The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 2: The work-at-home environment #COVID19

Several years ago, I had a job for a virtual company. There was no brick-and-mortar location; the entire job was work-from-home. To accommodate myself for the position, I went out and bought a new, comfortable office chair. If I was going to work-from-home, I wanted to make sure I was comfortable. I made sure my home office setup was one that I could deal with over the course of the position.

Several years later (present-day), I’m working a position where I am able to work from home, although I much prefer going into the office. I have a comfortable desk setup and two monitors. I’ve adapted it to my preferences, and it’s an environment I enjoy and in which I’m productive.

Before COVID-19, my work-at-home setup was me sitting in my living room recliner with the TV on in front of me. I didn’t do it all that often, but for the few times that I worked from home, it wasn’t a big issue.

That changed with COVID-19. It took me a little while, but I realized that I was being unproductive. There were too many distractions. My work environment was uncomfortable… or, more accurately, it was too comfortable. I was picking up bad habits. I was watching TV more than I was concentrating on my work. I wasn’t concentrating on what I was doing.

It took me a while — about a week — before I realized what I was doing. It’s like the situation where you’re working on something and you start zoning out, completely unaware that you’re doing it.

When I came to that realization — today — I realized that I had to change my setup. I cleared out some space in my home office (I hadn’t been making much use of it, other than for my personal non-work laptop), put my work laptop on my desk, and started working. The difference was night and day. I was suddenly focused on my work again. My thought processes were better. I wasn’t sinking into my chair the way I was with my recliner. And I don’t have the TV to distract me.

Granted, I’m still not in a completely ideal environment. My desk (and my entire home office) is cluttered, so there isn’t a lot of room to work. Subsequently, I am working entirely off my laptop, as opposed to having a monitor, mouse, and keyboard with which I’m comfortable. That should come along as I get reacquainted at my work-at-home office space. Getting a new monitor setup and clearing out my home office has soared up my priority list. But to be able to work and be productive again is well worth the change.

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 1 #COVID19

Quarantine: How to prepare to isolate due to possible coronavirus ...

I’ll admit that I haven’t been doing a very good job of staying on top of my ‘blog lately. This is an article I’ve tried to start several times during the past couple of weeks of confinement, but I’ve fallen into some bad habits during this ordeal. I won’t get into them right now; it’s not a subject I care to delve into, although I might write about it another time (there’s a reason why I’m titling this article “part 1;” I suspect this won’t be my first article about COVID-19).

I suppose a good way to start this article is the start of my personal COVID-19 experience. The crisis hit home for me when this news bit appeared. I play the piano for OLA, so of course, I was there. Upon hearing about this, I immediately left my office for home, where I self-quarantined until this past Sunday.

Even after my quarantine period expired, however, I didn’t really leave home. I haven’t had much reason to do so. My office is closed through at least April (thankfully, I have the ability to work from home). The Albany Catholic diocese has shut down churches, so I have no reason to go on Sunday mornings (disclosure: I am not Catholic; I only go because I play the piano for a Catholic church on Sundays). My gym is closed, and the band I play in is shut down until further notice. Even if I can go anywhere, I don’t have any place to go.

A number of my events have been affected. SQL Saturday Philadelphia and a concert I was supposed to play with my band have been canceled. I was supported to go to Chicago for another SQL Saturday a couple of weeks ago, but that’s now been postponed, if it ends up happening at all.

As of right now, I don’t have anything of note to write about. My days at home are spent writing documentation, watching TV, and playing Xbox (in case you’re wondering, my main Xbox addiction is EA Sports NCAA Football). There are a lot of other things I can and probably should be doing during our period of confinement, including (but not limited to) spending more quality time with my wife, taking advantage of the time to learn things, and work out. I wish I could tell you that I’ve had a great revelation during my time in isolation, but that moment hasn’t happened yet. When it does, I’ll make sure I write about it.

Some advice to myself (and maybe you) as we experience this crisis.

So for now, the main reason for this article is to let my regular readers (both of you) know that I’m still alive. I’ll try to get better about writing any insights I might have. Until then, carry on (my wayward son)…

How I’m dealing with #Coronavirus #COVID-19

Image result for doctor wearing mask

As is the rest of the world at this moment, the current COVID-19 crisis is affecting my world. It is, indeed, an unnerving event; I’ve seen Outbreak and read The Stand, and never did I think I’d be living in an environment akin to the 1918 flu outbreak or the Black Plague.

I’ve already had events on my calendar canceled, postponed, or rescheduled (including, among other things, SQL Saturday Chicago and Albany Code Camp), and as a sports fan, I’m disappointed that the NCAA Tournament is canceled and the start of the MLB season is being delayed, among other events all over the sports world. It’ll be strange turning on the TV and not being able to tune into a sporting event. But I understand why these things are happening. Events can always be rescheduled, and there are some things that are bigger than sports.

Nevertheless, all we can do is adapt and persevere. In case anyone is wondering (or cares) about how I’m dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, here you go…

Things I’ve been doing anyway, even before COVID-19

Not panicking

Should we be concerned about COVID-19? Of course we should. The WHO has declared a pandemic, which is not something that should be taken lightly. That said, for me, life goes on. I’m still getting up and going to work. At the moment, I haven’t gone out of my way to change my routine, unless I have to.

I’m also not one of those people who’ve rushed out to stock up on toilet paper or hand sanitizer. I still have that big package of TP that I bought from BJ’s a few months ago, and I still have a number of rolls left.

I am not walking around wearing a mask. According to CDC guidelines, only those who are sick should wear a mask. To the best of my knowledge, I am not yet sick. Hopefully, I’ll stay that way.

Bottom line, I’m following common sense guidelines, and doing what people who know more than I do (such as the CDC) suggest I do.

I live in a region where we get snow during the winter. I refuse to panic any time we get reports of heavy snow. And I refuse to panic now.

This isn’t to say I’m doing nothing. Keep reading…

Washing my hands

C’mon, people, this is common sense. Wash your hands after using the toilet or when they get dirty. This is something I do, anyway. Can I tell you how disgusted I get whenever I see people walk out of the bathroom without washing their hands? Seriously?

Stay hydrated

I don’t know how helpful this is (if a medical professional who know more than I do is reading this and tells me to refrain from passing this information along, I will gladly do so), but I regularly drink lots of water during the workday, anyway. I keep a Nalgene bottle at my desk, and I fill it with ice and water at least two or three times a day, if not more. My thinking is that staying hydrated is a good thing to do anyway, and it’ll help flush nasty things out of my system.

Helping others out when possible

In this time of crisis, there are other people out there who might need some extra assistance. If you see anyone in this situation, it pays to be a good neighbor and lend a hand.

Staying informed

Probably the best thing we can have is information — good information (and not propaganda). I’m checking the CDC’s Coronavirus website for updates and advice. The WHO site is probably another good site to monitor. Additionally, the NY Times is providing free access to a page providing news and information about the crisis, as are other reputable media outlets such as Syracuse.com.

(Note: at the risk of sounding political, if there was ever a reason why we still need good, reputable, unbiased, and accurate local news coverage, this is it. That’s another conversation for another time.)

Things I’ve changed because of COVID-19

Getting more vigilant

“Life goes on” doesn’t mean that I’m not trying to stay on top of the situation. I’ve become much more wary of people around me. Whenever I hear anyone cough or sneeze, my ears immediately perk up. To the best of my knowledge, none of my coworkers are sick. I usually try to avoid people who are sick, anyway, but I’m a lot more wary about it this time around.

I’m also staying on top of my own health. I remain wary about potential symptoms, such as fever, cough, congestion, or shortness of breath. So far, I haven’t seen any symptoms, and I don’t think I’m sick. (Disclosure: I sleep with a CPAP machine, so it’s not unusual for me to wake up congested or with the sniffles.) Of course, if anything comes up, I’m ready to self-isolate, if I need to do so.

Preparing

Although my go-to-work routine hasn’t changed, I’m one of those fortunate enough to have the ability to work-from-home. Should my employer direct me to work-from-home, I am able to do so.

As I write this, it occurred to me that I likely should pick up some groceries at some point. Hopefully, all those who are panicking haven’t cleared out the aisles yet.


Did I leave anything out, or do you have any other suggestions to help people out? Feel free to leave them below in the comments.

We’re all in this together. Let’s work together to nip this thing. And by working together, we’ll get through this crisis.

Chicago #SQLSaturday postponed until August 15 #SQLSat945

I was hoping to post a ‘blog article saying that I’ll be presenting in Chicago a week from Saturday, but alas, that is not going to happen. Yesterday, I got the news that, due to the COVID-19 crisis, SQL Saturday Chicago is postponed until August 15.

I am not yet 100% sure whether or not I will be able to travel to Chicago on the new date. I am looking into it, and it does look favorable. For the time being, I’ll say that I’m still speaking in Chicago, but let me check on travel plans and make sure I can swing the new date.

So, no SQL Saturday for me for next weekend. Hopefully, I’ll see people in Chicago on August 15.

It ain’t sexy, but it’s critical

Evacuated Highway 401 Color.jpg
(Photo credit: By Kenny Louie, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10535248)

Think, for a moment, about things that are never talked about — I don’t mean taboo topics, but rather, things that are boring, “ain’t sexy,” and so on — yet are absolutely critical if we want to maintain or move ahead our current standing. Off the top of my head, infrastructure and chores come to mind. Road construction, transportation infrastructure, and public utilities aren’t exactly exciting topics that are discussed over drinks, but maintaining them is absolutely critical if we want to keep our society moving. Likewise, nobody talks about housework, taking out the trash, fixing leaks, replacing appliances, and so forth, but it’s necessary if you want to maintain your home.

Documentation falls under this category. Let’s face it: the large majority of developers, analysts, and other business and technical professionals don’t enjoy writing documentation. Raise your hand if you’re passionate about documentation. (You, yes you, the technical writer in the back row, put your hand down. I’ll get to you in a moment.) But the fact is, documentation is absolutely critical if you want to keep your business afloat.

I was thinking about this not long ago, when I was describing aspects of my job to someone. I’m currently working on an important documentation project (a standard operating procedure document — SOP, for short), and I’ll admit that it isn’t the most exciting project. It isn’t unusual for me to zone out in the afternoon while I’m working on this thing. I was asked, is it an issue with your department or your company? I said no. It’s the nature of the beast. It would be like this regardless of where it was, whether it was with my current team, my current employer, or somewhere else.

No, working on the document is not exciting work. But it’s an important document that needs to be written. It’s a job that (almost) nobody wants. But it’s also a skill that I’m good at doing (or at least I like to think that I am). And it keeps me employed.

I’ve written before that documentation is one of the most disrespected technical tasks. But it’s a critical task if you want your business to stay afloat. You need to be able to pass information along to your colleagues, your employees, and your clients. Documentation is probably the best way to do it. So documentation needs to be clear, understandable, well-written, and presentable.

This is why I preach what I do at SQL Saturday. You ignore documentation at your own risk. No, documentation ain’t sexy. But it’s absolutely critical if you want to keep your business going.

Quarterly Bar Hop at River Street Market, March 18 #NYTechLoop #Networking

CASSUG member Susan Lundberg and our friends at NY Tech Loop are hosting the Quarterly Bar Hop at the River Street Market, 433 River Street, Troy, NY, on Wednesday, March 18, 2020, 5:30-7:30 pm!

Join us and other software professionals for beer, beverages, and networking!

For more information, see http://bit.ly/32JYXKG

Leaping before you look

(Image courtesy of The Telegraph)

Not long ago (I don’t remember how long — I’ll say a couple of weeks), I stumbled across a ‘blog post that someone had written. Apparently, this person was a new SQL Saturday speaker. I don’t remember his name, and from what you’re about to read, it’s probably just as well.

I don’t remember exactly what was said, so I’ll paraphrase: “I just applied to speak, and was accepted at, a SQL Saturday in (some city that’s not local to me). Now I have to figure out how to pay for my trip! Can you all help me? Here’s a GoFundMe page to help me out!”

I resisted the urge to write him back to say, “you’re a f**king moron. You’re not getting a single dime from me. Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency (or charity) from mine!!!”

SQL Saturday is an all-volunteer event, and organizers go through a great deal of time and effort to plan it and ensure that the speakers are lined up to the schedule. Committing to speak at SQL Saturday and not keeping that commitment disrespects the organizers, and it does not reflect well on you. If you renege on your commitment to speak at SQL Saturday, try seeing if you’re ever invited again.

It’s not just about travel planning, either. If I was interviewing this person for a job (note: I’m in no such position), I would highly question his ability to make smart decisions. Unless he could demonstrate to me that he learned from this mistake, I would not ask him back for a second interview.

Clearly, this person leapt before he looked, and in my mind, he has no common sense whatsoever. Whenever I apply to speak at a SQL Saturday, the first thing I do is check to make sure that I can do the trip. Among other things, I make sure the date is clear on my calendar, and I make sure that I can actually get there (there’s a reason why the large majority of SQL Saturdays where I present are ones to which I can drive).

On March 21 (a few weeks from today), I will be speaking at SQL Saturday Chicago. I Googled the driving time from Albany to Chicago, and it told me it would take 12 hours, which is much longer than I am willing to drive for a short weekend trip. I put together a hypothetical itinerary using Amtrak (I love traveling by train — I prefer it over flying whenever possible) and Chicago-area public transportation, Lyft (which I tend to prefer over Uber), and hotels. (I also looked into renting a car, but there were very few rental agencies near Union Station that were open for the hours that I needed it; besides, I didn’t want to deal with traffic in a strange city, and it was also more expensive than the other options.) I came up with a game plan that was workable and would not break the bank. When I realized that the trip was do-able, I went ahead and applied to speak (and was accepted) at SQL Saturday #945 in Chicago!

I wrote a previous article about choosing which SQL Saturday to submit. You can read the article here.

So before you commit to anything, make sure you can honor that commitment. It does not reflect well on you if you cannot keep your word. Don’t leap before you look.

#SQLSaturday #953 Rochester — the debrief #SQLSat953 #SQLSatRoc

This past weekend, I spoke at SQL Saturday #953 in Rochester, NY. As it is with all SQL Saturdays, I had a great time: doing my own presentations, attending others, and spending time with #SQLFamily! And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Andy Levy and the crew at the Rochester SQL User Group, who did a bang-up job putting the event together! Great job, all!

The weekend began with the speaker’s dinner. While I had a great time hanging out with all my wonderful SQL friends, we also had a compelling conversation — enough that I wrote about it that night. It reaffirmed just how important professional development is within technical circles, and the importance of my endeavor of presenting professional development topics. Even Matt Cushing sent a tweet mentioning just how important professional development is. It made me feel pretty good knowing just how much I’m contributing to the technical community.

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#SQLIceCream with (L to R) Paresh Motiwala, Slava Murygin, and yours truly!

Of course, after dinner, Paresh and I just had to go for ice cream. On this occasion, we hit a Coldstone Creamery around the corner from the speaker’s dinner. For those of you who don’t follow me regularly, it has become tradition for Paresh and me (and anyone who joins us) to go out for ice cream at any SQL Saturday that we both attend. Paresh even started using a Twitter hashtag for it: #SQLIceCream!

There was a lot of talk about the weather leading up to the event. The National Weather Service had predicted heavy lake-effect snow (as much as two feet) leading up to the event. Rochester sits right on the bank of Lake Ontario, and as anyone who lives in upstate New York knows, is prone to lake-effect snow. The weather forecast even prompted the University of Maryland to reschedule a women’s lacrosse game against Syracuse. As it turned out, the talk about bad weather turned out to be exactly that: talk. When I drove out to Rochester on Friday, the amount of snowfall was negligible, and the Thruway was clear sailing all the way from Albany to Rochester. There was a light dusting of snow on the ground when I woke up the next morning, but that was about it. Despite all the hype about the weather, it turned out not to be a factor.

I arrived at RIT a little later than I would’ve liked. Ordinarily, I like to settle into the speaker’s room, maybe get myself some coffee, talk to some people, and relax a bit. But by the time I arrived, sessions were about to start. I barely had enough time to drop my stuff off in the speaker’s room before getting to the first round of sessions.

Of course, the first session I attended was Matt’s. I’ve pretty much attended his session each time I’ve had the chance. For a while, I had attended it every time he presented it, but that streak was broken when he started traveling to other places (such as Austin, TX) that were difficult for me to get to. Last year, Matt (along with another friend, Deborah Melkin) were named IDERA Aces. I won’t get too much into the IDERA Ace program (use the link for more info), but one of the benefits is funding that allows you to travel to speak at events like SQL Saturday. (Congrats, by the way, Matt and Deb!) Matt is encouraging me to sign up for the IDERA Ace program for this year. When applications start coming out later this year, I will definitely look into it!

During his session, Matt complained that he and I didn’t have a selfie together. Well, consider that rectified!

Speaking of Deborah Melkin, her session was up next in the room next door. I’ve seen her session before, and she does a great job with it. I have to confess, however, that I wasn’t paying all that close attention (sorry, Deb!). The reason: my lightning talk session was up next, and I was going through my slides, making sure everything was ready to go. Last November, I had purchased a new laptop (an HP Pavilion x360), and this was my first time using it for a SQL Saturday presentation. I checked my slides, I tested my presentation clicker, and made sure everything was ready to go.

I do my lightning talk!

The next round included my lightning talk. I was scheduled to do my talk, along with two friends: Taiob Ali and Kimberly St. Jacques. The last time I saw Kimberly was at PASS Summit, which wasn’t a good time for her. She had been scheduled to present a lightning talk at Summit, but was unable to do so because she had lost her voice. I’d felt really bad for her! I was glad to see that she had regained her voice and was able to present again!

My talk was sandwiched between Kimberly’s, who spoke about SQL Server 2019 Enhanced PolyBase, and Taiob’s, who talked about extended events. Kimberly and Taiob both gave great presentations!

Going on at the same time was a presentation by Tracy Boggiano, who talked about mental illness in tech. It sounded like a really interesting talk, and I desperately wanted to attend, but it conflicted with my lightning talk session. I told Tracy that I intend to attend her session the next opportunity that I had.

Lunch was the next order of the day. It was either Andy or Matt Slocum — I don’t remember whom — who had a good relationship with a BBQ restaurateur. This same person has catered Rochester SQL Saturday every time I’ve attended, and the food was excellent every time. I highly recommend the pulled pork!

I decided to take the next round of sessions off. As much as I love attending SQL Saturday, one thing that never fails is that it tires me out. After lunch, I felt like I was going to fall asleep, so I retreated back to the speaker’s room to relax. I pretty much just surfed the web and conversed with other speakers in the room.

I did attend the next session by Anna Hadnagy, who gave a presentation about feedback. This was her very first SQL Saturday presentation, and she knocked it out of the park!

The last time slot of the day came about, and it was time for me to do my own full-length presentation. I actually had a pretty good-sized audience: I’ll guess around fifteen to twenty people. Even though it was the last session of the day, and everyone (including me) was tired, I made it a point to keep my audience engaged. They seemed to be into my talk, and I like to think that I presented well.

I did attend the after-event party. I enjoy hanging out with these people (they’re called #SQLFamily for a reason), and any chance I get to spend time with them is welcome. I had a long drive home ahead of me; I left the party around 7:45, and pulled into my driveway around 11:30.

All in all, it was yet another awesome SQL Saturday! (Of course, I think they’re all awesome!)

My next scheduled event is SQL Saturday Chicago on March 21, only a few weeks away! This will only be my second time in Chicago (changing planes at O’Hare doesn’t count), and it’ll be my first SQL Saturday where it is not feasible for me to drive. It should make for an interesting trip. See you there!

@CASSUG_Albany March Monthly Meeting #SQLUserGroup #SQLFamily

Greetings, data enthusiasts!

Our next CASSUG monthly meeting is on Monday, March 9!

Our March speaker is our own Ken Schwartz! He will present his topic titled “Temporal Tables – what are they?”  For additional information and to RSVP, go to our Meetup event page at https://www.meetup.com/Capital-Area-SQL-Server-User-Group/events/267752251/

Additionally, Ed Pollack will present a lightning talk about SQL Notebooks!

Thanks to our sponsors, Datto, Capital Tech Search, and CommerceHub, for making this event possible!

Hope to see you there!