Summit Recap

As many of my readers know, last week was the 2021 PASS Data Community Summit hosted by Redgate. In the past I would have travelled to Seattle to attend in person. Last year, due to Covid the Summit became a virtual event. I was a bit disappointed since I had finally been selected to present and was looking forward to doing so in person. I ended up presenting virtually. That alone would have been disappointing enough, but there were other issues and basically the underlying structure that supported PASS and its structure went belly-up and declared bankruptcy.

More Thoughts on Last Year’s Summit

My recap last year was positive but I have to be honest now. I was certainly trying to put a good spin on things. The truth is, I was more frustrated than I originally let on. I’m still not only grossly disappointed by the poor closed-captioning, I’m still a bit offended. I’m as guilty as anyone for probably not being inclusive enough when it comes to things like color-blindness, difficulty of hearing, etc, but to know that the organization had weeks to get good closed-captioning done, and didn’t still offends me.

I was also extremely insulted when weeks before the Summit, User Group leaders were asked to pony up money to attend. A benefit of doing the work of leading a User Group has traditionally been a free ticket to Summit. To have that change weeks or just a few months before Summit, especially one that was going virtual definitely felt like a bait and switch.

This and some behind the scenes factors in regards to PASS had left a bitter taste in my mouth. Then of course we finally got word that PASS as an organization was no more.

There were wails of anguish, and rending of garments, and wearing of sackcloth. (ok, I may be overdramatizing a bit). But I was hopeful. As I stated then, PASS really is the community. It’s the people. And they’re some of the best people I’ve known professionally: #sqlfamily.

This Year’s Summit

So, on to Summit this year. Within months of the demise of the former structure, Redgate announced it was buying the intellectual property associated with PASS. Microsoft in the meantime was rolling out tools to help the user groups. Steve Jones was working on SQL Saturday. Things were looking good. I was hopeful.

Redgate announced the Pass Data Community Summit would happen, albeit virtually. I was excited and looking forward to it. That said, I’ll admit I did not put in to speak this year. I just didn’t have the motivation. This was a mark on me, not on Redgate’s efforts. Redgate also announced that while the precons would cost money, the Summit itself would be free. Last year there was a lot of discussion about charging for a virtual summit and while I defended the concept a bit, because there are still enormous costs associated, I also was not a fan of it, because I knew it would be a hard sell to managers. I think I was proven right there. The very preliminary numbers I heard for attendance this year appear to have FAR outpaced the numbers for last year. I think that’s a good sign.

So, enough rambling, what about Summit this year?

First two criticisms

I common complaint, and one I knew I was guilty of, was it was unclear that for many sessions one was supposed to watch the recorded session first and then attend what was essentially a live Q&A. I know for the first presentation I attended on Wednesday, even the presenter, who was in the Q&A was confused by this. I’ll admit, I never did figure out how to watch the recorded sessions beforehand.

The second was, I didn’t discover the Spatial.Chat system until the 2nd day, and that was only because I am a Friend of Redgate had received a specific email inviting me to a private chat.

Now, partly, I will put the blame for the above two criticisms squarely on myself for probably not reading the emails in enough detail. But, it does seem others had the same issue and perhaps more succinct, clear links or emails might have helped. I honestly don’t know.

The Positives

That said, despite the above criticisms, I really enjoyed Summit and in a huge part because once I learned about the Spatial.chat system and how to use it, I for the first time, felt like I was in a virtual space that closely mimicked real life. The idea of being able to move closer to people to hear them better, or to move away if I wanted to focus on some work but still be “part of the crowd” worked REALLY well. Trying to translate a physical presence into a virtual one is often tough, but I think the Spatial.Chat stuff worked really well. I found myself hanging out there more than anything else.

Since I never did figure out how to watch recorded stuff before the live Q&A, I focused on the actually live sessions and they did NOT disappoint. As usual, while folks talk about how great the social atmosphere is at Summit, the truth is we tell our bosses we go for the technical content and it was topnotch as expected. Once again great content!

I also really enjoyed the Keynotes this year. I’ll admit, because of jetlag and because I’m often up late talking with the college friends whose house I crash at while in Seattle, I am often late to the keynotes (if I make it at all) and sometimes doze off in the large, warm dark room. This year, none of that happened. I was entertained and really enjoyed them. I especially enjoyed Brent Ozar‘s Keynote on Friday and the impact of the Cloud on ones career.

I think this year’s Summit overall felt more positive for a number of reasons. For one, I think many of us are finally hoping to see a light at the end of the Covid Tunnel. For another, I think most of us are far more hopeful about the overall #SQLFamily community and future PASS Summits than we were a year ago. Finally, I think we just all felt the need to socialize again, albeit it virtually.

Redgate has already announced next year’s summit will be in Seattle again next year, but will be a hybrid event. I will be very curious to see how that works, but I can tell you right now I’m already budgeting to attend in person.

  • End note: I am a Friend of Redgate and write for their Simple-Talk blog. That said, in this case Redgate isn’t paying for my thoughts and my thoughts are my own.

Impact and Legacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feeling Older

This is probably far from the last time I’m going to write on the subject, and certainly not as in depth as I plan to someday, but this past week made me feel past my prime.

While in many ways I believe age is just a number, the truth is, it does change us. While I am still very active, such as biking a century ride last year, still caving and teaching cave rescue, the reality is, the body and mind are slowing.

I’ve been working with SQL Server in one form or another since 4.21. I’ve spoken at PASS Summit, I’ve presented at more SQL Saturdays and User Groups than I can remember. I’ve published a book and numerous Red Gate articles and I’ve mentored more than a few people over the decades. I’ve worked at two start-ups (not counting mergers and acquisitions) and been a consultant before, between and after those gigs.

So I think I can safely say I’m comfortable with my credentials.

That said, the past week really made me consider if it was time to hang up my cap, or at least change caps again. I won’t go into details, other than to say a particularly stressful project for one of my clients reached a major milestone. I’m actually just one small cog in a much bigger piece of the project, but it’s a fairly important cog. And, it had issues. Now, I’ll put on my shoulders that a bit was due to issues with my code and some assumptions I had made. Most of the issues actually stemmed at a far higher level and with another consultant agency working on the project. Let’s just say that GIGO still thrives. But some of it I realized was, I was slightly off my game, and I think a bit of brain fog was involved. I don’t know if that was age related, simply a result of being cooped up for well over the last year due to Covid or what.

Regardless, the culmination of all that and other issues, some personal, started to come to a head. By Friday I was seriously wondering how much more I had left in the tank, physically and mentally.

Today I will admit I’m in a better place. The last major piece of code I needed to get working finally succeeded in production last night and the GIGO problems seem to be disappearing.

But that was after a long weekend of introspection about where I’m headed. I am at that age where retirement is no longer some far off nebulous goal, but an actual reality I have to consider. I’ve always known I’ll probably never truly retire; I do enjoy being busy and working too much. However, I have for several years now done the delicate balance between making sure I hit certain target goals for income and actually enjoying my work. Last week that balance was way off. I need to get it back.

This is my long-winded way of saying that for the first time in years, I’m honestly not sure what I’ll be doing a year from now. Perhaps I’ll still be consulting in my current form and enjoying it. Perhaps I’ll go back to a full-time 9-5 gig; I have come to realize, I deeply miss the management side of work. For my two stints as a full-time employee I was a manager and honestly, I loved that. I miss it. Perhaps I’ll be consulting in a very different way going forward. Maybe I’ll invest in real-estate. Perhaps become a vagabond teaching cave rescue across the country (this last one is not as far fetched as it sounds, I am planning on teaching at least 2 if not 3 different classes next year.)

But I think change is coming again. It’s the season.

Updating My Avatar

A want to thank in part, fellow DBA, Cathrine Wilhelmsen for the topic today. She posted a tweet this morning asking we all look like our Twitter profile pictures when we meet again at in-person events. I replied that I wasn’t sure I was ready to shave my beard. So, instead, in the meantime, I updated my avatar on Twitter photo to my latest headshot, which does include a beard. I figure I can always shave it and update my photo later.

I was at a loss for a topic today until that tweet came in and then a request from Adam Hafner came in reminding me to send him an updated bio for my upcoming talk at his User Group in Sioux Falls later this month.

Between these two events, it was another reminder of how much as changed in the last 18 or so months and how much will change again in the next 18 months. For example, I signed up to do an in-person User Group presentation next May for the Hampton Roads SQL Server User Group.

The beard is perhaps my most obvious change. But I’ve also come to realize how much I miss my #SQLFamily. I’ve been fortunate in the past 18 months to teach two in-person cave rescue classes and still avoid Covid. And yet, I missed travelling. I miss getting out. Last month my wife and I drove our out to Buffalo to help my son move into his apartment for his final semester of college. That’s the furthest I’ve been from home in 18 months. Other than teaching the cave rescue courses about 30 miles away, I don’t think I’ve slept under another roof in all that time. This is unusual for me.

I had even stopped doing remote SQL presentations. My writing for Redgate dropped off (though I just had a new article published, check it out here!)

But, that’s all starting to slowly change. I can feel the winds shifting and I think next year will be a great year for travel and I’m excited about it.

And, I may or may not have a beard. Hopefully you’ll recognize me. And I hope I recognize you.

Take 5 Minutes

This weekend I had the pleasure of moderating Brandon Leach‘s session at Data Saturday Southwest. The topic was “A DBA’s Guide to the Proper Handling of Corruption”. There were some great takeaways and if you get a chance, I recommend you catch it the next time he presents it.

But there was one thing that stood out that he mentioned that I wanted to write about: taking 5 minutes in an emergency. The idea is that sometimes the best thing you can do in an emergency is take 5 minutes. Doing this can save a lot of time and effort down the road.

Now, obviously, there are times when you can’t take 5 minutes. If you’re in an airplane and you lose both engines on takeoff while departing La Guardia, you don’t have 5 minutes. If your office is on fire, I would not suggest taking 5 minutes before deciding to leave the building. But other than the immediate life-threatening emergencies, I’m a huge fan of taking 5 minutes. Or as I’ve put it, “make yourself a cup of tea.” (note I don’t drink tea!) Or have a cookie!

Years ago, when the web was young (and I was younger) I wrote sort of a first-aid quiz web-page. Nothing fancy or formal, just a bunch of questions with hyperlinks to the bottom. It was self-graded. I don’t recall the exact wording of one of the questions but it was something along the lines of “You’re hiking and someone stumbles and breaks their leg, how long should you wait before you run off to get help.” The answer was basically “after you make some tea.”

This came about after hearing a talk from Dr. Frank Hubbell, the founder of SOLO talk about an incident in the White Mountains of New Hampshire where the leader of a Boy Scout troop passed out during breakfast. Immediately two scouts started to run down the trail to get help. While doing so, one slipped and fell off a bridge and broke his leg. Turns out the leader simply had passed out from low blood sugar and once he woke up and had some breakfast was fine. The pour scout with the broken leg though wasn’t quite so fine. If they had waited 5 minutes, the outcome would have been different.

The above is an example of what some call “Go Fever”. Our adrenaline starts pumping and we feel like we have to do something. Sitting still can feel very unnatural. This can happen even when we know rationally it’s NOT an emergency. Years ago during a mock cave rescue training exercise, a student was so pumped up that he started to back up and ran his car into another student’s motorcycle. There was zero reason to rush, and yet he had let go fever hit him.

Taking the extra 5 minutes has a number of benefits. It gives you the opportunity to catch your breath and organize the thoughts in your head. It gives you time to collect more data. It also sometimes gives the situation itself time to resolve.

But, and Brandon touched upon this a bit, and I’ve talked about it in my own talk “Who’s Flying the Plane”, often for this, you need strong support from management. Management obviously wants problems fixed, as quickly as possible. This often means management puts pressure on us IT folks to jump into action. This can lead to bad outcomes. I once had a manager who told my team (without me realizing it at the time) to reboot a SQL Server because it was acting very slowly. This was while I was in the middle of remotely trying to diagnosis it. Not only did this not solve the problem, it made things worse because a rebooting server is exactly 100% not responsive, but even when it comes up, it has to load a lot of pages into cache and will have a slow response after reboot. And in this case, as I was pretty sure would happen, the reboot didn’t solve the problem (we were hitting a flaw in our code that was resulting in huge table scans). While non-fatal, taking an extra 5 minutes would have eliminated that outage and gotten us that much closer to solving the problem.

Brandon also gave a great example of a corrupted index and how easy it can be to solve. If your boss is pressuring you for a solution NOW and you don’t have the opportunity to take those 5 minutes, you might make a poor decision that leads to a larger issue.

My take away for today is three fold:

  1. Be prepared to take 5 minutes in an emergency
  2. Take 5 minutes today, to talk to your manager about taking 5 minutes in an emergency. Let them know NOW that you plan on taking those 5 minutes to calm down, regroup, maybe discuss with others what’s going on and THEN you will respond. This isn’t you being a slacker or ignoring the impact on the business, but you being proactive to ensure you don’t make a hasty decision that has a larger impact. It’s far easier to have this conversation today, than in the middle of a crisis.
  3. If you’re a manager, tell your reports, that you expect them to take 5 minutes in an emergency.

Changing Technologies – T-SQL Tuesday

Select <columns> from Some_Table where Condition=’Some Value’

T-SQL Tuesday Topic

The above statement is pretty much the basis of what started my current career. Of course it actually goes back further than that. I have a Computer Science Degree from RPI. So I’ve done programming, learned hardware and more. I even took an Intro to Databases course while at RPI. I still recall the professor talking about IBM and something called Structured Query Language. The book had a line that went something like “while not the most popular database technology, its use may grow in the future.” Boy did it.

When I first started working with SQL Server, it was 4.21 and for a startup. I had a lot to learn. Back then, a lot was by experience. Sometimes I made mistakes. But I learned.

When I started at that startup, if one could write basic queries and backup and restore a database, one was a half-way decent DBA. Knowing how to tune indices was a definite bonus, as was knowing things like how to set up log-shipping and replication.

Back then, besides experience, I learned new stuff two ways: SQL Server Magazine and the SQL Connections conference. Work paid for both. It was worth it. But honestly, there wasn’t too much to learn. But there also weren’t as nearly as many resources as there were today.

Fast forward 30+ years and here I’ve written a book, worked for several startups, regularly write about databases and database related topics, and often presented at User Groups, SQL Saturdays and at the now defunct PASS Summit. Today as a consultant I regularly touch the SQL Server Query Engine, SSAS, SSRS, SSIS, use PowerShell, write the occasional C# and VB.Net, sometimes do work on a Linux machine or VM and more. A lot has changed.

Obviously the technology has changed. So how have I responded? By doing what I said above. This may sound like a tautology or even circular reasoning but it’s true. When I would go to a SQL Saturday, I’d often attend 3-5 different topics. I’d learn something. But then I started presenting. And that forced me to learn. As much as I may like to think I know about a topic, when I go to present about it, I like to ensure I know even more. This forces me to read white papers, other articles and perhaps attend other sessions.

When I’ve written an article, I’ve often had to do a lot of research for it.

So strangely, I would say a bit part of keeping my skills up to date is not just learning from others, but from teaching. Teaching forces me to keep my skills up.

In summation, I’ve responded by learning from others, but also forcing myself to teach myself before I taught others. It’s a feedback loop. The more technology changes, the more I reach out and learn and the more learn, the more I do outreach.

The impetus for this week’s blog was Andy Leonard’s call for a T-SQL Tuesday topic.

This Post is Free!

Yes, seriously, other than a bit of your time, it will cost you nothing to read this post. And you might gain something from it. That can be a good value.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, one of things I do when I’m not doing SQL Server is perform training for those interested in Cave Rescue. I also sometimes blog about it. I have also mentioned that this year I’m organizing the National Cave Rescue Commission‘s national weeklong training class. In addition, since apparently I’m not enough of a masochist I’m also organizing a regional Level 1 only weeklong training class.

Due to generous contributions the NCRC is able to offer scholarships. For the regional weeklong, we are able to offer 4 scholarships of a value of up to $375 each. This covers 1/2 the cost of training. Applications were due Saturday. Now, we’re hoping for 12-20 students, so this means if everyone applied, they’d have between a 1/3-1/5 chance of getting scholarship. Can you guess how many had applied as of Saturday?

Before I answer that, I’ll note my wife used to work as a financial aid director at a local nursing school. They too sometimes offered scholarships. There was one worth I believe $500 that often went unclaimed. Yes, it required a one page essay to be judged to apply. That one page apparently was too high of a barrier for many folks and as a result sometimes it was never awarded. Quite literally a person could have written. “I would like to apply for the scholarship” as their essay and gotten it.

The same thing happened with our regional scholarships. Out of 11 students so far, none applied. This was literally free money sitting on the table. We have decided to extend the scholarship application process until April 23rd and reminded folks they could apply.

Now, some of the students probably can NOT apply, because they are employees of government agencies that sometimes have rules on what outside funds or gifts can be accepted. This actually increases the odds for the other students. And some may feel that their economic status is good enough that they don’t need to and fear they’d take a scholarship away from someone who has more of a need for it. And that’s a position I can definitely appreciate. But my advice to them, “let the scholarship committee make that decision.” If they determine someone is more needing the money, or your need is not enough, they will let you know. And if they do give you a scholarship and you feel guilty, pay it forward. Donate to the fund later on, or give the money you saved to other causes.

Besides essentially free money at the NCRC, I got thinking about the amount of free training I’ve received in the SQL Server community. Yes, I’ve paid for PASS Summit a few times, but even if I had never gone to that, the amount of knowledge I’ve gained for free over the past several years has been amazing. Between SQL Saturdays and User Group meetings, the body of knowledge I’ve been exposed to has been absolutely amazing.

And yet, I know folks who shun such activities. I’m not talking about folks who say, “I can’t make it this month because it’s my kid’s birthday”. I’m talking about folks who claim they never learn anything. I don’t understand how that’s possible given the HUGE range of topics I’ve seen at SQL Saturdays and oh so many other free events. Some folks seem to think only the paid events are worth it. And while PASS Summit had certain unique advantages, the truth is, you can listen to almost all the presenters at various free events too.

Yes, time is not free, and I recognize that. But overall, it still amazes me at the number of folks who overlook the value of free events, or easy to gain scholarships to events. Don’t turn your nose up at free. It can be valuable.

P.S. – for the parents of college bound kids out there, one thing I did in college which netted me a bit of free money. A few days after the semester began, I’d stop by the financial aid office and ask if there was any unclaimed scholarship money I was eligible for. I never netted much, but I did net a few hundred dollars over the years. For 15 minutes of my time, that’s a pretty decent ROI.

Reasons I Attend WIT Events

Last Friday, I took time out of my day to attend the Data Platform WIT Day. Hosted on Redgate’s Zoom, it was a series of webinars that started with Rie Merritt’s excellent Keynote Lifting as we Climb and concluded with Stepping Stones from Diversity Learning to Equitable Actions with Cindy Gross. The full list of sessions is available at YouTube here.

I highly recommend you take some time out and check out the sessions that may appeal to you. The keynote is 30 minutes and the follow-on sessions are roughly an hour each. Because of other events on my schedule I wasn’t able to attend all of them, for example I could only jump into Cindy’s about half-way through, but very much enjoyed what I watched and learned quite a bit.

Afterwards, one of the organizers, Mala Mahadevan tweeted the following:

https://twitter.com/sqlmal/status/1367951596227854340

I was caught a bit off-guard by the call-out, but not in an unpleasant way. I’m proud to support WIT. And it prompted me to write this post on my usual Tuesday, just a day after International Women’s Day.

I attended for two reasons: one was for learning and the second was honestly to be supportive.

The first reason should be obvious. There’s some good information in these webinars. Tracy Boggiano gave a great presentation on dbatools and dbachecks, tools that I definitely need to learn more about. The panel on mentoring with Leslie Andrews, Shabnam Watson, Deborah Melkin, Gilda Alvarez, and Deepthi Goguri was a great learning experience for me. I gained further insight into how mentoring can work, especially for those who have a different experience than mine. And while the panel focused more on the experience and value of mentoring for women, I gained several great takeaways. So it wasn’t just a “women for women” type event.

But quite honestly, I attended in part for the same reason I’ve often started using my pronouns in various places (him/his for those who aren’t aware): to normalize the practice. I think it’s important for those who don’t identify as women, and especially for those who identify as men to attend such events. While the focus of a WIT event is for women, it does not mean men can’t learn from it. It doesn’t mean we’re not welcome. I had heard much of Rie’s talk before, since she adopted it from other talks she’s given. It’s primary focus is of course on how women can help women grow in their professional careers. But there are tips that men can learn, such as not interrupting the women they work with, amplifying their voices, and more. I tell the story that the first time I heard Rie speak, I was one of two men in the room, and the other was a friend she had apparently asked to attend in order to give her feedback. I was a bit saddened there were not more men there, as we need to learn a lot of what she has spoken about. I suspect some men felt “oh I don’t need to go” or “there’s nothing there for me.” But they’re wrong and I want to continue to normalize attending such event for those who present as men. And I attended of course because I want my women colleagues to know they have support, that I value their contributions and experiences.

Now that said, I will add that events such as last Friday’s are “Women in Technology” events. The focus is in the name. While welcome, men should avoid any attempts, conscious or subconscious to center them on their own experiences. What do I mean? For one, during the Q&A parts, if you feel tempted to say “I have more of a comment than a question…” just stop. Nope. It’s a Q&A period, not “I want to hijack the discussion and talk about myself period.” This is not to say questions aren’t welcome. But make sure they’re actually relevant to the topic at hand, e.g. “Tracy, I think I missed something, am I correct in understanding that the latest version of dbachecks has a problem with the latest version of Pester?”

So my advice, do your best to be an ally by your actions, not your claims.

And that said, for those who are inevitably going to ask: When it International Men’s Day?

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!