Albany CrossFit on the local news

This is an addendum to my CrossFit article from Thursday!

I got home this evening, turned on the local news, and whose face did I happen to see on TV?  None other than Shye Evan, whom I mention in my earlier article!

WNYT (the local NBC affiliate) did an article about the CrossFit Games East Regional being in town, and they featured Albany CrossFit, my gym!

Watch and enjoy!

Why I ‘blog (or, “Variations on a Theme by Serra”)

In my first ‘blog post, I mentioned that I had numerous reasons for starting a ‘blog.  I’d like to expand upon that here.

I should mention that this is not my first effort at writing a ‘blog.  I also had another ‘blog on Livejournal.  However, that account mostly served a purpose that’s currently (and better) served by Facebook.  (I purposely exclude links to my old Livejournal account.)  After I started my Facebook account, my Livejournal account was mostly ignored.  Once I had new reasons for starting this ‘blog (that I write about below), I decided that it was time to put my Livejournal account to bed for good.

(If you’re looking for links to my Facebook account from my ‘blog, don’t bother.  I purposely don’t include them.  My Facebook account and my ‘blog serve two different purposes, akin to separating my personal life from my work.  I do, however, have links to my LinkedIn profile; that is more outward-facing and publicly shared.)

I met James Serra at SQL Saturday #526 in Rochester.  He has an excellent ‘blog post titled “Enhance your career by blogging!”  Many of the reasons he cites are exactly the same reasons why I started this ‘blog.  He is one of the big influences that prompted me to start my ‘blog.  In this article, I take his ideas and expand upon them, using them to explain why I ‘blog.

I listen to a lot of classical music.  One of my favorite works is Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini by Sergei Rachmaninoff.  In that piece, Rachmaninoff takes a theme written by Niccolò Paganini and creates his own spin on it by writing his variations based on that theme.  In this article, I suppose you could say that James is Paganini, and I’m Rachmaninoff.

I’m a stickler for documentation.  I have a Master’s degree in technical communication, and I have professional experience as a technical writer.  Technical writing and documentation are among the most essential, yet most underutilized and disrespected, functions within most organizations.  (I have a SQL Saturday presentation that addresses exactly this issue; additionally, I will address this topic in a future ‘blog article, but this goes outside the scope of what I’m writing about here.)  ‘Blogging provides a forum for me to document my thoughts and ideas.

I’ll start with the very first bullet point that James writes in his post:

“I can document solutions I encounter for future use.  Sort of my own personal Google”

Above all, this is probably one of the top (if not the top) reasons why I started my ‘blog.  I frequently look up online references to help me with my work.  Among some of my favorites: SQLServerCentral, 4GuysFromRolla, StackOverflow, MSDN, W3Schools, etc.  Having this information readily at hand is like having my own online library.  If you walk into someone’s office (or cubicle), you might see a bookshelf containing books related to that person’s job.  Maintaining my ‘blog serves that same purpose.

Stealing a few more of James’ bullet points:

“I enjoy sharing knowledge”

“It helps as a consultant when I can use my blog as a solution to a customer’s problem”

“I use it as a replacement for client documentation.  They want you to document a solution, a work-around, etc.  Don’t just write-up something in an email or Word doc…blog it!”

James lists these as separate bullet points, but they all have an idea in common: what I write on my ‘blog helps other people.  Not only does my ‘blog serve as a reference for myself, but what I write is helpful to others as well.  If what I write helps other people, then I’ve made a productive — and satisfying — contribution.

Moving right along . . .

“It helps me to remember the things I blog about better because I am researching it and writing it”

How often have you come up with a thought, told yourself, “I’ll remember this; no problem,” become distracted with other tasks, then completely forgot about your thought?

As I write this, I have eight (and counting) ‘blog drafts sitting in my queue.  Whenever a thought comes to me, I’ll go to my drafts and write my thoughts down.  One of my life philosophies that I’ve developed over time includes this one: if I’m thinking of something, either (1) take care of it right away, or (2) write it down.  I have a lot of ideas in my head that deserve (I think) to be heard.  A lot of my drafts are merely scratch notes or ideas for articles yet to be written.  When I was researching the tech writing/documentation presentation I mentioned earlier, I came across this quote (that I included in my presentation slides): “If it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen.”  In George Orwell’s 1984, O’Brien destroys a document, then promptly tells Winston Smith, “I do not remember it.”  Documentation preserves thoughts.  If your thought isn’t written down, you risk losing it forever.

“I learn new technology by blogging about it.  The best way to learn is by teaching, especially when I don’t know enough about a topic”

One thing I learned from my experience as a technical writer is that I learn a lot about something when I write about it, sometimes to the point that I become a subject matter expert.  When you write about a particular subject, you need to learn about that subject in order to document it.  Writing about something helps you retain that information in your memory.

“To raise my personal brand”

“It’s a way for recruiters to find you”

“To prove to clients I know my stuff”

“It’s a way to become ‘known'”

While this is more a minor reason that I ‘blog, I readily admit that a part of me hopes that ‘blogging and presenting will eventually lead to bigger things.  Right now, it’s too soon to know whether or not my ‘blogging experience leads to a higher salary or significant advancements in my career.  But you never know.  Whether or not ‘blogging leads to bigger and better things remains to be seen.  We’ll see what happens down the road.

I’ll also mention something that James doesn’t talk about in his article.  One of my reasons for ‘blogging has to do with my involvement with SQL Saturday.  I gave my first SQL Saturday presentation in 2015, and have come up with additional presentations since then.  While my presentations seem to work well by themselves, I found that they could be made even more effective with additional information to supplement them.  That’s where my ‘blog comes in.  Much of what I write can be used either to support my presentations, or the material in my presentations can be used as fodder for future articles.  The ‘blog provides the vehicle that allows that to happen.

Are those enough reasons?  Maybe, by this point, I’ve inspired you to create your own ‘blog the same way that James inspired me.  Best of luck in your ‘blogging endeavor!

SQL Saturday #517, Philadephia, PA

A week from tomorrow (Saturday, June 4), I’ll be speaking at SQL Saturday #517, Philadelphia (well, okay, it’s actually Malvern, PA)!

I will be giving my presentation, “Disaster Documents: The role of documentation in disaster recovery.”

Hope to see you there!

Why I CrossFit

This weekend, the CrossFit Games East Regional will be held at the Times Union Center, which is a mere six miles away from my house.  I plan on attending on Saturday, along with my wife.  I’ve watched the CrossFit Games on ESPN, and I’m excited that I’ll have an opportunity to watch this event live and in-person at a location so close to my home.

Granted, a couple of years ago, I probably would’ve come across the CrossFit Games on TV and kept right on going flipping through channels.  It seems that you don’t truly become interested in an event until you start participating in it yourself.  Case in point: I have an uncle who enjoys watching golf on TV.  I remember thinking to myself, “how can anyone watch golf on TV?”  That was before I started playing golf myself, after which I said, “oh, that’s how you watch it on TV!”  (I used to play softball when I was younger, and swinging a bat was one of my favorite parts of the game.  I was able to hit the ball relatively well.  I thought, “how difficult is it to hit a stationary ball?”  As it turned out, the answer was, very!)

But, I digress.  I’m here to tell you why I do CrossFit, and why it might be good for you too.

I’m a pretty big guy (always have been).  I freely admit that I like to eat, and I tend to eat like crap.  I have nothing against eating healthy; in fact, I’m all for it (and I try to eat healthy when I can).  Mostly, it’s out of convenience (which, by the way, is article fodder in the back of my head; that’s another post for another day).  As a result, I’m overweight (as is most of America).  I’ve developed the classic symptoms of metabolic syndrome, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and adult Type 2 diabetes.  (This latter admission might come as a surprise to many of my friends.  I don’t make a secret of my condition, but I also don’t talk about it openly, either — this article post notwithstanding.)

However, I’d never felt compelled to do anything about it, even though I have a condition that could potentially kill me.  Strange as it might seem, the prospect of my own early death has never been (and, in a way, still isn’t) enough of a motivator for me to get off my butt to do something about it.

Until one day, that is.

I’ve been taking medication to control, among other things, my hypertension.  I’ve told people that I sometimes feel like a walking drugstore.  For the most part, it had been (and today, still is) keeping my blood pressure in check.  But there was a period where my pressure kept going up, uncontrolled even by my medications.  I was aware that it was an issue, and I was trying — unsuccessfully, as it turned out — to get it under control.

It was an August day in 2014.  I remember leaving work and I started driving home — and I realized that I was having trouble breathing.  It wasn’t bad enough where I felt I had to find an emergency room, but it was enough for me to notice.

That turned out to be the wake-up call that I needed.

The first thing I did was drive to my nearest Target store to get a new blood pressure monitor (I had one, but it had died).

The next day, I walked into Albany CrossFit, where I first met owner/manager/coach Shye Evan.  I told him about my condition.  I also mentioned that I had tried other fitness programs before, but I was never able to maintain them (the proverbial “I’ll never give this up” and end up quitting after only a few months — if I even made it that long).  I figured that what I really needed was something that was structured and included coaching.  At that time, I knew absolutely nothing about CrossFit.  In fact, when I walked in that day, I wasn’t even aware that it was a CrossFit gym.  All I knew was that I’d drive by every once in a while and I saw athletes on a nice day working out in the parking lot and on the rig they had set up outside.  I figured that they had some kind of program, and I’d check it out to see what it was about.

They had a free trial class that Saturday.  I made it a point to go attend.

Their next (mandatory, for brand-new CrossFitters) introductory on-ramp class started that September.  I signed up for it.  After I finished On-Ramp, I was ready to CrossFit.

That was almost two years ago, as of this article.

I’m still going.

A few paragraphs ago, I’d mentioned that I had tried other fitness programs, and kept them going for, at the most, a few months.  I started doing CrossFit in September of 2014.  I’m writing this article in May of 2016 — and I am still going.  That, in my mind and by itself, is enough of a selling point for me.

I even got my wife into CrossFit (she did her on-ramp class that following November).  She still goes as well.

I tell people that I have a love-hate relationship with CrossFit.  There are days when I look at the WOD (that’s “Workout Of the Day” — CrossFit is very big on acronyms) and say, “no way.”  There are some WODs that push me to the point where I’ll be thinking to myself, “oh man, I’m gonna die!”  Make no mistake: CrossFit is intense.  I won’t kid you about that.

But there’s more to CrossFit than challenging WODs.  First, there’s the coaching.  That is an aspect that has been sorely lacking in all my previous attempts at fitness.  I never played an organized sport (unless you count marching band as a sport — it’s for that reason why I’m capable of doing high-knees; I did try out for my baseball and tennis teams in high school, but never made either team), so I never had the experience of having someone (at least from a physical fitness perspective) tell me what I need to do and how I need to adjust.

(Side note: since I first met him that fateful August day, Shye has become a friend, in addition to one of my coaches.  I’ve since discovered that we have something in common: we’re both Syracuse University alumni.  We frequently talk about our alma mater, including and especially Orange sports.)

Second, there’s the camaraderie.  Since joining Albany CrossFit, I have made many friends in the gym (some of whom I’m now connected through Facebook).  I keep thinking about the Planet Fitness ads I see that talk about “lunk alarms” and “gymtimidation.”  There are plenty of people in the gym who are in much better shape than I am.  But I never feel as though I’m being judged or compared to them.  These people push me, but they push me in a good way.  You’re encouraged to push yourself.  Everyone wants you to do well.  It is not unusual to go into a gym where a WOD is in progress, everyone except one person has finished the WOD (usually, that person is me), and everyone else in the room is cheering on the last straggler to finish (or at least get in as many rounds or reps as possible).  I remember watching the CrossFit Games where only one person was left on the field, and the crowd was cheering for that person to finish.  The ESPN announcer said, “CrossFit is probably the only sport where the person who finishes last gets the loudest cheers.”  Nobody judges you in CrossFit.  The only person who judges you is yourself.

Third, CrossFit is scalable.  Not everyone is capable of doing a hundred burpees in ten minutes.  I know I sure can’t.  I recently did a WOD where I managed forty burpees in eight minutes.  But WODs are adjustable; they are adjusted to people’s abilities.  They say that everyone can CrossFit, no matter your ability.  I suppose I’m living proof of that.

Fourth, there are the strides and improvements that you make.  Before I started doing CrossFit, I was unable to do an air-squat, a tripod, or a (hanging) knee tuck.  I can now do all three, and more.

Granted, I still have a long way to go.  I still look more like a couch potato than a CrossFitter (if you didn’t know me and saw me on the street, you’d probably never know — or even think — that I did CrossFit).  I still need to work on my diet (that’s probably the one major vice where I still plead guilty).  I still can’t do a pull-up, a handstand, or a rope climb to save my life (a couple of my gym-mates set a goal for me — to do at least one real pull-up by the end of the year).  I have trouble with moves that tax my knees (I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis last November).  I still can’t do double-unders (although I can do single-unders like nobody’s business).  And I still cringe every time I have to run or do burpees.

Nevertheless, I’m physically much better off than I was a couple of years ago.  I’ve made major strides.  I’m doing things now that I never thought I’d be able to do.  I’m seeing some nice definition in my arms (it’s pretty cool to get up in the morning, look at myself in the mirror, and be able to say, “holy s**t, I have muscles!”).  And those health issues I’d mentioned earlier?  My blood pressure is back under control.  And the breathing issue I had?  It hasn’t been an issue since.

Walking into the gym that day back in August 2014 changed my life — and, I suspect, likely saved it as well.  I’d always had issues with maintaining fitness programs.  This place actually makes me want to go and work out.

CrossFit is a journey, not a destination.

I’ll see you at the gym!

(A note to my local friends: if you’re interested in trying CrossFit, let me know; I’ll hook you up!)

SQL Server: How to get started

A few weeks ago, my friend Jim called me.  His company was ending its relationship with a major client, and as a result, his position was likely to be reduced (or eliminated — I don’t remember which one he said) over the long term.  He knew that I’d done a lot of work with SQL Server (mind you, I don’t know enough to be an expert, but I know enough to get by), and had some questions for me — mainly to the effect of, “I want to learn SQL Server.  How do I get started?”

I see this question come up a lot in various forums, especially on SQLServerCentral.com (which, by the way, was one the first references that I gave Jim).  I suggested that he create a free account on the site so he could access and ask questions on the forum.

I mentioned he should look into attending SQL Saturday.  And on hindsight, I’d forgotten to mention that he should look into joining a PASS chapter.

I suggested that he obtain and install a copy of Microsoft SQL Server Developer Edition, which is a free download.  I also mentioned downloading the famous (infamous?) Northwind/AdventureWorks sample databases.  Practice makes perfect, after all, and if he could get hands-on experience with SQL Server in a sandbox environment, all the better.

Side note: Jim (a Red Sox fan) and I (a Yankee fan) are both big baseball fans (yes, we argue frequently!).  When I think of databases on which to practice, my preference is to download a copy of Sean Lahman’s baseball database.  I have nothing against either the Northwind or AdventureWorks sample databases; my thinking is that if you’re going to learn a new technology, you might as well make it fun!

And, of course, no introduction to SQL Server would be complete without Books Online (frequently abbreviated “BOL”).

Those are my suggestions.  Do you have any more?  If so, please feel free to leave them in the comments below!

My favorite PowerShell references

One thing I’ve been doing to improve my skill set is teach myself PowerShell.  For those of you who don’t know what that is, here’s my description in a nutshell: it’s the command prompt on steroids.

So far, I’ve come across some references, some good, some not so good, to guide me in this endeavor.  For my own reference (and maybe yours!), listed below are some of my favorite PowerShell references.

This is only a partial list, and I fully expect it to change.  As I find more references that I like, I’ll update the above list!