.  Now I have no idea if it was the flu (I tend to doubt it) but by Wednesday or Thursday I was feeling a lot better.

And, then last night, I barely slept either. So suffice to say, I’ve had sleep on my brain a lot lately.

I find sleep and dreaming to be fascinating aspects of evolution. When you stop to think about it, unless you’re an apex predator, sleeping would appear to be an evolutionary poor choice in many cases. Depending on the animal, it can spend anywhere from 2-3 hours asleep (perhaps broken up over the course of the day) to 20 hours.

And in fact, predators often tend to sleep more, which conserves energy, while prey tend to sleep less (so they can more easily flee said predators).

Some animals in fact are capable of unihemispheric sleep, i.e. only half of their brain appears to go to sleep. In fact dolphins in pods appear to sleep such that if they’re on the outside of the pod, the side of the brain that goes to sleep is opposite of the eye on the outside of the pod. They literally sleep with “one eye open” looking for danger.

Yet, despite the risks to prey, they still sleep. It seems pretty universal and something that as far as I know, all vertebrates do to some point. So it seems pretty necessary. And we’re learning at least in humans that chronic lack of sleep can lead to issues such as dementia later in life or even a shortened lifespan.  It seems the phrase, “you can sleep when you’re dead” tends to mean that your death may come even sooner if you chronically undersleep.

And when we sleep, we don’t just basically stop interacting with the outside world, we create a fantasy world inside our heads. I’m a person who can often remember his dreams and they tend to  be vivid and rich in detail. When dreams incorporate elements of places I’ve been or seen I’m not surprised. But then occasionally I will dream of places I know I’ve never been, houses I’ve never been in, landscapes I’ve never seen in such detail. It amazes me that my brain can, to use a computer term, render such rich detail in what appears to be real time.

In any event, right now, sleep is on my brain, but work calls.

Kids, get off my lawn!

Change can be hard. But sometimes it’s necessary. And a lot has happened this week.  First, I want to congratulate my fellow #SQLFamily member Cathrine Wihlemsen on one more orbit of the Sun. Apparently, in her honor Microsoft decided to release SQL Server 2019 on her birthday! I’ve been using SQL Server since the 4.21a days. Every version has had new features and required learning something new. As I said recently, it’s easy to fall into the trap of being an old dog and not learning new tricks. This is something we have to avoid. Being trapped in the past can be limiting.

Besides SQL Server 2019 dropping this week, I recently upgraded my phone. I had been using a Windows Phone for about 5 years now. I loved it. Especially when it first came out, it was top of the line and had a bright future. I eagerly downloaded apps and it became part of my life. But alas, we know how well Microsoft did in the Windows Phone market. But I doggedly held on, even as features were deprecated. I couldn’t use the Weather App. The Amtrak App went away. Eventually several features of Cortana stopped work as Microsoft stopped supporting them. Slowly my phone was becoming a brick. I kept debating do I upgrade to one more Windows Phone knowing it’s the end of the line, or what? I kept putting off the decision. After the mapping function failed me on my recent trip to the Hampton Roads User Group Meeting I decided it was time to finally time to replace it with an Android phone. Choosing from the plethora out there was not fun. It was very tempting to go with one of the top of the line models, but spending $1000 or so wasn’t really a fun idea.  I eventually ended up choosing a Samsung A50.

I’m mostly happy with it. Right now I’m struggling with what parts of it are “get off my lawn” because I don’t like change, and what parts are “what the hell is the UI doing now?”  Fortunately, my son has mentioned some of his dislike of certain UI functionalities, so I think not all of it is me simply being an old curmudgeon (are there young ones?) I will say what I’m most happy with is that Microsoft has a number of tools including the Windows Launcher and the Phone Companion, as well as the obvious apps like Outlook and other parts office.

A word about the Phone Companion. This alone has made the upgrade a win. One of the features is that when I’m working at home (I have not yet enabled it on my Surface Pro) is that things like text messages pop-up on my desktop screen. This actually makes life a LOT easier, since I can simply type a reply from a full-size keyboard or copy the numerous soft-tokens I get to log into various client sites without having to pick up my phone. It’s a small detail, but a wonderful one!

The Launcher helps me retain some of the features that I liked about my Windows Phone. Overall, it’s a win.

But the changes in my life aren’t complete. As I mentioned last week I’m at PASS Summit again this week in Seattle. But alas, this is the last year that PASS Summit will be in Seattle. Next year it will be held in Houston. Just as I’ve figured out where the cheapest and most convenient parking for me is, where some decent food places are, and I’m feeling, if not at home in Seattle, at least comfortable, next year is a big change. I won’t be able to stay with my college friends or do our annual Thai pot luck with a bunch of ROC Alumns.

But, I’ll get to explore another city. I’ve been to Houston only once, literally decades ago, to do SQL Server install at Exxon. The server was literally the only Intel computer in a room full of mainframe equipment. I suspect that has changed since then.  That was one of my early experiences installing SQL Server (4.21a for the record).

So, this old dog is still learning and looking forward to new experiences: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

 

Kids These Days

“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.” – Socrates 

We’ve probably all seen that quote in some form or other over the years. If not, it’s usually presented as a modern day rant (though given the use of the words chatter and dainties, I suspect the translation is a few decades old) and then is revealed to be close to 2500 years old.

But, it still holds true. Well, not so much the part about how terrible kids are, but how poorly many adults think of kids. How often have you heard someone say, “Kids these days, they always have their head down in their phones!” “Kids these days, they don’t read like they used to?” “The music kids listen to these days….”

The truth is, perhaps things have changed more in the past few decades than in centuries past simply because of the advances in technology. But, the truth is, in some ways, things are still. This is not to say that phones and tablets are 100% harmless (there’s a lot of evidence that for very young children they’re probably not a good idea). But, they can also be a huge impact. I have a friend whose autistic son can pretty much only communicate because of the use of a tablet. Without it, he’d be locked into a world of little communication. Kids these days…. can communicate in ways they previously couldn’t.

When I was starting college I discovered that through the local mainframe and then later the Internet (long before it was truly publicly available) I could communicate with people miles or 100s or even 1000s of miles away. I made deep, lasting friendships that way. I learned a lot. These is even more true. I know kids who have friends across timezones and countries and these are deep and meaningful friendships. It’s much like having a penpal, but basically in real-time. This has helped them develop cross-cultural understandings and learn more about the world.  Kids these days, can communicate in ways we never could have hoped for.

Just last night, on a chat system run out of RPI that I’ve mentioned, Lily, we were having a discussion about the advances in computing languages and the discussion included people from across the country, including my own son who could add his perspective from several hundred miles from away.  Kids these days, can interact with adults with decades of experience, and can provide their own perspective.

My daughter recently started a new seasonal job at a local haunted hay-ride. Granted, I’m on the hook (as is her mom) for doing a bunch of driving, but it was her initiative and work that helped her find the job and get the job. This is in addition to the school work she does, the sports and planning on helping with the school play down the road.  Kids these days, are not lazy and have their own initiative.

People talk about the state of today’s music. I’m sorry, but any generation that enjoys a song where half the words are basically “I want to ride my bicycle” or variations on that has no place criticizing the simplicity of lyrics today. For every Bohemian Rhapsody there’s a Bicycle. That was true then and is true today.  Kids these days, actually listen to as wide a range of music as we do, and some of it is actually pretty good.

Kids these days, sail across the ocean, alone, to make a plea for their future. And in return, people mock her and call her names. She’s literally asking us to consider her future and too many simply want to insult her. Adults these days, can be as cruel as always.

Kids these days simply want to inherit as good a world as we did. They’re working hard to make it a better place, but adults seem hell bent on denying them that. They’d rather smugly look down their noses at kids these days.  Don’t be those adults.

 

 

Thoughts on Writing

“I also did the copy edit. If it looks good to you, then I can get it published ASAP!”

This is an excerpt from an email I received yesterday. It was probably my favorite email of the week. It means another article of mine will be published at Red-Gate. I’m quite proud of this and once it is published I’ll be updating my page on published articles.

Let me be clear, while I appreciate getting paid for the Red-Gate articles and for the book I wrote, the truth is, I write for more than the money.

I write because I enjoy it. Getting paid sometimes is a bonus. Knowing that others may gain something from my writings is another bonus.

Just about two years ago I decided to go from writing for this blog on an occasional or “as inspiration” hit me basis to a weekly basis. This has had two impacts. I think I have fewer truly inspired posts, but overall I think my (and have been told, but you can judge for yourself) writing has improved. It’s like pretty much any activity, the more you do it, the better you get at it. And it has paid off, literally. I don’t get paid to write this blog, but it indirectly lead to my writing gig for Red-Gate.  So I guess it’s been worth it.

I’m still nowhere near close to giving up programming and writing full-time, but it would be a fun idea to explore. Right now though my writing gives me that little extra “fun money”.  I’m content with that.

Writing also brings me closer to my father. He was an English major at UConn and as such when he graduated became a carpenter. He had bills to pay after all! Some of my earliest memories of him are him sitting in his office trying to write. Based on what I know of him, I suspect he was trying to write the next Great American Novel.  Sadly that was never to be. That said, in the garage below my office I have all his notebooks with all his handwritten stories. Someday I plan on trying to decipher his handwriting to see what it is he did write.

In terms of non-fiction however, I do have some knowledge. He was for many years a stringer for some of the local newspapers and I remember him calling in articles he had written on a variety of topics, including coverage of the local media sensation, the trial of Peter Reilly who was charged with the brutal murder of his mother. Later my father covered the retrial of Mr. Reilly, after it was shown his initial confession was coerced and there were other issues were found with the trial.  He covered more than that, but was the biggest story he covered.

He never had a book published, which I know was a dream of his. I finally did get a book published, unfortunately after he died. That said, in fairness, I think a technical book, especially in today’s climate is a bit easier than the fiction book he was shooting for.

One writing tip I took from Stephen King (and others to be fair) is to set aside a time each week to simply write.  On my calendar I have a period set aside every Tuesday to write this blog. It’s a constant reminder that I need to make time to write. More recently I added a similar block on Wednesdays to write for Red-Gate.  It doesn’t mean I’m always successful during those times or that I only write during those times, but it forces me to set aside some time to write. And the end result is, I write more. And it’s been good.

That said, I think my next goal is to write a non-technical book, whether it’ll be a work of fiction or non-fiction remains to be seen. I may need to put that on the schedule now.

So, that’s my writing for this week!

 

This Site Makes Cookies

Apparently under new guidelines here and in Europe I’m ethically obligated that I’ve been known to make cookies from time to time.  Oh, excuse me, something is coming in to my earpiece now.  Oh, never mind, I’ve been informed those laws apply to a different type of cookie.

In any event, I first got into the habit of baking cookies on a somewhat regular basis while in college. It became a stress release for me, and also apparently made me quite popular among the sorority sisters and outing club members I lived with.  I would, probably at least once a month my sophomore year make a double-batch of Tollhouse Chocolate Chip cookies. They rarely lasted more than a day or two.

Since then, I’ve expanded my repertoire, including once trying “bacon cookies” for my very first SQL Saturday. Those weren’t a huge hit, but haven’t stopped me from baking.

That said, I’ve learned a few things over the years about baking cookies. For example, my daughter would bring cookies to school for an event and would often be asked, “oh did your mom make them?”  She’d patiently explain that no, her dad did. Even today, the assumption is that when it comes to school events, the mom does the baking. I’m glad that my kids both realize that it’s unfair to expect that mothers have to do all the baking and other domestic duties.

But, I also learned something else that sort of threw me for a loop. People don’t like homemade cookies from a zip-lock bag.  Sometimes I’d bring cookies to events and people wouldn’t eat many of them. Now, being practical and in a hurry, I’d almost always just toss the cookies into a zip-lock bag.  It was my daughter who suggested I start putting them into a plastic container with a lid instead. Suddenly I found the same cookies were much more popular. My daughter explained her theory, which I tend to believe. For whatever reason, perhaps hygiene, people don’t want to reach into plastic bags for food. It may be touching the same sides that everyone else did or something else. But regardless, putting them into plastic tub with a container works.

Call it a UI problem, but, it seems to work.

Today’s take-away, just because you’re comfortable with a solution and think it works, don’t be adverse to making changes, even if they seem silly or trivial, if that’s what your users desire.

P.S.: Check out my latest writing for Red-Gate: PowerShell and Secure Strings.

Two Minds are Better Than One

I’m going to do something often not seen in social media. I’m going to talk about a mistake that I made. It’s all to common on various certain media sites to talk about how perfect our lives are and how great things are. You rarely hear about mistakes. I decided, in the theme of this blog of talking about how we approach and solve (or don’t solve) problems, I’d be up front and admit a mistake.

This all started with a leak in the downstairs shower. It had been growing over the years and I frankly had been ignoring it.  Why put off to tomorrow what you can put off to next month or even year? But finally, in December of last year it became obvious that it was time to fix the leak. It had continued to grow, and now that my son was home from college for extended break, he had setup a work area in the basement, below the bathroom.  I figured he didn’t really need to suffer from water dripping onto his desk.

So, he and I went into full demolition mode and ripped out the old tile and backer board to get to the plumbing.

New plumbing in bathroom

New plumbing

You can see some of the work here. I also took the opportunity to run wiring to finally put in a bathroom fan. That’s a whole other story.

Anyway, the demolition and plumbing went well. Then we put up the backer board and sealed it. And left it like that. It didn’t look good, but it was waterproof and usable. It was “good enough”. So for about 8 months it sat like that. But with an upcoming pool party, I decided it was time to finally finish it off. One of the hold ups had been deciding on tile. Fortunately, on a shopping trip about a month earlier, my son, my wife and I found tile we liked (my daughter, who ironically still lives at home and will be using the shower more in the next few years than her brother, was in LA on vacation, so she ended up not really having much say in the matter).

So, earlier this month, while the rest of my family took a weekend to go to Six Flags New Jersey, I figured I’d surprise them with finally tiling the shower.  I went to the big box store whose favorite color is orange and bought the required materials. Since tile we had selected is approximately 6″ wide and 24″ long, I had to make sure I got the right mastic.  This was a bit different from stuff I’ve worked with in the past with a bit more synthetic materials in it and it mixed differently, and had slightly different drying characteristics. That, combined with growing darkness lead me to move quickly. The darkness was a factor since any tile cutting I was doing was outside.

And, all that lead to a simple mistake.  On the end wall, there’s a window and as a result part of that wall needed tiles just less than 24″ long. On one hand, this is a huge plus since it means less seams and less places to grout. On the other, it meant in one spot having to work around the trim of the window. And that’s where I made my mistake.  The trim had been put over the original tile, so there was in theory room behind the stool of the window to fit in a piece of tile. That had been my plan.

But, when it came to sliding in the nearly 24″ long piece of tile, it wouldn’t fit. It wouldn’t bend (obviously) to let me get it tucked behind the stool and due to the stickiness of the mastic, I couldn’t slid it in from the top.

So, I cut out a notch. In the back of my mind I somehow was thinking, that it wouldn’t look that bad and tile would cover it.  Well, I was obviously wrong.

In hindsight, I realized I should have cut the tile in two pieces, created an extra seam (like the row below it that had to cover more than 24″ wide in any event) and then I could have slide in the smaller piece and then put in the remaining piece. It would have been perfect, looked great and more likely to be waterproof.

So, this gets me to the title. Had I been doing the work with someone else, I’m sure I’d have said, “Damn, this is gonna suck, any ideas?”

A mistake

My mistake

And I’m sure someone else would have suggested, “Hey, cut the piece and slide it in.”

I like working alone, but sometimes, you need a second person to help. Or more than one brain as I’ve mentioned in the past.  If nothing else, sometimes a duck can help.

Idera Ducks!

A bunch of rubber ducks, including two from Idera!

So, the moral of the story is sometimes two heads are better than one. Oh well, I won’t be the one using that shower, so I won’t see my mistake all the time!

Oh and check out my latest Red-Gate Article on Secure Strings in PowerShell.