The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 24: Coping with the stress #COVID19

I’m not going to lie. The mental stress of being out of a job (ten months, and counting) is affecting me in many ways. I’ll talk about the mental stress (which is what this article is mostly about) in a minute, but before I get into that, let me talk about something that has been affecting me physically.

Last year, gyms were closed down due to the pandemic. As a result, I wasn’t able to attend CrossFit classes. For me, one of the biggest benefits of CrossFit classes was that it created a routine. I tend to be a creature of habit, and as long as I stick to a routine, I’m generally okay. With the gyms closed due to the pandemic, that routine was broken. I didn’t stay active at home as I would’ve liked (although I did attempt a Couch to 5K program). I started developing issues with my back and my shoulder (which continue even as I write this), enough to require physical therapy. Now, the gyms are back open, but I’ve been dealing with physical issues that prevent me from working out as I’d like. Thankfully, PT seems to be alleviating these issues, and I’m hoping to become active again soon.

That said, the past year has affected me mentally and psychologically, and I’ve fallen into some bad habits. I haven’t been as active with my business as I should be. I’ve been moody, and I seem to have mood swings easily. The constant battle of looking for employment has been extremely taxing and frustrating. A lot of activities that I normally enjoy haven’t been giving me much pleasure as of late.

I could keep going, but the last thing I want to do is write a woe-is-me article where I feel like I’m trying to solicit sympathy. I’m not (at least I don’t think I am, anyway — maybe some of you might disagree, but I digress). Rather, I’m laying out the scenario so that I can write about coping strategies (and I’m writing this for myself as much as any of you who might be in the same boat). In my job hunt presentation, I talk about making sure that you take care of yourself. This article is about practicing what I preach.

Before I started this article, I sat in my home office, thinking about “what should I do to get back on track.” I thought about a number of things, and I’d like to share them with you.

First of all, I revisited one of my hobbies: songwriting. I’ve been working on an idea for a new song, and I opened my notation app to revisit it. I’m finding that doing so is pleasantly distracting; it gets my brain working on something productive. Doing this makes an adjustment to my mental activity which, I believe, will improve my mental and psychological state over the long run.

I was also fortunate enough to be contacted by a friend of mine who said he might have a project for me. We spoke, and I told him I’d look at it. It’s not gainful employment per se, but it’s another productive distraction to get me going again. On that same topic, I also have other projects for my clients that I need to revisit as well.

Other friends have other coping ideas as well. I highly recommend Steve Jones‘ series of articles about daily coping. His suggestions make a lot of sense, and I find that they improve my mood (I’ve even told him as such).

I need to do something physical as well. My doctor recommended that I do a minimum of five minutes of physical activity per day. At the time of the recommendation, I was in serious pain (directly related to the conditions I mentioned at the top of this article) so I wasn’t able to do this right away, but now that they’re somewhat better, I feel like I can partake. I do have an exercise bike; I will be making use of it. Additionally, I will be investing in some resistance bands and PVC pipes (to do pass-throughs).

And, if nothing else, I’m also trying to come up with ideas for ‘blog articles.

You need to take care of yourself before you can take on your responsibilities. These might sound like small moves, but small moves add up. Things like this can reinvigorate yourself and get you back on track. And once they do, you can be productive again.

March CASSUG Monthly Meeting

Our March meeting will again be online. NOTE: you MUST RSVP to this Meetup at https://www.meetup.com/Capital-Area-SQL…/events/276698548/ to view the Zoom URL!

Our March guest speaker is David Klee!

Topic: Modern CPU Architecture and SQL Server Performance

Modern CPU architectures are complex and misunderstood, especially as they relate to SQL Server instance configuration and database usage patterns. Default values in virtualization and the SQL Server instance can cause misalignments and improper balance in the way the SQL Server lines up with the CPUs and memory, which results in an immediate (and silent) performance penalty. Come learn as we discuss topics such as physical and virtual NUMA, hyperthreading, query parallelism, and instance settings, and show you how to validate your SQL Server architecture and improve the performance of your critical SQL Servers for both on-prem and cloud-based SQL Servers.

Our online meeting schedule is as follows:
6:00: General chat, discussion, and announcements
6:30: Presentation
We usually wrap up between 7:30 PM and 8:00 PM.

Please RSVP to this Meetup, then use the online event URL to join (note: you MUST RSVP for the URL to be visible). We will send out a meeting password as we get closer to the event.

Thanks to our sponsor, Datto, for making this event possible!

What a TV ballgame can teach us about design

This afternoon, the 2021 slate of spring training games started for Major League Baseball. And of course, being the big baseball fan that I am, I took to it like a lion to a steak.

I wasn’t thinking too much about design or layout until I heard Michael Kay of YES mention, “I think our fans will like the new clean design of our scorecard.”

At least that’s what I think he said. It threw me for a loop, because I am enough of a baseball fan that whenever I go to the ballpark, I’ll buy a scorecard and keep score during the game. So when he said “scorecard,” I thought about a pencil and paper in my hand (and, usually, a hot dog or a beer in the other). At that point, I realized that he was referring to the score display in the upper left-hand corner of my TV, as pictured below.

It then occurred to me: “wow! That’s a TON of information contained in that one graphic!” At that point, I felt compelled to write this article.

So, let’s break down just how much information is contained here. (A warning to those of you who don’t know anything about baseball: for most of this article, I am going to “speak baseball.” If you’re not a baseball fan, you’re just going to have to bear with me.)

First, I’ll start with a paragraph as to what information is contained in this graphic. Be forewarned: I am about to inundate you with information.

In the top of the third inning, Toronto leads New York, 3-0. There are runners on first and second, with nobody out. Jansen, the Blue Jays’ number 7 batter in the lineup, is facing Wojciechowski, the Yankee pitcher. Wojciecowski has thrown ten pitches, and has a full (three ball, two strike) count to Jansen.

That’s a lot of information to glean from a single graphic, isn’t it? Let’s break it down.

  • We’ll start with the score. Toronto 3, New York 0. (I’m sure that will please many Yankee haters out there.) The score dominates most of this graphic. I don’t want to say that’s obvious, but it does take up most of the image, and is the largest takeaway.
  • Underneath the score are two names, located under the teams for which they play: Jansen for Toronto, and Wojciechowski for New York. The 7 in front of Jansen represents his spot in the lineup (which would be a number from 1 to 9). “10 P” indicates that Wojciechowski has thrown ten pitches. (Note: since Wojciechowski is an unusually long name, the pitcher’s name and the number of pitches would not ordinarily run into each other like that.)

On the right side of the graphic, we see a couple of smaller graphics.

  • Let’s start with the box containing the shapes. We see three boxes, two of which are blue (and the third is gray), denoting baserunners on first and second base. The boxes represent the bases (going right to left, first, second, and third base). The boxes that are blue indicate that they are occupied by baserunners. If the bases were loaded, all three boxes would be blue; if no one was on base, all three would be gray.
  • Under the boxes representing the bases, there’s a “3” indicating the inning. The arrow (represented by the triangle next to the 3) denotes whether it’s the top or bottom of the inning. Therefore, the arrow pointing up and the “3” indicates that it’s the top of the third inning.
  • Now, let’s look at the “3-2” with the two gray circles underneath. The 3-2 refers to the batter’s count. For those of you who are baseball-challenged, a “count” represents the number of balls and strikes on a hitter. A batter who gets four balls is allowed to go to first base (called a “base on balls” or a “walk”). A batter who gets three strikes is out. So the “count” represents the batter’s status, and is always represented as numbers denoting balls-strikes (2-1, 1-2, 3-2, etc.). Therefore, 3-2 indicates that the batter has three balls and two strikes on him.
  • Finally, the two circles under the count represents the number of outs. Each blue circle represents an out (there are three outs in an inning). That these circles are gray indicates that there are no outs in the inning. (And no outs, with a 3-2 count, and two baserunners are a pretty good indication that the pitcher — Wojciechowski — is in trouble.)

The point is that within a relatively small space, a great deal of information can be gleaned. This concept carries over into many concepts of design, including data visualization and interface design. A person who understands how to read that information can obtain a large amount of information from a well-designed graphic.

Whomever it was that designed this score display definitely knew what (s)he was doing. Kudos to the person who designed it. I think this is a great example of how good design can effectively convey information.

Think spam calls aren’t a big deal? Think again

We all get them.

There’s a message on your voicemail saying “we’ve been trying to reach you about your warranty” or “we’ve detected problems with your computer.” They’re full of crap, and you know it. You figure that they’re mere annoyances. You don’t answer the phone anymore, or you’ve installed a spam filter on your phone (disclosure: I’ve done both of these). If it’s important, let them leave a message. Just ignore them. Not a big deal.

I’ve personally discovered that it is a big deal. They are not only disruptive, they are potentially dangerous. And I have some stories to explain how they’re dangerous.

I’ll start with one that’s not necessarily dangerous, but it did disrupt something important. I recently had an email exchange from someone asking me for my personal info for tax reasons. This was a legitimate exchange; this was NOT spam. I called and left her a message. A couple of weeks later, I received an email saying, “I’m still waiting to hear back from you.” I responded with, “did you not get my message?” It turned out that she did not recognize my phone number and deleted the message. This was an important, time-sensitive message that could have caused problems if we had not resolved it.

Another incident happened a few months ago (and unlike the above story, this one was dangerous). I’m purposely keeping this vague for privacy reasons, but here’s the gist of it: one day, I received multiple phone calls from a number I did not recognize. Of course, I ignored them as spam. They did not leave a message. I later received a phone call from the hospital. It turned out that those calls were from EMS regarding someone who had me listed as the emergency contact, informing me that this person had to go to the hospital. Unlike the previous story, this was a situation that was dangerous and could have had disastrous consequences. (As it turned out, it ended well, and the crisis was averted, but it could have ended up much worse. I could argue that EMS should have left messages, but I digress.)

I could list several more stories, but by now, I think you have the idea.

The bottom line is that spam phone calls are NOT inane and harmless. They’re the little boy who cried wolf, and they need to be dealt with. I don’t know what the statistics are (if any exist), but it wouldn’t surprise me if spammers were responsible for millions of dollars of losses, and possibly even hundreds of deaths. I realize that trying to track down the criminals who are responsible for spam is nearly an impossible task, but it needs to be done, and they need to be prosecuted. I realize that communication companies and cybercrime units are doing the best they can, but it’s a tall order.

When (not if) you receive a spam call, try to take steps to report it, if you are able to do so (and yes, I realize that it can be a pain). The sooner we put these criminals behind bars, the sooner we can start picking up the phone again.

Remember the past, embrace what’s next

“Don’t hang on; nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky; it slips away, and all your money won’t another minute buy…”

Kansas, Dust In The Wind

“Movin’ me down the highway, rollin’ me down the highway; movin’ ahead so life won’t pass me by…”

Jim Croce, I Got A Name

When I was in grad school, I wrote a quote for a paper I wrote. My professor loved it, and I’ve used it plenty of times since then. “Ben Franklin had it wrong,” I wrote (or something like that). “There are not two sure things, but three: death, taxes, and change.”

What made me think of this is a Facebook meme that made its rounds over the weekend. Valentine’s Day was this weekend, and a meme with the hashtag #ValentinesDayChallenge was going around. I figured it was fun and harmless (as far as I know, I didn’t include any security info that could be hacked), so I participated.

I still look my answers over, even a couple of days later, and it makes me smile. My wife and I have had some fun times during our years together, and I certainly hope they continue. We’ve done a lot of things that I would love to relive. But, of course, that’s impossible. That time has passed, and we need to confront whatever is ahead.

The fact is, we cannot move backwards in time, and we can only deal with what’s in front of us. What’s done is done. If it was something good, you reflect on it. If it was bad, you learn from it and move on. Unfortunately, too many people (and I’ll admit falling into this trap myself on occasion) don’t understand this. They don’t just want to remember the past; they want to live there. But the fact is, time marches on, and change happens. Those who continue to try living in the past are doomed to fail.

Memories are a wonderful thing — as a song lyric once lamented, they’re “sweetened through the ages just like wine.” It’s okay to remember and reflect on them. But it’s not okay to dwell on them. Memories belong to the past. You can only control the future. Don’t try to go back to what’s already happened. Instead, create new memories that you’ll enjoy reflecting upon once they’re done.

Dating yourself on your #resume — #JobHunt

I’ve spoken to a number of friends about my frustration regarding the job hunt (going nine [!!!] months — and counting). I’ve wondered, at times, whether one of the reasons why I’ve been constantly rejected is my age.

Ageism — a.k.a. age discrimination — is, of course, illegal. But when it comes to the job hunt, it’s nearly impossible to prove. I’ve spoken with a number of my friends and colleagues who believe that it not only exists, but is prevalent. (Before anyone decries me for this statement, no, I don’t have any facts to back this up; this is merely what has come up in conversation. Maybe someone who knows more about human resources can explain this better than I can.)

In any case, one piece of advice I’ve received is to only include the last ten years of experience on my resume. That’s well and good, except that I have a lot of relevant experience that goes back a lot more than ten years. As a technical writer, I want to keep all my listings consistent. How do I go about keeping these experience listing on my resume without listing dates?

The solution: I divided the work experience on my resume into two sections. Under my Work Experience heading, I listed my experience going back to 2009 (slightly more than ten years, but for my own purposes, it works). The second section uses a heading labeled “Previous Work Experience (before 2009),” under which I list my positions — without dates — that I held before then.

It seems like a good solution for obfuscating older experience dates that might reveal your age. However, also be wary of other parts of your resume that might also indicate how old you might be. For me, personally, that section was my education. Before I revamped my resume, my bachelors and masters degree listings included my years of graduation. Those years were also removed as well. Prospective employers just need to know that I have those degrees; they don’t have to know when I got them.

So, if you’re a job hunter who’s older than, say, 35, hopefully this tip will help you with your job search and combat any ageism that might exist.

February CASSUG Monthly Meeting

Our February meeting will again be online. NOTE: you MUST RSVP to this Meetup at https://www.meetup.com/Capital-Area-SQL-Server-User-Group/events/275968506/ to view the Zoom URL!

Our February guest speaker is Elizabeth Noble!

Topic: Streamline Database Deployments

Our online meeting schedule is as follows:
6:00: General chat, discussion, and announcements
6:30: Presentation
We usually wrap up between 7:30 PM and 8:00 PM.

Please RSVP to this Meetup, then use the online event URL to join (note: you MUST RSVP for the URL to be visible). We will send out a meeting password as we get closer to the event.

Thanks to our sponsor, Datto, for making this event possible!

Setting up my #Sessionize profile, and speaking opportunities — #DataSaturday

The other day, I wrote about how Data Saturday — the successor to SQL Saturday — was making use of Sessionize for event applications and scheduling. In order to take advantage of the technology, not to mention future opportunities to speak, I took the time to work on my Sessionize profile.

It turned out to be a lot of work — much more than I expected. I already had my bio and my presentation descriptions within the application, but I discovered a number of other features that, I believe, will present me with additional opportunities to speak.

First, while Sessionize keeps track of events to which you apply through its application, I discovered that it also has the ability to enter external events not scheduled through Sessionize. Even the header on the external events page says, “Organizers love to see your talk history” (and I agree). So, I went through my presentations page to enter all my previous speaking engagements that I did not schedule through Sessionize.

Did I mention that it was a lot of work? I started speaking regularly in 2015. In that time (until now), I’ve spoken at 26 SQL Saturdays, two PASS Summits, seven in-person user group meetings, three professional development virtual meetings, and a podcast. Granted, I know people who’ve spoken at more events than I have, but still, that’s a lot of speaking engagements. I added them to my external events, including descriptions and web links (where applicable — since PASS.org is no longer active, I linked the SQL Saturday pages to the schedule PDFs that I downloaded several weeks ago, and a few other links to any YouTube presentation links I had available).

I also discovered that Sessionize has an option called “discover events” — a feature that allows you to discover potential speaking opportunities. I had gone through the Data Saturdays site to apply to speak at (virtual) events in Redmond and LA, but when I saw the “discover events” option, I got curious.

As it turned out, in order to use this option, I had to fill out sections for areas of expertise and topics, so I filled them out as best I could. Once I did so, I was able to view (and apply to) potential events. In addition to the two Data Saturday events, I also applied to the VTTA Tech Conference and Techorama 2021. (And Sessionize says that I still have an active application to speak at Albany Code Camp, where I’d applied last year, but the event was wiped out by the pandemic.) I think I have a decent shot at the Vermont tech conference, and I have my doubts about being accepted to Techorama, but I figure, you never know until you try.

So far, I do like the Sessionize application. It does a good job of keeping track of my profile and my speaking engagements, and it could potentially open up more speaking opportunities. I’ll admit that I felt some trepidation after PASS (and SQL Saturday) ceased to exist. I wanted to continue speaking at events, and I wasn’t sure how to approach it once the SQL Saturday window closed. We’ll see what speaking opportunities open up with this application.

#DataSaturday

After the demise of PASS, a common question among data enthusiasts and PASS members was, “what happens with SQL Saturday?” SQL Saturday was backed by PASS, and as such, when PASS disappeared, so did SQL Saturday.

Enter Data Saturdays, the successor to SQL Saturday. As I write this, the first Data Saturday is in progress, in Guatemala (virtually, of course).

I’ve applied to speak at the first Data Saturday in the US (so far), event #5 in Redmond, WA on April 17. I submitted three sessions: my presentations on ‘blogging, job hunting, and networking.

When I submitted my sessions, I was a little surprised to see my information come up in the speaker’s profile. My initial thought was that they had exported and imported my profile and presentation info from the PASS.org site, but I don’t think this is the case. Data Saturday uses Sessionize to coordinate events, and as it turned out, I already had a Sessionize profile; I had created it last year for Albany Code Camp, where I had applied to speak last year; of course, the event was wiped out due to COVID. I did notice, on my Sessionize profile, that my submissions are in evaluation for Albany Code Camp on September 25, so I’m assuming that that event is rescheduled for that date.

We’ll see if I’m picked to speak for the Redmond event. There are a number of additional Data Saturday events listed as well; I haven’t yet decided what other events I’ll apply to speak. Even though the events are virtual (for now), they still require some work, and I’m wary of spreading myself too thin, despite my desire to speak at more events.

In any case, I’m looking forward to participating in this next endeavor. I’m looking forward to contributing toward these conferences, and, as always, I’m also looking forward to reconnecting with my #SQLFamily friends.

Archiving my talks, part 3: PASS Summit — #PASS

With the imminent demise of PASS, I figured I should take Steve Jones‘ advice and archive my presentation links.

I spoke at PASS Summit in 2019 (in Seattle) and 2020 (virtually). Naturally, I wanted to get as much as I could from my sessions from those two events.

Unfortunately, it appears that the pages from 2019 are no more. Even the pass.org/summit/2019 URL goes to the 2020 Virtual Summit page, not 2019. So, unfortunately, it appears that many (not all — see below) references to PASS Summit 2019 are lost forever.

However, it appears that the 2020 PASS Virtual Summit page appears to still be active (until next week), so I figured I should grab whatever I could from my presentation.

Alas, getting material from the PASS Summit page is not as straightforward as from the SQL Saturday pages. Unlike the SQL Saturday pages, I did not see a “create PDF” option for the schedule. I did grab screen captures for both my speaker’s description page and my presentation session page (as seen below).

My 2020 PASS Summit speaker’s page
My 2020 PASS Summit session page

I mentioned that just about all references to 2019 PASS Summit appear to be gone. One thing I did manage to download from 2019 was my session recording. Like my virtual group recordings, I took my recording and uploaded it to my personal YouTube. You can view my 2019 PASS Summit presentation here.

I did not do the same with my 2020 presentation. As I mentioned, I ended up having technical issues with my presentation, so I elected not to download it. (Steve Jones suggested that I re-record it and upload it to the PASS Summit site, but that was before PASS announced they were shutting down. I don’t see the point of doing it now.)

At the moment, I believe that takes care of most of my speaking archive. (There’s also the links to my in-person user group talks, but those are archived on Meetup, and are controlled by individual user groups, not PASS, so they’re not as urgent.) I’ll keep poking around to make sure I haven’t missed anything,.