What’s for Dinner?

“Food!” is my usual answer. Yes it’s my dad joke answer. I can’t help it.

The truth is, I generally don’t have a well planned menu in advance and sometimes what I plan on making for dinner will change after I step in the supermarket and something catches my eye. Sometimes I won’t even have an idea until I go into the supermarket. That said, I still have sort of a routine, one my family is familiar with and perhaps at times tired of. (That said, they still eat what I make, so I guess they’re not that tired of it).

  • Monday – Usually a chicken dish. Last night was Pad Thai (but I’ll let you in on a secret, the noodles were woefully underdone. I was afraid they’d turn to mush and took them out too early!)
  • Tuesday – Usually something centered around ground beef/turkey, tacos, sloppy joes or shaved steak for Philly Cheese steaks. I’m not sure about tonight’s dinner, but since I did tacos last week, I can guarantee it won’t be Taco Tuesday tonight. I don’t like repeats. 🙂
  • Wednesday – Up in the air. Sometimes a grilled sausage, onion and pepper on a bun.
  • Thursday – Often store bought ravioli or tortellini. They’re simple and quick.
  • Friday – I get more creative, often some crab cakes, maybe scallops, or something good.
  • Saturday – At least once a month, pizza with homemade crust (and occasionally homemade mozzarella).
  • Sunday – Take out. Previously 90%+ of the time it was Lee Lin, a Chinese food place I’ve been ordering from for decades (literally since college) but now we vary it up with other take out places.

So yeah If you happen to show up at my house (post-pandemic please) you’ve got an idea of what you’ll end up with depending on what night you show up. Maybe. I might change my mind.

I really enjoy cooking. I love the idea of creation and the idea of nourishing body and soul. I like the fact that food can bring joy to people.

During the time of Covid, there have been times when cooking has been a real drudgery, but other times I’ve really enjoyed it or had the chance to try new things. For example, like many Americans I’ve dabbled with making Sourdough.

Image is of  full loaf (on the left) and a half loaf of homemade sourdough bread.
Fresh Sourdough, an early attempt.
A roast beef sandwich with lettuce and tomato and mayo on a plate. In the background is a keyboard.
Roast Beef Sandwich with homemade sourdough bread!

Of course I mentioned pizzas?

An image of two pizzas from above, resting on a butcher block.
The one on the left is a pepperoni pizza. The one on the right is a white pizza with sundried tomatoes. 
Both have fresh basil from my garden on them.
Two sourdough pizzas with home grown herbs.
Image of two pizzas looking from above. On top of a butcher block.
Top one has fried onions, Granny Smith apple, bacon, sundried tomatoes.

Bottom one is white pizza with home made pesto.
Two more: the top is bacon, sundried tomato, Granny Smith Apple, fried onions! The bottom a white pizza with homemade pesto and some sundried tomatoes
“Breakfast Pizza” with cheddar cheese, bacon, black pepper and a pair of eggs cracked on top near the end.

For Thanksgiving I tried something new:

An experiment for Thanksgiving dessert - apple sharlotka. It was a success!
An experiment for Thanksgiving dessert – apple sharlotka. It was a success!

And of course one has to have sweets!

Gingersnap cookies
LOTS of sugar and carbs!
Bags of Christmas Cheer
A smattering of gingerbread men!
A smattering of gingerbread men!

But of course, the question is “what’s for dinner?

My French-Canadian grandmother’s recipe for baked kibbeh taught to her by her Lebanese mother-in-law. BTW, this is 1/2 the amount she’d normally make for family gatherings! This is over 3 lbs of meat plus bulgur wheat and onions! It’s a LOT of food and oh so delicious.
I actually bought my air fryer BEFORE the pandemic, but love it and use it a lot and find it makes great wings. (And the cinnamon cap has nothing to do with the wings.)
Air fried General Tso’s Chicken, finished in the pan. Thanks to #SQLFamily fellow DBA Rie Shewbart Merritt for the recipe!
Technically “Cottage Pie” because it’s made with beef instead of lamb, but still delicious, and one of Randi’s favorites!
A Friday dinner with steak and potato (and yes, I’m a heathen who likes a bit of ketchup with my steak, but that sauce is delicious too!)
Perogies that close family friend Christine Dzakowic Walsh had made, but fresh herbs from my garden.
Another Friday dinner. That’s my burger on the right, with the works, grilled onions, bacon, bleu cheese, lettuce, tomato, garlic-parm fries!
Can I interesting you in mini-beef wraps with mashed potatoes with a wine-sauce reduction? I think I got this one from close friend Sarah Lawrence.
Chorizo street tacos anyone?
Homemade Falafel and homemade hummus with a peanut sauce and veggies and homemade pita. I need to make this again soon I think.
Of course latkes are a must in this house come Hanukkah! (toss in some curry powder, trust me on that one!)
Homemade pasta with homemade pesto and Presto… delicious dinner!
My most recent experiment, homemade dumplings! Delicious but need some work!
Some homemade chili with yes.. sourdough bread!
Coquille St Jacques – delicious! My mom introduced me to this dish when I was about 10.

And besides dinner, there’s breakfast

French toast with lots of cinnamon!
Sourdough waffles with a variety of toppings (including homemade whipped cream!)
Sourdough pancakes!
Yes, I put ketchup on my eggs. Deal with it. And yes, that’s my initial. It’s my egg. I can do that!
My latest attempt at homemade bagels. I think I nailed it this time. More in the future!

Snacking is important too!

Homemade Pita (roll it very thing and place in a very hot oven!) with homemade Hummus!

Now, that’s not to say it’s all fun and games. Sometimes one does have to collect data on how to make things better. Recently I had been reading up on chocolate chip cookies (research of course) and learned that the original recipe called for letting the dough sit for 36 hours before baking. Now, I’m never one to take a detail like that at face value, so I had to of course experiment. I also decided to test the baking time for my white whole wheat chocolate chip cookies to see if 10 or 11 minutes was better.

Baked right after mixing
Baked after being chilled 24 hours
After being chilled 38 hours (I slept in that morning).

So, I think more research is necessary, but I would say that chilling does appear to help the flavor and I think initially 11 minute baking is better, but the next day, it’s hard to tell if it or the 10 minutes is better.

I probably have a dozen or so more pictures of various meals, but I think I’ll stop here. I’m getting hungry and it’s not even lunch time yet!

Seriously though, besides the biking and caving and other things to keep me busy, I’ve enjoyed cooking (most of the time) in the last year. I hope you enjoyed my trip through my kitchen in the last year. I’d love to see what you’ve been making or baking!

Food Experiments

There’s an old joke: “what’s the difference between a chef and a cook?”

“A cook cleans up kitchen when they’re done.” If that’s the definition, then I am definitely a cook, not a chef.

That’s ok, because I really do love to cook. There’s something creative and powerful about taking a bunch of ingredients and turning it into a meal that’s ideally nourishing and enjoyable. That said, sometimes I end up with meals that are more nourishing than they are enjoyable.

A recent Facebook exchange with a pair of #SQLFamily members and others reminded me of that. About once a month I will make homemade pizza. I’m a big fan of this since I can experiment with toppings. I generally use King Arthur Flour recipe (though somehow I was able to print mine by mass of ingredients, not volume) or, as in this past weekend the Sourdough version. For me, the way I knead it and let it rise, I’ll end up with a fairly fluffy crust, so if you want a thin crust, you’ll have to try something else.

Now, generally I end up making 2 pizzas (unless I’m in non-covid times baking for a larger group in which case I’ll double the recipe). Almost always one of those is a typical pepperoni pizza. If I’m feeling healthy, I’ll use the turkey pepperoni, but more often lately I’ve been using real pepperoni I’ll slice myself. I almost always use store bought mozzarella, but if I have the time and the motivation, I’ll make my own.

Two sourdough pizzas with home grown herbs.

The second pizza can vary. Above is a white pizza I made this summer with some basil from the garden.

But, why stop there? My personal favorite is a “Thai chicken” pizza with Thai seasoned chicken, peanut sauce, snow peas, and red onions.

Or one with bacon, sautéed onions, sliced Granny Smith Apple, and some sun-dried tomatoes. That has a nice mix of flavors. I think it’s my wife’s favorite and the favorite of a friend of mine.

Or cheddar cheese with bacon, black pepper and towards the end 1-2 eggs cracked over the top. I call this my breakfast pizza.

Or a BBQ pizza.

Or… well you get the idea. I like to get creative.

Some homemade pizza with a bit of sourdough mixed in.

But this weekend I wasn’t feeling particularly creative and decided to try something different. I had heard about folks who have air-fried pizzas, so I decided to take a crack at it. I took the 2nd half of the dough and divided it into 4ths and told each member of the family it was up to them to create their own pizza. I par-cooked the crusts a bit first in the air-fryer before they topped them. I also setup a “toppings bar” for them to pick from (nothing super creative this time though).

Now, let me stop by saying, no experiment is truly a failure. As a friend of mine who worked on the InSight Lander made a point of saying, even the fact that drill head got stuck and did not complete it’s original goal, we learned something about the soil of Mars.

While these were far from my best pizzas, I learned something about making them in the air-fryer. They came out a bit dryer than I might prefer, but I wasn’t really surprised, I did kind of expect that.

I still far prefer a really hot oven and pizza stone (huge hint: give the stone a good 30 minutes or more to come up to temp, otherwise it will actually end up insulating the bottom of your pizza and it won’t cook well). But, I’ll probably try again, perhaps with a moister dough and drizzling the edges with garlic butter or olive oil (hey, any excuse to use those, right?)

I’ve also bought some King Arthur 00 Pizza Flour and will start to experiment with that. My first attempt I made some mistakes, but I’m looking forward to another attempt, especially this summer when I can use fresh basil and tomatoes.

In the meantime, I’ll keep experimenting with the air-fryer.

Now, I will say, air-frying wings DOES work well and is my preferred method now. Still moist and very tasty, but far fewer calories and in theory a bit healthier.

I’ve determined getting decent steak fries isn’t worth it (too thick and bulky to get the inside cooked without overcooking the outside), but I’m honing in on getting pretty decent shoestring fries out of it.

And putting a final crisp on our veggie burritos is often quite pleasing.

In any event, before I get too hungry I’m going to stop now. But I’ll encourage everyone to experiment in the kitchen. It can be fun and who knows, you may even enjoy it!

2020 in Review

Yes, I’m joining the chorus of so many others who are publishing a lookback on the previous year. This has become a tradition for me. And I of course followed last year’s review with a preview for 2020. I made the obligatory dad joke then and I’ll make one now, that I can’t wait until 20/20 is truly hindsight!

2020 I think upset everyone’s goals, and mine were no different. But I figured I’d start with my goals from last year and then try to end on an actual up-note.

  • I had a goal of blogging at least once a week. I think I missed 1 this year, but a few weeks I blogged more than once, so, including this post, I will have 56 posts this year. Not to shabby. And my overall page count is up. So that’s good.
  • I vowed to write more for Red-Gate and I did. But not as much as I’d like. I do blame this partly on Covid. I lost some of my enthusiasm. But I am working on another article. I was hoping to have it done this week, but lost motivation. I did learn one of my articles there is one of their top read articles. I’m quite proud of that!
  • I did read more this past year, that’s for sure.
  • One goal I had was to keep speaking at more SQL Saturdays. Well, that didn’t quite go as planned. I did speak at the Albany event, but that was about it. This one I 100% blame on Covid. On the other hand, I finally attended the Portland Oregon SQL Saturday, albeit virtually.
  • Speak at SQL Summit: well I did achieve this one, sort of. It was virtual, but I was selected and that was a HUGE highlight. And in fact I ended up being part of two presentations, the 2nd a live one that I ended up doing from my car while waiting for something else. And my presentation on PowerShell for Beginners apparently was very popular. So, I can at least say I went out on a high note.
  • On one hand, we postponed our NCRC Weeklong Cave Rescue Seminar here in NY to 2021. On the other hand, I was able to work out a Modular Level 1 Seminar here in September, the first of its kind in my region ever. And we did it safely and effectively.
  • Started to use git on a far more regular basis, including from the command line (previously I had limited myself to the GUI in Visual Studio).
  • I did read more! – including:
    • The Power Broker, I biography of Robert Moses
    • Station Eleven, though in retrospect, reading a book about the world after a global pandemic was NOT a great way to start the year!

So, overall, I did accomplish a number of my goal. I had some generic ones that included caving more, biking more, and hiking more. More on those in a moment.

Overall, the year was a bummer in many ways. I really missed travelling. I really missed seeing friends and family (I think we saw my mom in person twice during the entire year). I missed my seeing my #SQLFamily in person. I missed my NCRC Family. I missed having our normal annual pool party.

I missed, normalcy.

But…

You know what, for me personally, 2020 was actually a year of some ups. I’ve been very fortunate and I was able to do things I had not done as much as in the past.

  • For one I accomplished my first overnight hike in perhaps over a decade, a nice 18 miles on the Appalachian Trail. Due to scheduling I couldn’t quite get in a 2nd hike that would have completed a gap in Massachusetts, but perhaps next year. I did find I needed some new equipment, which I purchased in anticipation for next year.
  • As for biking, I definitely did a LOT more this year. I biked over 1300 miles this year (I can’t recall the last time, if ever, I did as much) including my first century ride (100 miles in one day) since my senior year of high school. I’m really proud of that one. Who knows, maybe I’ll do another in 2021.
  • Despite a contentious election season, America voted the Orange One out.
  • Spent more time with my family! We did several walks around the area including some paths we had not explored in the 20+ years my wife and I have lived in the house.
  • I fixed the dryer that had been making a horrible rumbling sound for years.
  • I made a bunch of sourdough bread, pancakes, waffles and even a pizza crust or two. And I’m back to making sourdough again.
  • I finished binge-watching Haven, a quirky fun show based on a Stephen King story.
  • I rewatched (and for my family, they watched for the first time) the entire Prisoner series. Yes, everyone still wonders what the hell the final episode is still about.
  • We’re binge-watching Schitt$ Creek and wondering why we didn’t watch it sooner.

All in all, it was a very mixed year. It wasn’t a normal year in many ways and some of the normalcy, I really missed. But, on the flip side, I think it encouraged and in some cases forced me out of my comfort zone and to do things I might not have had time to do otherwise.

I can’t say it was a great year. While I’ve been fortunate and have not had anyone close to me succumb to Covid, I know too many people who have had friends and family die of it. So in that aspect, it’s been a terrible year. As of the latest count, over 342,000 have died in the US and yesterday set a new record in the US for daily deaths. At this rate, by the start of next week we’ll have over 350,000 deaths and predictions are of over another 80,000 in the next three weeks. PASS has been a side casualty of this too.

Too many lives have been impacted and effected and I don’t want to minimalize those.

But, I do want to highlight that even in a dark year, at least personally, I’ve been able to find some positive things to focus on. I hope others have too. Hopefully everyone reading this has at least one thing they can look back on and say, “Yeah, that was good” or “That’s a special memory, I won’t forget.”

And to quote Colonel Potter from MASH: “Here’s to the New Year. May she be a damn sight better than the old one, and may we all be home before she’s over.”

SQL Community

First, I want to thank Rie Irish for giving me cause to blog a second time this week. Normally this time would be sent writing up another article for Redgate (yes Kathi I’ve got one more in the works).

Second, I want to add, that up until now I had decided to refrain from writing about the fall of PASS. I knew eventually I probably would, but some good news last night has accelerated that process.

Last night Rie posted to Twitter an announcement about a new initiative by Microsoft to provide a space and tools for the former PASS User Groups. I was thrilled when I saw this and I’ll explain why.

In the past few days there has been a LOT of efforts put forth by various members of the #SQLFamily to create new spaces for the former members of PASS, both individually, and as groups. I’ll admit, I was both heartened by this, but also a little concerned. I was obviously heartened, because as I knew would happen, the members of #SQLFamily have stepped up and tried to fill various needs. This is a great volunteer community! I want to emphasis that. Even weeks ago when I had suggestions forwarded to me that PASS was about to close shop, I felt that the community would go on.

However, my concern was that it would fracture, that various little domains and fiefdoms would develop. Now, this may not necessarily be the worst thing that could happen. A decentralized community might actually be a good idea. For example if we separate the concept of Saturday events from User groups, that might spur innovation and might encourage new ideas to come forth. But, it might also inhibit things for folks who have organized both if they end up having to maintain two mailing lists, two sites, etc. So it’s a mixed bag. That said, if nothing else had happened, I’d take that over having the community completely falling apart.

And even if nothing else had happened, I know my User Group has speakers scheduled out through May of 2021 (and the only reason I haven’t scheduled beyond that is because I’m hoping by June to know if we can do in-person again and if so when). I know that Monica Rathbun has the Hampton Roads SQL Server User Group scheduled out through all of 2021. This is the case with a number of other User Groups. So, no matter what, User Groups would continue.

And there are still SQL Saturdays in the works, by that name or others. So, the community will continue.

But, as I said, my concern was the community might fracture into fiefdoms.

I think the announcement from Microsoft goes a LONG ways to allaying my fears. Yes, it’s just a press announcement with details to be worked out, but it has several things going for it. The biggest is the name behind it: Microsoft. Let’s be honest, the one thing the #SQLFamily has in common is we all work on the Microsoft Data Platform. So, to me, it makes sense that Microsoft be a central focus. Another is it appears this platform will end up providing a lot of the tools community leaders will need, and all in one place. These two facts should help keep the community from fracturing.

Now, I already know there is going to be one huge objection from some: “But it’s Microsoft, they can dictate what we do! We want something independent like PASS was!”

Well, first let me point out, for all its independence, PASS is no more. So independence is no guarantee of perpetual success.

Secondly, please read the release with an open mind. It’s NOT an attempt to recreate PASS. There’s no talk of a Board of Directors, there’s no talk of a main event. It’s very clear, at this stage what it is: a set of centralized resources to sustain the community. Additionally I’ve spoken further with Rie that has given me further confidence in the plan. We will see more over time how the winds blow, but I am comfortable recommending moving forward with this path. And you know what, if it turns out the Microsoft suddenly wants to take things in another direction, #SQLFamily will again do what it needs to for its members.

So, this is NOT “PASS Version II”. It doesn’t attempt to be. Perhaps PASS Version II will come to pass someday. I sort of hope it does. I look forward to another Summit. But for now, I think this is an excellent step forward. I will end by pulling a quote from the release:

Although Microsoft built SQL Server, it’s clear that the passion and dedication from each of you is what makes it thrive.

And I think this is as true today as it was 2 weeks ago.

Twas the Night Before Deploy

Twas the night before deploy, when all through the server,
not a script was running, not with any ferver

The queries were pushed to github with care,
in hopes that St. Deployment would soon be there;

The devs were all sitting at home on couches,
while visions of good deploys proved they were no slouches;

And Mindy in her ‘cubicle and I in my car,
Had just submitted our Java in one big jar;

When out on the floor there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my seat to see what was the matter;

Away to windows I flew with a dash,
Tore open the login only to see the OS crash.

The icon on the desktop of was blinking just so,
gave a lustre of failure to the objects below;

When what to my wonderings eyes should appear,
But a minutia of code and eight tiny beer,
With a developer so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be my buddy Nick.

More rapid than eagles his fingers they flew,
and I knew more #SQLFamily was due,
Now Rie, Now Kathie, now Andy, now Hamish,
On Fritchey, on, Argenis, on Deborah, and on Klee!

To the top of the script, to the top of the code!
Now code away, code away, code away mode!

As leaves before the hurricane they fly,
When they met a debug, threw it to the sky;

So up to the keyboards the coders they flew
With their brains full of tips, and my buddy Nick too;

And then in a twinkle, I heard on the floor,
the opening and closing of every door.

As I drew in my head and was turning around,
Down the aisle my buddy Nick came with a bound.

He was dressed all in schwag, from his head to his feet,
And all his clothes were from Summit and Pass to beat;


A bundle of con gear he had to tell you the truth,
And he looked like a vendor just opening his booth.

His eyes — how they twinkled, his demos how merry,
His patter, purple prosy, his pitch too cheery!

His droll little cube was a certain new low,
And it was clear he would not win best in show;

The stump of a pen he held tight in his teeth,
and the ink circled the printout like a wreath;

He was chubby and plump, right jolly old dev,
I laughed when I saw him, as the code did rev;

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
finding all the bugs in my code, making me feel quiet the jerk;

And laying his finger aside of his nose,
and giving a node, up the aisle he rose;

He sprang from his cube, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew, quite like a missile;

But I heard him exclaim here he flew from action
Remember parametrize your queries, and to all a good closed Transaction!

– With apologies to Clement Moore (to whom I have no known translation) who apparently wrote the original (and much better) version just a few miles from where I currently sit.

From Wikipedia: The poem was first published anonymously in the Troy, New York Sentinel on 23 December 1823, having been sent there by a friend of Moore,[1] and was reprinted frequently thereafter with no name attached. It was first attributed in print to Moore in 1837.

Partly decorated tree with presents under





Has PASS Passed? Does it Really Matter?

The last week or two of the Twittersphere and blogosphere has left me unsettled. Three members of the PASS Board have resigned in protest: Hamish Watson, Melody Zacharias, Mindy Curnutt. These are three people I’ve had the honor of working with and in Hamish’s case, even sharing the stage (albeit virtual) with. They’re great, hard-working, dedicted people. Rumors are that the Board is consulting with lawyers, presumably to see what is required for an orderly and legal dissolution of PASS as we know it.

Yesterday, a friend posted on my Facebook timeline that she hoped to see me again in a year when I came back out to Seattle for Summit. I had to say, it wasn’t clear there would be a Summit next year.

These things sadden me. Winter, at least here in the Northern Hemisphere is a time of literal darkness, but the situation with PASS, on top of our time of Covid and our bitter partisan divide brings darkness to other parts of my life.

But, I’m reminded of the good things too. Sitting on my kitchen butcherblock are 6 bags of cookies, plus a pile more for ourselves. Tonight is the 6th night of Hanukkah, where again my family and I will gather to light candles to remind ourselves of hope and joy among a dark time millennia ago when evil was vanquished. In a few days, Jupiter and Saturn will be in conjunction and create a single bright “star”. This will happen on the darkest, longest night of the year and then light will start to return and a new year will begin. A vaccine is out and being distributed and hope for 2021 builds.

And last night, I was reminded that PASS itself may be an organization, and I don’t know its future but an organization is made up of the people in it. It’s more than just the founding papers and bylaws and NDAs. To quote Shakespeare, “O brave new world, that has such people in it!”

What exactly do I mean? Well in more normal years, last night would have been our holiday party for the Capital Area SQL Server User Group. This means we would have gathered at a local restaurant, in person and shared stories and memories over food and drink. Months ago it became apparent that this could not happen this year. I struggled with several ideas to do instead. For one, we could have cancelled, but that just seemed too depressing. I could have found yet another remote speaker, but that just seemed boring. I can’t recall exactly where the idea came from, but I decided to do a version of “3 Truths and a Lie”. It turned out to be 4 Truths and a Lie. For those who aren’t familiar with the idea, or who do not listen to NPRs “Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me” which has a version they call “Bluff the Listener”, the idea is some number of people (in my case 4) tell a true story, perhaps a bit outlandish. One additional person tells a lie. The others in the group then cast their votes for whose story is made-up. It can be quite fun.

I struggled a bit with who to ask to be guest speakers. I wanted folks that I knew could tell a good tale and that had probably some quite unusual stories. So I reached out and very quickly got back positive responses from everyone I asked. THIS is the #SQLFamily I’ve grown to know and love, always willing to help out and if it involves a good story, all the better. One of them, David Klee was positively giddy with excitement. And then it happened: several of the others had to drop out for personal reasons. They all reached out to me and apologized for having to drop out. I understood. Life happens and I know none of them did so without some anguish. But fear not, I had others to ask and other contacts of mine helped suggest names. Originally I was going to go with 4 total story tellers, but because time was now short, I reached out to at least one extra person to ensure if someone said no, I’d still have enough folks. Amazingly, all the folks I asked said yes. Now I had a total of 5 and that was fine, I decided to run with it. So, besides David, I ended up with Kellyn Pot’Vin-Gorman, Ed Leighton-Dick, Rick Lowe, and Amy Herold all weaving tales; of upgrades that included a Cheshire cat, the coworker who thought you had to sit and watch SQL jobs run to completion before going home, a trigger that would routinely update 63,000 rows, JBwelding USB ports in the name of security, and upgrading a server to something 31% slower for the low low cost of only $4M.

Unfortunately, the actual turnout for my group, despite the sign-ups on Meetup, was about 1/2 of what I had expected, but everyone had a great time. Surprisingly, no one guessed which of the above stories was made up (and I’m not giving it away). But we had plenty of prizes so everyone will be going away with something.

The one thing I went away with, was the confirmation that while I have no idea what the future of PASS is (ok, I have some thoughts, perhaps for another time), I do know that it’s far more than just the organization, it’s really the people, the demonyms of PASS that are the #SQLFamily I’ve come to know and love. In this season of darkness, knowing that there are such people out there fills me with hope.

So thanks to the folks named above and to all my other #SQLFamily members, and fellow CASSUG folks, including Ed Pollack and Ray Kim for your help over the past year.

One a finale note: for my birthday this year, I’ve added a link on my Facebook page to the local foodbank. I already exceeded two early goals and have added a third, stretch goal. Watching a segment on hunger and food drives on The Today Show this morning I am again reminded of how much I have and how lucky my family is. I would ask, if you can, donate, either to your local food bank, to the link on my Facebook page or to a charity of your choice.

Thank you and to all, a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, and happy holidays for other holidays that you may celebrate.

The Song is Over

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

First Impressions

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

My Sessions

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

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

Multitasking at Summit for the win!

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

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

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

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

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

Other Sessions and Events

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

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

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

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

So That Was Summit

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

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

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

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

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

Finally

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

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

Almost There

The important election season is here. No, I’m not a week off or 4 years ahead of my time. I’m not talking about the recent US election, I’m talking about one that is upon us in PASS.

In the past few weeks I’ve blogged about my speaker preparation timelines here and here. Tomorrow morning, the pedal hits the metal and I’m doing a live panel discussion on PowerShell with some great panelists. And then in the afternoon my pre-recorded session on PowerShell for DBA Beginners will be broadcast with me doing a live Q&A afterwards. I hope you can join me for both.

Over the past few months I’ve been promoting the SQL PASS Virtual Summit. I’ve tried to get as many folks to sign up as I can, but honestly, I’m not sure I made much of a difference. Most of the folks I know had already made up their minds. But I didn’t stop. I even was promoting it at my User Group last night. And I’ll say now, it’s still not too late to sign up if you want.

I truly do think that PASS Summit is one of the great things our community does.

But…

Yes, there had to be a but here. I’m not happy, and from the blogs, tweets, and private comments about I’ve heard, neither are a lot of a other people. We have to be honest. COVID and going virtual has hurt PASS in several ways, but very much financially. There may not BE a PASS in the future if things don’t change. Some folks want to put the blame at the feet of C&C, the organization PASS pays to manage its daily affairs. Others put their blame elsewhere. There are many recriminations and attempts at casting blame. I don’t want to dwell on that, other than to say often I think it’s misplaced and can be hurtful.

Let me start by saying that I don’t think anyone, on the board, at C&C, or otherwise is acting in bad faith or ill will. I know many of the people involved and I truly think they’re good people who mean well.

But, that said, I think things have to change. Initially I thought about running for the board, but honestly, didn’t have the time to do the research and background gathering I wanted to before I could submit my application to the nomination committee. I reached out to several of my peers and colleagues for their thoughts and received a lot of useful feedback. But the long and short is, I’m not running. Perhaps next year. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t help effect change. Nor does it mean you can’t either.

We can effect change by voting for who we want on the PASS Board for next year. The list is here at the bottom. Steve Jones also has a quick blog listing them and other links. Rather than reproduce what he wrote, use the link above.

Just like in the US elections, I think it behooves oneself to participate as fully as possible and that means doing your research on candidates and actually voting. I’m not going to make recommendations here. In part because I still have to do the first part and do more research. But I can say this much, though I’m not running this year, I am certainly voting this year. PASS is very valuable to me and I want to see it be the best organization it can be and to do that, I think it needs to change and I hope to see it change for the better.

So, I’ve promoted Summit, I’ve prepared my presentations, I’ve kept my User Group informed. And shortly I will do the last bit for this year, and vote. I hope you do to next year.

And in closing, I’m going to steal a line generally said at Passover: Next year in Seattle! In the original it’s a call for hope to meet again in Jerusalem and in that spirit I truly hope to be among my friends and family next year in person, be it Seattle, Houston, or another city.

Speaker’s Timeline Part II

This is a follow-up to my first part. But before I dig into it, I want to thank all the readers who check in on my post last week. I had the best week ever in blogging. And I’ll admit, while my ego was pleased with the numbers, I think what really warmed me heart was the number of my fellow #SQLFamily members who retweeted, shared, or gave positive comments about it. Thanks.

So, back to my speaking timeline. On November 11th I’m giving my presentation on PowerShell for DBA Beginners at 2:00 PM EST. I’d be thrilled if you joined me.

So, last time I wrote about this, I had ended with what my next steps would be.

October 20th around 10:00 PM EDT

Upload final version of slide deck. Yes, I could probably improve upon it (and looking back now, there’s 1-2 slides I’d probably like to fix, but oh well).

October 20th – 10:44 PM EDT

Confirmation email: slides were received. Excellent!

October 21st – Midday

One more run through. Basically nail it at right around 0:58. But now really worried, what happens if I finish early before the live Q&A? Will there be 2 minutes of dead air?

October 22nd-24th

Do nothing. I deserve a break. Right? Right?

October 25th – Late Afternoon

Record my presentation with Zoom. It’s acceptable, but I made a mistake or two. Worst case, if I run out of time, I can use this, but honestly, I want a redo. But, like a good dba, I basically have a contingency plan in place in case I don’t get time to do a redo.

October 26th – Morning

Decide to use OBS to record, in part so I can include a window of me talking. I think it’ll be a bit more personal and interactive than simply having slides and a demo with a faceless voice talking.

October 26th – Morning 30 minutes later

What was I thinking? Why go through all this trouble. This is more work than I want to deal with today.

October 26th – Morning 45 minutes later

Ok, this just might work! I’ve figured out how to get the overlay the way I want, but gave up on green-screening me against a background, but that’s ok because the thumbnail video is small enough my background is not distracting.

October 26th – Morning 1:00:08 later

This recording is nearly perfect. I think it ran over by about 8 seconds, but if they cut that, it won’t hurt anything. Honestly, I’d ilke one more try, but I can’t stand the thought of listening to my own voice one more time.

October 26th – Late afternoon

Wait until the kids are done with school Zooms and my wife has no more meetings to start the upload.

October 26th – an hour later

Hmm, seems stuck. Do I wait or start over?

October 27th – an hour and 5 minutes later

PASS Virtual Summit 2020 – ‘Upload Video’ Upload Confirmation email arrives.

Excellent!

October 27th – an hour and 6 minutes later

Tweet about it!

Since Then

Several of my #SQLFamily members admit, some publicly, some in private that they missed the deadlines or at least feel better that they’re running as late as me. I feel for them and I’m glad that my timeline and tweets made them feel better about their own timelines.

Up until I had finally submitted my video, I had put off watching any other presenters talk about PowerShell. But now that I’ve submitted my video, I’ve decided to relax that rule and watch at least one other presentation on an introduction to PowerShell and start to think, “why didn’t I bring that up? Hmm, he’s got a good point there. Hmm, I should have covered that.” I start to have doubts about whether my presentation will hit the mark. But fortunately, upon further reflection I realize the other presenter took a different tack than I did and mine has a focus he doesn’t. Someone watching both will actually get useful information from each of these. Now I’m feeling better. In fact, feeling great because I think this is the way it should be, multiple paths to the same end point that can broaden your horizons. And given the time limitations there’s only so much any presenter can cover in a limited amount of time.

That said, I realize that Rob Sewell is doing a full-day pre-con called Introduction to PowerShell. I’m curious what he’ll cover and both am jealous he has a full-day to do this and thankful I didn’t have to come up with a full-day’s worth of slides and scripts! That said, I know this will be a great one, so highly recommend you attend. I’ve seen Rob present at lest once before and it was great.

October 28th – 6:40 PM EDT

Get an email from Audrey at Pass Summit asking if I want to be part of a part of a live Q&A panel with Rob Sewell, Hamish Watson, Brandon Leach, and Ben Miller at 8:00 AM on the 11th. I have to think about this? There’s some big names on that panel and they want lil’ ol’ me?

October 28th – 6:41 PM EDT

Reply, “Hell yeah!”

October 29th – Over the course of the day

Folks at PASS realize the world is round and that we all live in different timezones and 8:00 AM may not be the best time for folks living Down-Under. Of course their first suggestion for a new time is even worse. Finally Hamish steps in, declares the entire world is in the Hamish Time Zone and that the original time is fine and he’ll let FutureHamish deal with the lack of sleep. Fair enough!

October 31st – Morning

My wife reminds me I’ll be out of the house at 8:00 AM on the 11th. I start to panic, but decide, “I can do it from the car with my cell phone.” So this is going to happen!

November 2nd – 2:00 PM

Tech check with Zoom and all to make sure things will work for next week. Learn a little more about how the recorded session will work. Still nervous for the “live from the car” presentation, but do the tech with the cell phone as my uplink and it works.

It’s getting real.

Today – November 3rd

It’s election day and just over a week from my presentations. I’m excited. I’ve made it clear to work I won’t be available at all on the 11th and not much on the other days. This is going to be a summit unlike any other. I’ going to have to remind myself to actually “attend” it.

And now, finish up a few things and go vote.

I’m voting today for my kids and my friends and my family, blood or chosen. I’ll be voting for the future and for hope.

Voting and Apple Pie – Two American Traditions!

What’s My Lane?

Yesterday a fellow #SQLFamily member, Brent Ozar tweeted about how someone objected to some content in his latest email he sends out to subscribers. Based on the response, I’m guessing it was this email.

Now, let me back up and in full disclosure say I’ve met Brent once or twice, sat in on a SQLSaturday session of his and one User Group meeting where he presented, but don’t know him well. We’ve never sat down and had a beer or discussed DBA topics together. And, in fairness, my blog on a good day probably gets 1/1000th the reads his blog will get on a bad day. He’s what some might call “a big name” in the industry. He’s an expert on SQL Server and well worth reading for that reason alone. I can’t guess how many people read his blog or newsletter, but I can say it has influence.

And so, someone felt that him writing about something other than how to build an index, or why not to use an update in a trigger was him straying from his lane and he should stick with data related topics. He’s already responded in some tweets and I presume elsewhere but I figured it was a good topic for me to blog about.

As long-time readers know, I don’t write just about SQL or PowerShell, but I also write about cave rescue or marshmallows or Safety (one of my more popular pages strangely). In other words I have an eclectic array of topics. But I also have some themes and I’ve written about (not) being an ally, or gender factors in giving blood. There are others, but the general point is I sometimes also write about social issues I think that are important. I think I’d be hard pressed to say what my lane is here; perhaps it’s more like a curvy mountain road?

But let’s go back to the person who told Brent he should stay in his lane. What lane did that reader refer to? I’m presuming it’s a narrow lane of “topics related to databases”. But, I think that person is wrong and I fully support Brent’s “straying from his lane.” Why? Because of power and privilege.

I’m going to go out on a limb (though I suspect it’s not a very far one) and state that I suspect Brent and I share much of the same privileges simply by being born the gender we are and skin color we have. There are other aspects we probably share.

These innate privileges give us power. And sometimes we are consciously aware of that power and other times unconsciously blind to it. Having the power and privilege itself isn’t an issue. It’s how it’s used that is important.

For example, all too often, I forget that I’m more likely to be taken seriously when I talk about a technical topic than some of my fellow DBAs, simply because of my gender and/or skin color. I can be unconscious to that power and privilege or I can work to be conscious of it. And by being conscious I can try to improve the situation for my fellow DBAs who don’t have my innate privileges.

I can be ignorant of that fact that no one questions my marriage and be oblivious to how some had to wait for the Supreme Court to recognize the validity of their love for their partners. Or, I can be aware of that and support my LGBTQI brethren in being allowed to live with who they choose and to marry them if I wish. This shapes my political opinions and who I will vote for. For example, I won’t vote for someone that I think will act to take away same sex marriage or will enact legislation that hurts such folks.

But there’s also more conscious forms of power. Simply being aware is not enough. Making room for others to be heard is a positive use of power. This is what Brent did and I fully support it. But, he didn’t simply make room, he provided the metaphorical microphone and the loudspeakers. If you didn’t look at the link above, look now. You’ll note that Brent didn’t write the email in question, but rather he gave space to a fellow DBA, Andy Mallon. This wasn’t an accident, this wasn’t Brent being lazy and not wanting to write an email, this was a conscious choice. This is using his power as a well known DBA and “big name in the industry” as well as his privileges to give a voice to others. (Please note, Andy’s a friend of mine, I’ve spoken with him at SQL Saturdays and he’s no slouch, but as far as I know he doesn’t have the audience that Brent has.)

I can support that use of power and if it’s “straying from his lane” so be it!

That said, as I wrote in my article in giving blood, as DBAs, we can NOT simply divorce ourselves from social issues. It’s not as simple as “well I just write SELECT statements and create tables.” The very data we record encodes social standards. When we make gender a bit field, we’re enshrining a very binary view of gender that does not reflect the lived lives of those around us. When we make fields that say Husband or Wife, rather than Spouse 1/Spouse 2, we are saying that only a certain form of marriage is valid (And for that matter, why stop at Spouse 2, why not make it a separate table for the day when someone walks in and claims to have more than one spouse.)

In other words, even if Brent had never strayed from writing about SQL Server, his lane would properly include social issues. Data isn’t nor should it be completely separate from social issues.

And I’ll toss out a few URLs here:

P.S. for those who read my post last week, I’m happy to say I got my slide deck and recording uploaded for presentation at PASS Virtual Summit 2020: PowerShell for DBA Beginners! So join me on Nov 11th at 2:00 PM! And use code LGDISIIK3 and save $50!