Caving along the Great Divide

The title is a rife on a favorite folk song of mine, “Railroading on the Great Divide”, apparently first made famous by the amazing Carter Family. In this case, the Great Divide is a feature of a local cave known as Knox Cave in the town of Knox NY.

So, what do you get when you take 2 Canadians, a number of students who are just starting in college and a pair of cavers who have been caving for over 50 years each, two medical students, a fire chief, and a mixture of other people and toss them into a classroom and then a cave? You get an excellent teaching and learning experience.

I again had the privilege of working with a great group of people teaching a 2 day class on cave rescue. On the first day we test the students patience by seeing how many Powerpoint slides they can sit through. If they successfully survive that, we then unlock the doors to the classroom and let them outside. We then do some patient packaging and patient movement.  We end the day with a large quantity of food.

Often I’ll spend the Saturday night at the fire house (our typical location for these classes) but this time I had to head home. On the way one of my fellow instructors texted me to let me know that the student who was staying with her had not arrived at her house. We started to worry.  About an hour later the missing caver had shown up. Turns out she and several other students had decided to take advantage of a baseball backstop and practice their SRT skills and spend some time teaching each other. Even after a long day of teaching, the students were still eager to share their skills with each other.

On Sunday, we spend less than 1/2 an hour in the classroom, essentially just enough time to grab some breakfast and handle some housekeeping chores. We then start a practice rescue. In this case it was at nearby Knox Cave. While the students had known that the practice would be at Knox, they had no idea what the actual would actually involve.  So when the first group showed up, including the local fire chief who was also part of our training, they sprang into action. The reporting party told them that two cavers were in the cave. Both were at the Great Divide, one with a broken leg, the other taking care of the injured caver.

Very quickly the students found the the injured caver but quickly learned that no plan survives the first encounter with reality; the non-injured caver had wandered off and they had to go find her.  The apparently simple rescue had now become a search problem.

After a few missteps, the students found the missing caver and assisted her to the surface. And shortly later the injured caver was also brought to the surface.  It was a successful practice.

At the end of the weekend, instead of 22 students with very little if any cave rescue experience (including at least one student who had never been in a wild cave before) we now had 22 students who had gained a bit of experience and I would actually trust to call if a real rescue was called. From the reports I got back, everyone had fun and more than one person is now very eager to take our weeklong class next year!

For me, it was a long weekend with not enough sleep, but I ended it more energized than I started it. This is typical when I teach courses like this. It’s because I love the aha moment students often have when they’re learning, and this weekend was full of those.

I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by great groups of people over the years and I must say my cave rescue family is among the best, and I’m proud to welcome even more members to that family.

P.S. Don’t forget to check out my latest article at Redgate’s Simple Talk: How to Use Parameters in PowerShell

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!

 

Old Dogs and New Tricks

One problem with writing a weekly blog is sometimes you get the same idea in your head and realize you’re about to repeat yourself. I want to write about learning new stuff and started to repeat stuff I said here. I suppose I could just put a pointer to that and be done but… nah.

Several ideas prompted this week’s theme for this blog, the most recent being Grant Fritchey’s blog on using Extended Events. He makes some good points and I want to add my own thoughts.

I’ll start by admitting I still often use Profiler. I know it. It’s “easy”.  Well, no, not really. A better description would be “It’s familiar”. Truth is, I’ve often found the interface a bit clunky and I have to do more steps than I want to narrow down to trace exactly what I want.

But, about two weeks ago, one of my clients had an issue with a run-away query that expanded their tempdb to about 400GB before it rolled back. We wrote it off as a fluke; until it happened again the next day.  Now we had a pattern. I decided that we needed to monitor the server about the same time the next day to see if it would occur again. Now, of course one can sit there and run queries like sp_whoisactive, but I wanted more.  Profiler might work, but I figured it was time for this old dog to learn, or at least practice new tricks. I’ll admit, I basically googled for what I wanted, but I quickly found a trace I could modify and run for my needs.  30 minutes later and I had a nice extended event setup and monitoring the tempdb.

Now, as fate would have it, that run-away query hasn’t shown up since then, so in a sense the trace hasn’t fulfilled it’s goal. But, it’s lightweight enough that I’ve decided to leave it. And, the results are easily accessible to others if I’m out of town.

In the past year or so, it’s really hit me how much my role as a DBA or IT professional has really changed from two or more decades ago. There’s stuff that I do now that wasn’t possible then and there’s stuff then that I would do that I don’t worry about now or can’t even do (who out there recalls the ability to setup SQL Server database “files” on raw partitions for the speed boost?)

Over two decades ago I wrote a fairly impressive batch file that could install a client’s application on the proper drive. It used a lot of commands most people weren’t even aware of in the batch language (this was DOS, so not even as good as what CMD in Windows NT and above gives us).  Nowadays, I’d use PowerShell.

My original programming was in Fortran. Nowadays, I tend to sling code in VB.Net or C#.

It’s ok at times to fall back on what’s familiar. Often it can be faster and easier for a single project. But in the long-term, one really needs to learn what’s new and apply what one can.

My advice, pick a new technology or skill, and use it, even if for one project.  I’m not going to be an expert in Extended Events anytime soon, but now at least I can say, I’ve used it.  I’m far from an expert in PowerShell, but I’ve now been paid for 3 (and soon 4) articles on using it.

If this old dog can learn a new trick so can you.

And, listen to music you didn’t grow up on. As much as I love to listen to the music I’m familiar with while working, I often branch out. Yes, I’ve been known to listen to some Taylor Swift and Charlie XCX. And yesterday was a bit of Imagine Dragons and Meute. Two very different styles of music, but still a good listen.

What new trick will you learn this month?

Challenge Accepted!

Monica Rathbun in a recent blog post commented on how hard it is to write a blog post in under 5 minutes and challenged her readers to try to do it.

The only thing I can say is… challenge accepted.

But what to write about?

How about how I write, or rather how an idea gets into a blog post.

I have to admit, some Tuesdays my mind is blank. I sit at the screen, sometimes for 5 minutes or longer and my mind draws a blank. That’s rare. Fortunately, I often, sometime in the previous 6 days or so get an idea in my head and start to think about what I should write on it. It might have been a particular issue at work I had to solve, so I might be focusing on a more technical SQL or PowerShell focused blog.  Or it might be something I’ve seen that amused me.  This means I mull the thoughts over in my head and often have a basic outline before I put fingers to keyboard. The can help me cut down on the time I spent blogging.

I’ve also got about a dozen drafts saved in WordPress where I simply write a few lines of an idea for future posts. These are my saving graces. When I really can’t think of an idea I’ll go back and pull one of those up and finish them, such as this one which lay in draft status for months.

So, looking I think I failed. I think this one took just over 5 minutes. And to save time, I’m ignoring adding a picture, so you get the default. For now.

 

Janus 2 – 2019

“All my life’s a circle” – Harry Chapin

The New Year is now upon us. It’s now January around the world.  For those who don’t know where the name of the month comes from, or why my previous blog post and today’s are named as they are, it comes from the Roman God Janus.  Janus looked backwards and forwards. I thought it was appropriate for posts bracketing the New Year. In addition, the name of the month January is often believed to come from the name of the god, but that appears to be a false etymology.

Yesterday I looked back. Today, I’ll look forward.  I’m not necessarily a fan of New Year’s Resolutions (other than resolving to live one more year, which I’ve been successful at so far every time) so call these goals:

  • Continue to blog at least once a week. Last year I think I missed a week while on vacation, but otherwise I pretty much succeeded.
  • Hit 2000 page views. Last year I hit 1907.  I think I can exceed that this year. Of course I’ll need your help!
  • Continue speaking at SQL Saturdays. I haven’t set my schedule, but I already have 3-5 in mind. I’m not sure I’ll do 6 again, but we’ll see.
    • Expand my “SQL Server for under $200” session
    • Expand my “SQL Server Backups” (perhaps into a full precon)
    • Add one more topic to my list of sessions (see current ones here)
    • Shoot for at least one overseas engagement
  • Shoot for speaking at SQL Summit!
  • Figure out how to get an MVP!
  • Publish at least 3 more articles for Redgate’s Simple Talk
  • Continue to promote and support Women in Tech as well as other minority groups
  • Continue to learn PowerShell
  • Continue to learn about SQL Server on Linux
  • Play with containers, just a bit. This is really a minor goal given all the others I have, but I figure I should learn a little.
  • Pick up at least 1-2 more decent sized customers
  • Continue teaching cave rescue
  • Cave more!
  • Hike more!
  • Bike more!
  • Travel
  • Have fun!

That last goal is important to me. If I’m not enjoying what I’m doing, why do it? Life is too short to hate what you do with life. If you can find a way to enjoy life, do it!

Most of the goals above are SQL related, but that doesn’t mean that’s the major focus of my life. It’s just the place this blog touches upon the most these days.

I have a number of personal goals, but that’s for me and I won’t be sharing here.

In any event, I wish everyone in my biological family, #SQLFamily, Caving family, and other chosen families a wonderful and amazing New Year and hope that the new year brings you peace and happiness.

Janus 1 – 2018

As the year draws to a close, I thought I’d look back on the year a bit.

The goal of this blog has been to give me a place to reflect on the purpose of this blog.  I claim in My Goal Here to want to reflect on how we think and what drives certain decisions. And I suppose at times that’s true. At times it’s to give actual SQL or IT related advice.  But at times, it’s simply an exercise in my ability to put fingers to the keyboard and words on the screen and to be a bit self-indulgent if I’m honest.

My most popular page this  year was a mixture of things: The Streisand Effect. It was a bit of an activism piece about events at my alma mater and a chance to broaden my blog to more readers. But, it did also serve to actually reach one of my primary goals; to reflect on how we think and make decisions; primarily sometimes by trying to tamp down an issue, we only serve to draw more attention to it and to inflame things further.

My second most viewed piece this year was one of several on sexism, especially in the IT industry: Math is hard, Let’s Go Shopping. I still haven’t finished the book mentioned in the post, but it’s on my list to finish. The issue of sexism in my primary industry is one that has grown in importance to me and I expect to write more about it in the coming year and to try to do more about it.

Reviewing my SQL Saturday’s in 2018, I had the honor of speaking at Colorado Springs, or at least trying to, which I wrote about here; SQL Saturday Philadelphia, SQL Saturday Atlanta, SQL Saturday Manchester UK (my first overseas SQL Saturday, where I had a blast!), SQL Saturday Albany, and finally SQL Saturday DC. I also presented at the DC SQL User Group in September.  All great times and I had learned a lot and had a great time meeting new people and reconnecting with old friends.

I put in to speak at SQL Pass Summit, but again didn’t make it. But I still attended and had a great time.

I also was pleased to be asked to write for Redgate’s Simple Talk where I know have two articles published on using PowerShell for SQL: My first and second. I’ll be submitting my third article in coming weeks.

But not everything I did or wrote about was SQL related or even IT related. In late June, 13 people became trapped in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Thailand. This became a world-wide media event that a few weeks later I found myself part of. Besides at least four blog posts of my own that touched upon it, in my role as a regional coordinator of the National Cave Rescue Commission I did close to a half-dozen media engagements, including one for The Takeaway NPR program.

Oh, one more interview I did this past year was with Carlos Chacon and Steve Stedman of SQL Data Partners: it was a podcast I did with them. You can read about my thoughts here and listen to the podcast here. And definitely go to Amazon and buy my book!

Anyway, it’s been a great, and eventful year and I appreciate everyone who has read my blog and even more so to those who have commented on it, shared it, or somehow given me feedback.

I’m looking forward to 2019. I hope you are too.

SQL Pass 2018

Next week I’m off to the SQL Pass conference in Seattle.  This will be my 4th peregrination to Seattle in 4 years. This has become an annual trip for me. There’s one very obvious reason for going and then a 2nd also important reason.  SQL Pass is one of the top events for folks who work with SQL Server. It’s a 3 day conference (plus up to 2 days of pre-con events, including at least one meeting I’ll be attending as our local group leader) full of technical sessions covering a wide range of topics related to SQL Server and related technologies.

Four years ago, when I first attended, I was a newbie and wasn’t sure what to expect. My father had recently passed and I wasn’t entirely sure I still wanted to make the trip. But tickets had been bought and the price to attend been paid, so I decided to go. One of the first (perhaps the first) session I attended, was a session by Kathi Kellenberger on how to get published as an author. I had for years toyed with an idea for a book and I figured it couldn’t hurt to attend and perhaps learn something. Her session was quite helpful and I approached her afterwards for more input and she introduced me to one of the editors at Apress. I pitched my idea and a few months later, the contracts were signed.  All I had to do now was actually write the thing.  So, I ended up writing IT Disaster Response: Lessons Learned in the Field. (btw, I do obviously recommend it, it covers IT disasters, plane crashes and cave rescues. It’s not your standard cut and dry boring book on disasters.)

A friend of mine who owns a book shop once said, “anyone can write a book, it’s harder actually publish a book.” I had now done both. It was a bit bittersweet because my dad had been an English major and had always wanted to write a book and be published. Now, admittedly, he wanted to write fiction, which I think is far harder, and in his day, the idea of “print on demand” like what Apress tends to do, didn’t really exist.  And to be honest, at the end of the day, as Kathi warned me, if I was in it for the money, I’d be better off in terms of hours spent, getting a job at McDonald’s.

But, I digress. That book ended up being my first foray into actually getting paid to write.  As I mentioned in an earlier blog post I’ve now contributed to Red Gate’s Simple Talk program with my post on an Intro to PowerShell. And my second post has been submitted and accepted and hopefully is going up in a few weeks or so.

So, to say my first PASS event changed my live would probably be accurate.

Beyond that one session four years ago, I’ve attended many other sessions and learned a wealth of knowledge and leveraged that in my job and in finding speakers for my local SQL Server User Group which I now lead. One of my favorite speakers I had in the last year was Bob Ward who did a remote presentation for us about SQL Server on Linux. And this despite me being a Patriots fan and him being a *cough* Cowboys fan.

So again, I look forward to seeing a lot of my #sqlfamily out in Seattle next week. But I still won’t be doing karaoke, sorry Aunt Kathi!

But I also mentioned a second reason for visiting: my non-sqlfamily, what I might call my #rocfamily.  The Rensselaer Outing Club has a number of alumns who all live in the area and we’ve started a yearly tradition of getting together for take-out Thai food at the house I stay in. ROC in its own way changed my life, among other things, teaching me how to be a leader and an effective decision maker.

In addition to all my fellow ROCcers, there’s at least one from my days on sci.space.* on Usenet (where I can still be found btw) and a few other friends I’ve made over the years. I’m quite looking forward to seeing them all.

So see you all next week in Seattle!