This Site Makes Cookies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Minds are Better Than One

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

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

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

New plumbing in bathroom

New plumbing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A mistake

My mistake

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

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

Idera Ducks!

A bunch of rubber ducks, including two from Idera!

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

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

Old Dogs and New Tricks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What new trick will you learn this month?

“Don’t be so Sensitive”

I’ve mentioned in the past that I have an interest both in the SQL Server world, and the caving world. Often these both overlap in different ways, for example disaster planning and the like.

The other day I was reminded of another way in which they overlap: the ratio of men to women in each activity.  In both areas, though I don’t have firm numbers, far more men participate than women. There are a number of reasons for this, but one I’ll call “the good ol’ boys” attitude. I discussed this in a previous post concerning women in the industry. Recently however I was reminded that sexism continues to be a problem in the caving community. On Facebook, I’m a member of a number of groups with a focus on caving. The other day someone saw fit to post a picture in one of the groups I’m a member of. The picture was of a young woman, in a sports bra and short tights wearing a rock-climbing harness, and holding on to a dangling rope.

Now, there were several problems technically wrong with the picture, including the fact that she was wearing a rock-climbing harness and this was a caving group and the fact that the harness was on backwards.  But, that wasn’t the real problem.  The real issue was, this was that it simply was not appropriate for this group.  Several members posted pointing out that this picture, and pictures like this, objectify women and discourage them from caving.

And then it came, a guy saying, “Don’t be so sensitive.”

In four words, he casually dismissed the concerns and feelings of a large number of his fellow cavers.  He said, without realizing it, “I don’t care how you feel. Your feelings and concerns are not important to me.” In my experience, these are the very same men who then complain there aren’t enough women in caving.

Similar comments included, “Oh, now you’re saying she’s wrong to be proud of her body” or “what’s the matter with a hot body”.  Here the underlying subtext is that anyone who expressed an issue with the photograph in that group was a prude.

I’ve seen similar comments at times in the IT community; “What’s the matter if I call her pretty, she should be proud of that!” “What, DBAs can’t be hot too?”

What some of my fellow cavers and IT professionals fail to understand is that the women in these circles want to be considered by the same standards as their male companions, on their skills and accomplishments, not on what their body looks like.  This does not make them prudes.

Nor, when these same women dress up for a cocktail party, or have a beer, or crack a ribald joke does that make them hypocrites. This is also an important concept for many men to understand. The women I know who cave and are DBAs are just as complex and varied as the men. Some like to dress up, some like to tell off-color jokes in the appropriate setting, some like to smoke a cigar, and often do all the same things that their male compatriots do.  But when it comes to caving or IT, they want to be respected for their skills, not judged for these other attributes.

So, next time you’re about to post a hot sexy photo, or make a comment on a woman’s appearance, ask yourself, “is this the appropriate place for this? Would I do this if it was a hot sexy photo of a man? Would I make the same comment towards a man?” And as a hint, if the name of the group is something like, “Professionals in IT” or “Cavers of the World” the answer is almost certainly “no”. Remember, your fellow cavers and IT professionals are judging you.

The Next Generation

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m a caver. I mention this when I speak as part of a dad joke, that as a caver, I really do know a certain body part from a hole in the ground. I won’t say it makes me unique, there are literally 1000s of cavers in the US and even more around the world.

Like any group of people, not all cavers are the same. Some love long expeditions where they may spend a week or more underground, mapping new caves and plumbing their depths. Others may go in to study the geology or search for fossils. Some are studying the biosphere within caves. I have a lot of respect for those folks. Me, I like to take beginners caving. I also like to teach cave rescue and to talk about it.

And I think my role in taking new folks caving can be as important as what many of my fellow cavers do. Yes, it means I often go into the same caves over and over again, and that may sound boring, but honestly, it’s generally not. I often get to see the cave again through new eyes.

What brought on this post was the fact that I had the opportunity to take a friend and her twins caving for a second time. The wonder and excitement that their 6 year old eyes brought to the cave was wonderful. Passages I took as boring and mundane they saw as exciting and exhilarating. Their enjoyment was a breath of fresh air.

I’m a member of the National Speleological Society  I support the NSS because it supports cavers. But, I have a nit to pick with some (certainly not all) of my fellow members.

Let me preface by saying that caves can be rare and unique areas. While they can appear to be solid, non-changing areas made of stone, they can be dynamic places and the presence of humans can easily have a dramatic, negative impact.  For example, people hiking a mountain don’t have an impact on it simply by breathing near the mountain (they can certainly have other impacts). But, bringing enough people into a cave can have a dramatic impact on fungal and bacterial growth simply due to the amount of moisture they bring into the cave with them. They can also bring fungi and bacteria into a cave that may not have been there before.

In addition, many once beautiful caves have been destroyed by treasure collectors who have broken off cave formations such as stalactites and stalagmites. Once removed, it can be hundreds of years or more before they’ll reform. Even touching a forming one can alter its formation.

As a result of this, I’ve seen a movement that appears to be growing of both gating caves and of not sharing the location of caves. While cavers have often always been a bit protective of cave locations, the perception, at least to me, is that we’ve become more so. We’re reluctant to share the caving experience because we’re afraid “too many people will come and ruin the cave.” And there’s probably some truth to that.

But, while I certainly favor protecting our caves, I think if we’re too protective, we end up risking losing the next generation of cavers.  And the NSS enrollment numbers suggest this may be happening.

So, I personally prefer to take beginners caving. Many will attempt to go anyway, so I’d rather they learn proper caving techniques and cave conservation.  I encourage others to do the same. Take the time to introduce others to this wonderful activity, and teach them how to do it correctly.  And fortunately for every caver that seems to have the attitude of not wanting to “let” novices into caves, there seem to be two cavers that are willing to take novices caving. So, I remain optimistic.

I’ve thought about this also as I look at the presentations some of my fellow #SQLFamily members and realized I do the same there. Many will have great presentations on complex topics and ideas. They’re great presentations. And I respect them for it and admittedly, I’m sometimes jealous of their knowledge and skills. Myself, I seem to prefer teaching more introductory topics. I think continuing to bring new folks into the world of SQL Server and into SQL Saturday and PASS Summit are important. In fact our speaker this coming Monday is Matt Cushing. He’ll be speaking about Networking 101.

To close, I think in any world, but particularly in the two I inhabit, caving and SQL, it takes all types, those who dive deep into the subject and those who take other paths. I don’t think one path is necessarily better than another. The only ones I have an issue with those are those who take the attitude that novices aren’t welcome. You don’t necessarily have to be the person welcoming novices, but don’t be the one that discourages them either. We need to build the next generation.  And that’s my take away for the week.

“Do What You Love…

And you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” – Confucius, Mark Antony, Mark Twain.

Honestly, I think that’s some of the worst advice ever. It’s a sure way to end up hating something you love doing. Or if you do follow it, make sure you understand what it is that you love.

I first realized this in high school. I had signed up to do JV soccer, something I enjoyed, but I can’t say I loved. Before school started, we had a day of orientation. It included a hike or run up the mountain behind the school. I loved the woods and I loved (and still do at times) running through the woods. Somewhere along the way, a fellow student saw me running and suggested if I enjoyed running through nature so much, that I consider doing Cross-Country instead as my fall sport. I took their advice; snd hated it for two fall semesters in a row.

I realized what had happened was that I had replaced what to me was a fun, non-competitive activity and turned it into something where I had to perform at a specific level every single time. What I loved was running through the woods, not running competitively.

People assume I love working with computers.  That’s not entirely true. I ENJOY working with computers. I enjoy solving problems and computers are one way I can express that joy. When I make a query run 10x faster, or automate a process that previously took someone an hour a day to do, I enjoy that. But do I love it? Probably not. And I’m actually grateful for that. Because if I loved it, it would mean those days of drudgery where I bang my head against the wall all day trying to solve a problem, or I’m up until 3:00 AM recovering a failed server would turn something I love into something I dread. Something I loved would become a chore.

I love to teach caving. I get a real thrill out of it. But, I suspect that if I spend 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year doing it, it would soon become a chore.

As my kids started their college journey, I’ve advised them, “find something you enjoy, not something you love. Keep the something you love for your own personal time so it doesn’t become a chore.” And that’s my advice to anyone.

But hey, I could be wrong. What are your thoughts? Did you pick your job because you love it and if so, do you still love it, or did you end up resenting it at all? Or do you enjoy your job?

Challenge Accepted!

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

The only thing I can say is… challenge accepted.

But what to write about?

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

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

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

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