The SQL Yearbook

Earlier this year, Jen McCown announced that she was embarking on a project that she called “the SQL Yearbook.”  I decided, what the heck, and told her I’d take part.

A little while ago, I got an email from her saying that the project is finished!  (Per her instructions, I also want to make sure I attribute it properly, so here it is: “SQL Yearbook 2018” by Jennifer McCown of MinionWare is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.)

If you click either PDF link, my profile shows up on page 19.  (Really, it’s the same one I use for my SQL Saturday speaker’s profile.)

I have a number of friends and associates who are featured throughout this yearbook, primarily through my association with my local SQL user group, my dealings with SSC, and my experiences with SQL Saturday.

Hope you enjoy it!

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Election day

“Can I tell you something; got to tell you one thing if you expect the freedom that you say is yours; prove that you deserve it; help us to preserve it, or being free will just be words and nothing more…”
— Kansas, “Can I Tell You”

I don’t think I can say it any better than the song lyric I quoted above.

Last night, I overheard a coworker say, “I don’t vote.  It doesn’t make any difference.”  And he continued to spew about his views on the world.

I kept silent, but I am not ashamed to say that I wanted to tear him a new a**hole.

People died so I can vote.  That is something I do not take lightly.  For someone to brush it off and disrespect that right like that absolutely incenses me.  I vote every year.  I make sure I vote every year.  And so should you.

The fact is, your vote does matter.  In 2016, the vast majority of the country did not vote — because “it wouldn’t make a difference.”  Had at least half of these people gone to the polls, chances are that the current state of the union would be much different.

Yes, our system is far from perfect.  Yes, our system has flaws.  But the fact is, your vote matters.

Want to change the system?  Vote.

Write it down, stupid!

Years ago, I went to visit my brother at his place in Queens.  I remember sneaking a peek into his home office.  As a reminder to himself, he’d stuck a label on his computer monitor with four words, in all caps: WRITE IT DOWN, STUPID!!!

This is pretty much my own mantra as well.  Any time I have an important task that needs to be addressed, I’ll do one of two things: either 1) do it right away, or 2) make a note to take care of it later.  I know myself well-enough that if I don’t do either, the task will either not get done or an important deadline or opportunity will be missed.

There is a reason why technical communication is such a passion of mine.  I’ve seen countless examples in the professional world where things are not documented.  I’ve heard a variety of excuses of why they’re not documented: “Oh it’s not that difficult to remember.”  “It’s intuitively obvious.”  “It cannot be missed.”  “I won’t forget that one.”  “I don’t have to bother with it now.  I’ll get to it later.”  And so on.  And so on.  And so on.

It’s not just professional communication, either.  When was the last time that you came up with a great idea that could change the world?  Did you write it down?  If you didn’t, do you even remember what it was?

I’ve long been a believer that open and honest communication is a game-changer.  Indeed, I’ve often told people that “90% of the world’s problems can be solved through communication.”  (Before you ask, no, I don’t have any hard evidence or statistics to back that up, but it is something I believe.)

Writing things down is a core part of communication.  When you write things down, you aren’t just communicating with other people; you’re communicating with yourself — your future self — as well.

Memories of Pan Am 103

(Photo source: Wikipedia)

There are moments in your life when you remember exactly what you were doing as though it happened yesterday, even if it happened many years ago.  I previously wrote about what I was doing on 9/11.  Likewise, I remember other events, such as the Challenger disaster (I was a freshman at Syracuse having lunch in my dorm dining hall).  In this article, I want to write about another such fateful day.

Yesterday, with only a day to go before Syracuse opens its football season at Western Michigan, I went poking around a couple of websites for more information about the upcoming game.  I went to the Daily Orange‘s website, and in doing so, I stumbled upon this article, which I was not expecting to see.  As soon as I saw it, memories from nearly thirty years ago suddenly came back to me.

On December 21, 1988, I was winding up the fall semester of my senior year at Syracuse University.  I was living in a house that I shared with six other guys only a block off-campus.  It was finals week.  That evening, I was in my room, studying for one of my final exams.  I decided to take a study break and went downstairs to the kitchen to get myself a snack.

As I made my way down the stairs, I saw my housemates in the living room, gathered around the TV.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“A plane crashed, and there were Syracuse students aboard,” I was told.

I was in shock.  To be honest, I don’t think I got back to studying that night.  I took a seat in the living room with my housemates and was glued to the TV, watching the news for the rest of the night.

The phone started ringing.  A number of band alumni friends (all of us in the house were members of the marching band) had just heard the news, and were calling to ask if any band members were on board.  (Those of you who know about marching band culture understand that band members consider each other to be family.)  At that point, news was just trickling in, and we were not aware of who was on the plane.  I remember hearing that SU students were aboard, but there was no information as to how many of our classmates were affected.  We heard varying numbers: ten, fifteen, nineteen.

I went for a walk around campus the next day.  The campus was eerily deserted, except for a few news trucks parked around the campus to cover the breaking story.  For such a large campus like Syracuse, the entire place felt like a ghost town.  With the nearly empty campus, combined with the cold December air, it was probably the only time I ever felt unnerved walking around the campus.

It turned out that there were thirty-five Syracuse students on Pan Am 103.  Thirty-five of my classmates were gone.  Although I didn’t know any of them, I now feel as close to them as I do any of my friends from college.

Syracuse played a home basketball that night.  As a member of the pep band, I could’ve attended the game, but I opted not to go, since I still had final exams to study for.  I understand that SU got a lot of flak for not canceling the game in light of the tragedy.  They did observe a moment of silence at the beginning of the game.

The marching band did have an opportunity to recognize the tragedy a couple of weeks later.  The Orange football team had played its way to a 9-2 regular season, good enough for a berth in the Hall of Fame (now Outback) Bowl in Tampa, FL.  We wore black ribbons on our uniforms for the game, and observed a moment of silence on the field during our pre-game show.  After the game, I took some White-Out and wrote “PA103” on one half of the ribbon, and “12-21-88” on the other.  I still have that ribbon.

Syracuse University has since paid tribute to the disaster by building a memorial, setting up a scholarship fund, and setting aside a Remembrance Week commemoration each year.  Whenever I’m back on campus, I try to take a moment to spend some time at the memorial as I remember my thirty-five fallen classmates.

Part of my reason for writing this post is so I can go back to that article I found.  At some point, I want to travel to Scotland and take a trip to Lockerbie — a pilgrimage, if you will.  I feel a need to connect with my classmates at the place where they died nearly thirty years ago, as well as pay tribute to the small town that was affected by the tragedy.  The article helped me better understand the town of Lockerbie, which would enable me to better respect the people there who have since moved on from that fateful day.

Fun times in the office

Steve Jones’ post today about fun at work got me thinking about the fun times I’ve had in the office.  So I thought it’d be fun to write an article in which I shared a few photos of some fun times I’ve had in my workplace, past and present!  Enjoy!

Here’s a pic of me around the holidays.  As you can see, I just have to have something Syracuse-related at my desk.  I’m loyal to my alma mater; what can I tell you?

My office has a significantly large Indian population.  Last year, they had a Diwali celebration in the office, to which the entire office was invited!  This is a pic of the spread in the main conference room.  If you walked away hungry that day, it was your fault!

One day, we declared Hawaiian Shirt Day in the office!

This next pic is from a previous job, right after I was moved to a new desk.  My friends asked me if I had my stapler, so I took this pic.  Yes, it was a Swingline, but unfortunately, I didn’t have a red one!

Practical jokes abound!  One of my co-workers built this around another cube while the occupant was on vacation!

Of course, said co-worker got her revenge!

One day, one of my co-workers and I randomly showed up at work wearing these.  How often do you see two guys in the office randomly wearing hockey jerseys on the same day?

Another pic from another previous job.  I looked out the window, and saw this guy sitting on the street light!

And finally…  I occasionally need to work from home.  Here’s one of me where I’m working out of my living room…  along with my co-worker for that day!

Every once in a while, say “what the heck”

“Sometimes, you gotta say ‘what the f@%k!'”
— Miles Dalby, Risky Business

“All we are is dust in the wind…”
— Kansas

“While you see a chance, take it…”
— Steve Winwood

Last night, I checked an item off my bucket list.  I met and got my picture taken with my favorite band!  The pic is above.  That’s me in the middle, along with the guys from Kansas: from left to right, Phil Ehart, David Ragsdale, Richard Williams, yours truly, Ronnie Platt, David Manion, Zak Rizvi, and Billy Greer.

I became a fan of Kansas sometime around college.  I saw my first Kansas concert a couple of years after college, in Pittsfield, MA (unfortunately, by then, group stalwarts such as Kerry Livgren and Robby Steinhardt had already left the group).  Last night’s concert was in my hometown of Kingston, NY (well, my actual hometown is Woodstock — yes, that Woodstock, NY — but most of my hanging out when I was in high school was done in Kingston), so that made it an extra-special experience for me.  I don’t know how many Kansas concerts I’ve attended in-between, but some notable ones included Syracuse at the State Fair last year; the “Big E” (New England fair) in Springfield, MA; Pittsburgh, PA for the beginning of their Leftoverture 40th anniversary tour (and the night before I spoke at Pittsburgh SQL Saturday — which was why I was in Pittsburgh in the first place); an Alive At Five concert in downtown Albany; and Latham, NY at the now-defunct Starlight Theater.

That was a great experience, although if I really wanted to complete my experience, I would’ve liked, as a musician, to have played just one song with the band!  Alas, I realized that just wasn’t in the cards, if it ever happens (I’m not holding my breath).

I splurged and paid the money for the meet ‘n greet (or as we Kansas fans — a.k.a. “Wheatheads” — refer to them, “Wheat ‘n Greet“) event, along with a seat right in the front row.  So why pay a few hundred bucks (or whatever it was) for a twenty-minute meeting with a band and a front row concert seat?

Let me ask you a question.  How many times in your life have you ever said, “I wish I’d (fill in the blank)” and didn’t follow through?  How many times have you had the opportunity and the resources to fill in that blank, only to not follow through and let that opportunity (which might have been the only such opportunity in your lifetime) slip through your fingers?

In my life, I’ve had a number of significant experiences, more than a lot of people can say they’ve ever done.  As a musician, I’ve had a chance to perform in large events such as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, a major college bowl game, an NCAA tournament, and major league baseball and football games.  I’ve met sport celebrities such as Reggie Jackson and Jim Boeheim.  I’m friends with some television and media personalities (granted, they’re not prominent big names, but still…).  I’ve taken trips that I never thought I’d take.  Through my involvement with SQL Saturday, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and make friends with some big names in the database industry, and I’ve become a fairly respected speaker myself.  Last night, I took advantage of an opportunity that came my way, and I took full advantage of it.  I have absolutely no regrets about spending those few hundred dollars.  As far as I’m concerned, that was money well spent.

A fulfilling life is about taking advantage of opportunities when they come your way.  Don’t be one of those people who doesn’t take a chance and end up regretting it later.  Grab the opportunity when it comes your way.  You’ll be smiling afterward — and you just might end up with a great story to tell.

Don’t fear the CrossFit

(Photo source: https://www.endlesscrossfit.com)

“I gotta run a little faster; I gotta reach for the sky; I gotta come a little closer; even if I lose, I gotta try…”
— Kansas, “Inside Of Me”

“Try not.  Do.  Or do not.  There is no try.”
— Yoda

Every Saturday, my CrossFit gym invites friends to join members for workouts (“Bring A Friend Day,” as it’s called).  It’s a little bit of a misnomer, as guests don’t necessarily have to be friends — as one coach likes to describe it, “bring your friends, neighbors, coworkers, colleagues, enemies, ‘frenemies,’ whomever.”  It doesn’t necessarily have to be by invitation; anyone interested in trying CrossFit can come to these classes — a type of “try before you buy” session, if you will.

I’ve tried to get friends to go to these sessions, with mixed success.  Those who do enjoy the sessions, but I have yet to have one friend (other than my wife) try it out and join the gym.  (Admittedly, there are fringe benefits for me to get someone to sign up — a month of free membership, for example.)

What’s interesting is those who don’t try it and outright refuse my offer to join me.  (As I tell people, joining me in these sessions pretty much guarantees that I will work out on Saturday!)  I tried to tell one friend that I thought CrossFit might benefit her.  Not only did she outright refuse to take me up on it, I got the impression that she was actually scared to try it.  She would not even keep an open mind about it; she just said, “I will NOT do it.  Don’t ever ask me about it again.”  End of conversation.

My question: why???

I would never twist anyone’s arm into trying it (well, okay, maybe friends with whom I know I can get away with it), but what I don’t completely understand is why people fear it.  I get why people won’t do things like go bungee-jumping (disclosure: I am deathly acrophobic), eating exotic foods (I’ll try almost anything, although I draw the line at anything that has more than four legs, shellfish excluded — Andrew Zimmern I’m not!), or do something on a dare.  But why are people afraid to try CrossFit?

I think part of it is that it’s human nature to fear what you don’t know.  People will see these images of CrossFit (I often post what I do on Facebook) and immediately get the impression that they’re expected to be able to lift large amounts of weights, be pushed to do double-unders, or be able to do pull-ups right off the bat.  The fear of “gymtimidation” comes into play.  People who fear it are likely afraid of being embarrassed or injured.

First, one of the selling points of CrossFit is that anyone can do it.  I’ve seen people as old as eighty (and even more!) in the gym.  I once saw a guy who had the use of only one arm in a workout (it was interesting watching him on a rower and an Assault bike).  I’ve seen newbies who struggle with weightlifting form.  Even I have my own struggles; I can’t (yet) do any moves that involve pulling myself up (pull-ups, muscle-ups, rope climbs, etc.), I have trouble with movements that involve squatting (I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my knees), and I’m not exactly the fastest runner (for me, there’s almost no difference between a jog, a sprint, or a fast walk).  Heck, even some warmups can sometime leave me out of breath.

However, one of CrossFit’s selling points is that it is scalable.  You are never asked to do anything you are not capable of doing.  If you have trouble with pull-ups (like I do), you can do barbell pull-ups or ring rows.  Unable to do a certain type of weightlifting movement?  Don’t worry about the weight; instead, use a lighter weight, an empty bar, or even a PVC pipe, and practice your technique.  Whatever movement gives you trouble, there is always a way to scale it that will allow you to perform it to your capabilities.

I’m sure the fear of being injured comes into play.  As I just said, you’ll never be pushed to do what you’re not capable of doing.  But one of the selling points for me is that CrossFit emphasizes technique.  If you are not sure about how to do a movement, coaches will teach you how.  If your form has issues, coaches will tweak it so it is better.  Technique is key to anything: the better your form, the less chance you’ll be injured.

I also think the intensity is a factor.  CrossFit can get very intense.  Admittedly, there isn’t a lot that’s enjoyable about working your tail off to the point where you’re gasping for breath and end up lying on the floor.  That’s something that can scare people off.  However, how hard you work out is up to you.  Intensity is what you make of it.  But why is it so intense?

I think it’s because the majority of people who take CrossFit seriously want to improve.  People push themselves because they want to get better at what they do.  Did a deadlift weight of 305 pounds?  Next time, I’m going to try 315.  Run 5,000 meters in under ten minutes?  Next time, shoot for nine.  CrossFit is about making yourself better.  While you are not asked to do anything you can’t do, you are asked to challenge yourself and push the limits of what you can do.  Even my own gym’s motto is “(Be)tter” (as in, “be better”).  I wrote before that you have to get uncomfortable in order to improve.  Making yourself better involves going out of your comfort zone.  How much discomfort — intensity — you decide to put into it is up to you.

Finally, there’s the phenomenon that Planet Fitness refers to as “gymtimidation.”  People are embarrassed by their lesser skill level and are often intimidated by performing in front of other people who are in much better shape.  This attitude does not exist in CrossFit.  Everyone — even the elite athletes — roots for everyone else to succeed.  I remember one time watching the CrossFit Games on TV and hearing the commentator say, “CrossFit is probably the only sport in which the person who comes in last gets the loudest cheers.”  Even in events where athletes are finished, they will often go back out into the field to cheer on and encourage those who are still working through the event.  Here’s a secret: everyone, at some point in their lives, was a beginner at something.  Someone once said that one of the worst phrases ever coined was “do it right the first time.”  It’s almost never done right the first time.  Fear of embarrassment should never be a factor in trying something new.

I wrote before that CrossFit is a supportive community.  I have made a large number of friends in CrossFit, and even though I look more like a couch potato than an elite athlete, I feel as comfortable with this group as I do as any group in which I’m involved.

Although people have their reasons why they don’t want to try CrossFit, fear should not be one of them.  CrossFit can be a fun and exciting way to keep fit.  Give it a try.  Who knows?  You might just get hooked — like I did!

And if any of my local friends are interested in hitting a Saturday “Bring A Friend” WOD, hit me up!