T-SQL Tuesday #131: Bean Counters and Databases

This month’s topic is being hosted by @sql_r – thanks Rob!

“For this month’s T-SQL Tuesday, I’d like you to write about your favorite analogies that help explain database concepts to people who aren’t database experts. I like the spirit of Reddit’s Explain Like I’m Five (ELI5) subreddit, where the explanations are meant for someone who has no previous assumptions about the topic.”

At a dinner party long ago, I was asked what I did for a living and was met with some odd looks. Truth be told, numbers are not my thing and I barely passed my accounting and finance classes in college.

Trip Down Memory Lane

One of my favorite documentaries about computer history is called Accidental Empires by Robert X. Cringley (TV version was called Triumph of the Nerds). There was a scene where before the electronic spreadsheet was invented and coded into software (VisiCalc) a professor was standing in front of a chalkboard. The kind that created nasty chalk dust and make a distinct sound when writing with it. This professor was writing a pattern of grids on the board – it was a chalk version of a spreadsheet. When he needed to re-calculate a set of cells, he make the calculation on a TI Business Analyst hand calculator, erased the previous results, then wrote in the new calculations.

Dan Brinklin got the idea that this could be done on the computer via software and the professor started shaking with anticipation, “You don’t understand, this is what I have to do all day!!!” Visions of helping accountants and bookkeepers and business people really spurred him on.

Back To The Party

So I struck up a conversation with someone who was an accountant (also called a bean counter, outside of financial circles). They asked what I did for a living. I said I worked with databases and tried to expand on that…

“A database is set of two computer files, a data file and a log file. Got to be sure they stay healthy!”

More blanks stares. I was going to try something different. Hold my beer.

“A data file is like a chart of accounts. It has everything you need to run the business. The log file is like the general ledger– transactions get posted from here into the chart of accounts. Between the two, the general ledger is the MOST important as it contains a sequential record of all of the transactions. As a database administrator, keeping the log file of any database backed up and running smooth is very important to me.”

A light bulb went off in their head. They understood what I was saying in a language they could understand.

Conclusion

Try to put things into terms your audience can understand, especially those outside of your technical expertise.

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T-SQL Tuesday #130 – Automation Using Python

This month’s #TSQL2sday topic is being hosted by Elizabeth Noble, known on Twitter as @SQLZelda

Thanks Elizabeth!

From her post, I picked: “…If you haven’t had a chance to automate some part of your job, what would you like to automate and what are your hurdles?”

My Passion Outside of Work – Virtual Reality (VR)

So I’m into VR. You might have seen SQLMemorial (although I’ve updated the workflows since that post and, sadly, added some more people- latest video is here). I love building and doing things in VR. I use Epic Games Unreal Engine (UE4) and a host of other tools.

Automate the Boring Stuff With Python

I’ve mentioned this book before (ATBSWP) and it’s on-line content. It has been updated to the second edition and focuses exclusively on Python 3. Yay! It’s a great way to both learn Python and do useful things with it. Lots to learn and try.

Scripting the Unreal Engine Editor Using Python

While you cannot use Python when a game is running using UE4, one can however script out A LOT of things within the editor itself. Although until the VFX Reference Platform is completely updated to Python 3, sometime in 2020, UE4 natively runs 2.7 – boo. But! One can make some changes and re-build the ‘Engine from C++ source (~45 minutes on my desktop rig). Re-building from source is not for the faint of heart but it is possible- I figured it out!

The documentation is a great place to start. Manually manipulating objects is a slow and error-prone process and being able to automate common tasks within the Editor is a huge time-saver. Plus there are a ton of free scripts built by the community on github and other places.

Scripting Azure Data Studio or SSMS with Python

This is the benefit or curse of having multiple technical interests- it makes one ask if something works here, then why can’t it work there?  Food for thought.

Why Can’t We Easily Run Python in SSIS?

At work I am investigating using SSIS to connect to various data sources and do ETL tasks. I would love to be able to use Python. Sadly one can only execute Python scripts as an Execute Process Task, not as a Script Task. Also, one doesn’t have any control over Execute Process Task – either it works or it doesn’t and one has to have different logging set-up to troubleshoot errors and monitoring. Script Task can do VB and C# but not Python. I don’t know why that hasn’t been implemented in SSIS. I also know one can run T-SQL Python scripts but honestly that syntax is still kludgy to me and one loses Visual Studio Intellisense, step in, step out, breakpoints, unit testing like one can do with .NET languages. We are slowly moving things into the cloud so maybe I just need to figure out the hybrid or pure cloud approach.

And Now For Something Completely Different – Desktop Supercomputing

Too many projects I want to pursue. I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of cluster computing and now with Raspberry Pi, one can explore building and using them at a modest cost. Raspberry Pi Supercomputing and Scientific Programming talks about building them and if you want to buy a fully built system, take a look at picocluster. And what language can one program them with? Python, of course!

Conclusion

Python is a great language to learn and do things with- the more one uses it on a day to day basis, the easier it becomes to think about doing more and more things with it. Now with Python 3 here to stay, I’m slowly on my way to becoming a better Python programmer to help ATBSWP and all of the fun stuff too.

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T-SQL Tuesday #129 – Diamonds and Rust \m/-_-\m/

This month’s T-SQL Tuesday “Let’s Build a Time Capsule” topic was created and is being hosted by Tamera Clark. Thanks Tamera!

Nostalgia

We have a fondness to remember things from the past with nostalgia. This is a normal human emotion to feel. I have a “thing” for 80’s heavy metal as I grew up during that time and went to several concerts. Remember going to concerts??? So when this SQL time capsule gets opened up sometime in the future, it will be remembered with generally positive thoughts and feelings. It is also supposed to be a reflection of things at the time it was sealed up- the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Diamonds and Rust

I love the cover version by Judas Priest of Joan Baez’s song Diamonds and Rust. And in memory of the late Peter Green The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown) from the same tour.

Memories can bring back a whole host of thoughts and feelings. Sometimes we even recall things incorrectly, as in things did not happen exactly as we once thought they did. Hence the title of my post in reference to the song of the same. Rusty things which were once beautiful and diamonds with a patina of rust on them (although diamonds really don’t rust, heh).

Data Archival

As data professionals, we wring our hands about consuming space from backups. I have done a lot of research in this area and one of the more interesting technologies I stumbled across is the Rosetta Disk. Imagine instead of storing data for archival using magnetic fields, the ones and zeroes are etched into a surface which can last for 10,000 years. Best part is that it only requires an optical device like a microscope to read- no electronics are required.

From the #SQLFamily what would I want to be etched on it? A copy of the latest SQLMemorial. A dump from Twitter of #SQLhspics of course. And maybe a PDF of Microsoft SQL documentation. And maybe a copy of SQL Server 2000 Developer Edition too just for grins and giggles.

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T-SQL Tuesday #128: Learn From Others – Let It Fail

This month’s T-SQL Tuesday is being hosted by @AirborneGeek – thanks Kerry!

Introduction and Backtrack on Original Post

I had originally wanted to talk about preventable deaths and injuries related to school buses NOT having underride guards installed at the back of the bus. Some background. It was becoming more of a rant as to why we haven’t mandated underride guards on school buses since the high profile death of Jayne Mansfield in 1966 – 54 years ago. It was her death and the following NHTSA recommendation which forced the trucking industry to implement the ICC bar also known as a Mansfield bar. Seeing the graphic images of modern day examples and how nothing has been done about it just wasn’t helping me deal with my own personal experiences of seeing this firsthand myself. So I decided to switch gears and talk about how doing nothing is a valid option…

“Let it Fail”

Many years ago, I worked at a place which hosted its own datacenter in the building. We used high-speed, fiber connected direct storage to a database server – two of them identically set-up. I still remember their names, Ebony and Ivory running SQL2000. We used log shipping to keep them in sync. This was a very high traffic OLTP system.

But we were running out of disk space. We were going to upgrade to SQL2008 connected to the SAN and get rid of the direct attached storage but we weren’t there yet. It was going to be a side-by-side migration.

Due to retention and security requirements of a PCI system, we couldn’t just backup then copy things over to the SAN to free up space. Plus they were upgrading the SAN too- we didn’t have the space yet. And we had a building and datacenter move on the horizon so upper management was hesitant to fiddle with anything until after the move was complete.

The log shipping was a beast. It would take over a day to re-sync (restore from backup then apply all of the t-logs since the backup (backup takes several hours), plus all of the t-logs getting generated while the restore is happening. Then this crazy dance to get it to match at the very end- I’m talking a window of only a few minutes. And if any of this fails, guess what? You get to start ALL over again. And delete old files to free up space for the next attempt. And be sure you don’t run out of disk space during the whole activity- that’s how little space we had work with.

It was during one of these putting my finger in the dike episodes and dealing with lack of disk space, my boss said,

“Todd, let it fail.”

And I’m like what? Ever fiber of my professional being screamed “NO”. And I’m like, “How can you say that?”

“Do you want to keep putting your finger in the dike and putting the business at risk because our DR environment is not sychronized? We need more space and letting it fail (can’t sync) is going to force upper management to get us the space we need.”

Of course I didn’t get his order in writing but I did it- I let it fail. True to his word, upper management freaked out and said we have to fix this immediately, we must have DR, and what do you need to fix this problem ASAP?

So they bought larger disks (with much better I/O too) and since the volumes were set-up as RAID10, all we had to do was to slowly replace each disk in the arrays, one by one and let it re-build the drive.

Afterwards, re-syncing Ebony and Ebony was much faster and we didn’t have to fiddle with disk space ever again on that system before the SQL2008 upgrade.

Conclusion

I think people forget that “doing nothing” is a valid option. Oftentimes we have to go to extremes to force the issue and honestly I didn’t know if that was going to turn into a career-limiting move or not. It was a gamble and it paid off. I didn’t have to waste anymore time dealing with disk space issues on those systems ever again or that sinking feeling of not having a DR system ready.

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The Empathy Engine and My First Presentation in AltspaceVR

Kenneth Fisher has challenged us to an interesting topic for this month’s T-SQL Tuesday: TSQL Tuesday #127 Invite – Non SQL Tips and tricks

“…something completely unrelated.” <- well okay then, so here goes!

The Empathy Engine

As most of the people who know me, I am into virtual reality (VR). My twitter tagline is just that, “SQL By Day, VR By Night”.

A book was published in 2018 by Jeremy Bailenson, Experience on Demand. He knows what he’s talking about- he has been using high-end VR systems for over twenty years, mainly in academic environments. He has said that VR is one of the best empathy engines we have access to. And now with affordable consumer grade VR headsets, even more so.

A few years ago, a great movie came out, Green Book. Highly recommended. And recently a new VR experience has been trending on the Oculus Store, Traveling While Black.

It is free on the Oculus Store so I downloaded it this morning and experienced it this morning too. About an 8GB download and takes about 20 minutes to run. It is a cinematic VR experience shot in 360 degree video. So one just sits back and watches (no interaction like in a game) but one can look around with your headset on. You feel like you are immersed in the storytelling. Watching a movie on a screen is one thing but being immersed in it with an intense sense of presence is just different. So if you have a VR headset compatible with the experience, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

AltspaceVR

AltspaceVR is a company recently acquired by Microsoft. It is a social VR platform with lots of places to explore and see. The two main ones I like are Educators in VR and XR Creators.

My First Presentation in AltspaceVR for XR Creators

This past weekend, I gave my first presentation in AltspaceVR. One can see the recorded livestream on YouTube here.

As with any new presentation medium, there are always going to be new challenges to be overcome. It is not a technical presentation until something goes technically wrong, right?

ALWAYS DO A TECHNICAL TEST BEFOREHAND AT THE VENUE!!!

That’s me on the left. FYI- the main screen is a web browser inside of AltspaceVR which has been configured to pull from slides.com

Beforehand, I had loaded up the slides on slides.com and re-started my desktop computer. NOTE!!! That site mangled my PowerPoint slides when I uploaded it; if I had time I would have gone in and tweaked all them on the website, fixed word wrapping, images, etc. I even uploaded a couple of hours before just to be prepared!

I have never used slides.com before. I logged into the virtual space over and hour early (with gracious help from one of the hosts) to test and I noticed my embedded YouTube videos didn’t work anymore- no autoplay. So I had to go into slides.com and adjust (and learn how to adjust) the videos to autoplay. Then I also noticed my slide advance could only go forward- no back. So think about that for a moment- I am trying to use a VR controller to advance the slides with the pull of a trigger. If I accidentally touch it, how can I go back? Was getting nervous about not having all of this figured out beforehand. So I thought, well, I can angle my avatar’s body 45 degrees on the stage, “look” over my left shoulder to see the slides and then move my head to the right a little to see the audience. Not ideal but it could work.

So with the help of the host, I learned that one can launch a presenter-only browser to be used like a professional monitor. With that launched, I could go back and forward by using the keyboard Page Up and Page Down. Have you seen high-end presentations where the speaker has a fancy monitor below the stage level only they can see but the audience cannot? Very similar. And what’s cool is that I can re-position it anywhere! It is transparent to the audience. I can completely face the audience, look at my “monitor” in front of me while my avatar is off to the side and be able to advance slides too. Tested it several times, watched videos successfully play, etc. Problem solved… Took a bio break and drank some water.

15 minutes before go time, I re-don my headset, watch avatars start to stream into the venue, and try to quickly move splash slide to my first slide and back again just to be sure everything is working.

Nothing.

Keyboard was not working! Refreshed my monitor browser and tried again. Nothing. Closed and re-pasted URL. No change. Stopped live presenting in slides.com and started live presenting again. Nothing. More avatars streaming in. “Todd, how’s it going? Are we good to go?” So I’m talking to the hosts trying to figure this out and say “hi” to people coming in.

I bailed on the presenter monitor and went back to the 45 degree angle thing. I asked one of the hosts, “If I have my left controller in my pocket (so I can operate Page Up and Page Down on my keyboard) and my right controller in my hand, does this look ok?” He was parallel to the giant slide show and it looked fine from his perspective.

But when I watched the livestream afterwards, oh my.

The virtual camera to record is positioned in the middle and above the audience. At that viewing angle however, my left hand controller didn’t look like it was naturally hanging from my left side.

It looked like I had my avatar’s left hand on my crotch the whole presentation.

Dear Lawd.

Lessons Learned

1. The mic on a VR headset will pick up EVERYTHING. It is only a couple of inches from your face, not like desktop mic. We were having a terrible windstorm that day and it kicked up dust and pollen and my allergies kicked in. I felt so embarrassed counting the number of times I sniffled.

2. While I was sincerely passionate about the content, not starting off as smooth as I wanted to rattled me. Practice in the medium as best you can. uhm(s), transition phrases, repeated phrases, etc. I know this was my first preso in VR but I am pretty hard on myself and expected better.

3. Expect the unexpected. Train for it. Know it will happen. How well will you react to things going wrong? While overall I’ve received positive feedback, I still feel bad Mr. Murphy showed up.

4. Speaking of feedback- all of those bubble sounds in the video are people throwing up emojis of claps, hearts, etc. That is what was really unique about this VR presentation medium- immediate and real-time feedback to things you are talking about.

Conclusion

VR is still a wild and woolly place. A lot of the software is still beta. But we need to and should, explore and test this new medium as it has so much going for it and so much potential to help people walk in the shoes of another.

 

 

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T-SQL #126 – Dreaming of Both Blue & White Gold

T_SQL_Tuesday

Introduction

This series is part of a long tradition of something created by Adam Machanic and the torch has been passed on to Steve Jones. Thank you Adam and Steve!

And this month’s T-SQL #126 topic is being hosted by Glenn Berry. Thanks Glenn!

“Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to write about what you have been doing as a response to COVID-19. Maybe you have joined the SQLFamily FAH team. Perhaps you have been printing “ear savers” using 3D-printers like Tim Radney. Perhaps you have been donating food or doing some other sort of volunteer work. Whatever you have been doing, now is your chance to talk about it and publicize it!”

The Problem

How many times a day do YOU wash your hands with soap and water?

What if you were born and lived in a poor area where water was a precious, dreamed of commodity? In a survival situation of life and death, one can survive ~45 days or longer without food but only 72-120 hours without water.

Then you are told there is this invisible killer, spreading quickly like dust in the wind, affecting everyone in its path and killing anyone who can’t fight it?

Washing your hands SEVERAL TIMES A DAY with soap and water is your primary defense to save your life and the lives of those around you. And suddenly wearing any kind of mask or facial covering and maintaining a physical distance from everyone, including your family members becomes crucial.

But you don’t have any spare soap or water to wash your hands.

People struggle to find safe, clean, drinking and cooking water every day.

There is a report of a potential dramatic increase in starvation of biblical proportions about to hit the impoverished. There is also a real danger that more people could potentially die from the economic impact of COVID-19 than from the virus itself. Why? Because they were already marginalized before the pandemic hit and now they cannot afford or have easy access to water and food.

The Challenge

Get clean water to those in need who are forced to live off-the-grid.

Dune

I am a fan of Dune. I am fascinated by the concept of stillsuits and windtraps to capture and condense water vapor into liquid water. And I love The Science of Dune too.

Enter Stage Left – Blue Gold – Water

I have to limit this blog post to one area for the sake of brevity so I’m choosing to focus on water and my thoughts over the last few months. Gold is a valuable element and now we are presented with a take on that concept, blue gold – water.

Both the book and movie Blue Gold:World Water Wars; NEVER mentions atmospheric water generators (AWG) which I’ll get to in a moment. I find that blatant omission odd and conspicuous by its absence. Friendly heads-up: note the book and movie have an extreme pro-activist slant. I like the idea of water as blue gold so I’m sticking with that label.

In Colorado, I see these water exchanges at Wal-Mart and hardware stores. Primo runs about $7 for a 5 gallon container of water.

Food for the Hungry has already had programs in place to concentrate on clean drinking water for the poor and WASH.

But now with COVID-19, the need for access to clean water for drinking, cooking, sanitation but now especially for washing hands, has taken on an epic emphasis literally overnight. Crops and livestock are suddenly taking a backseat to preserving human life. And as mentioned above, it will send many into further desperation and suffering. In many countries, farmers’ markets are a great way to support local farmed and harvested crops and livestock. But when those are shutdown in poor countries due to the pandemic, there are no other places to sell your crops and livestock!

I began thinking about freezing and storing water during the winter months for later use. Here in Colorado in the winter, we experience freezing temperatures at night (and during the day) for several months.

More about the blue gold mining techniques in a moment.

Enter Stage Left – White Gold – Ice

One technique is to essentially use off-peak electricity rates to make ice which is then used to augment air conditioning.

Commercial unit: CALMAC icebank. I contacted them a while back and these things run about $15k for the smallest unit.

Ice Bear tried to do residential units but alas, they went bankrupt.

Problem? These things are expensive.

My idea? Use nature’s free cooling during winter and windmills (not wind turbines) to power air handlers to move freezing air over ice making equipment. Store it in an icehouse and then use that ice to condense water in a passive AWG once the dew point is above freezing and only when the humidity is at its highest for that day, usually just before sunrise.

What is the Dew Point?

Dew point and psychrometric chart. So if one can exploit the dew point, one can make water from air. But it is not easy…

1.21 Gigawatts??? 75,000 Drops In A Gallon???

Squeezing a usable quantity of water from air requires a heart-to-heart realization of how hard this is.

1 cu meter or yard of air contains anywhere from 2 to 5 drops. One needs 75k/drops to make ~4 liters or 1 gallon.

Imagine going for a walk. You are holding a large box in front of you. With every step, you fill the box with air. It would take roughly 15,000 steps to move that much air through a system to get to 75k drops. And that is provided one can squeeze ALL of the 2-5 drops out and not have any left!

Enter Stage Left: Todd’s Active AWG

I’ll admit this idea is expensive but it would last for many years if not generations with proper care and maintenance.

Put solar-powered AWG on top of a flat top water tower. Also, I wanted to create a massive solar still ON TOP of the water tower for harvesting and purifying rainwater too. It is called a water pyramid. (PDF). Put the solar AWG inside the water pyramid too. And to purify the distilled water from the solar still further by running it through a biosand filter and ideally zapping it with some ultraviolet light as a last step.

Enter Stage Left: Solar Ice

What? How is it possible to use heat to make ice? Truth is stranger than physics. My vision would be to 3D print these machines to dramatically lower the cost. These ice blocks too could then be stored in an icehouse to support an ice trade. The ice can also be used as a passive AWG by placing it on top of several upside-down CPU coolers. Water will condense on the coolers.

Enter Stage Left: Todd’s Solid State Passive AWG

I want to open-source this idea so I can’t get into details at this time. However, I will tell you this: it uses technology over 100 years old. It really does have ZERO moving parts. It uses renewable energy but not like you might think- no wind turbines or solar cells. It does make ice and a lot of it.

Last but not least, I came up with what I’m calling an Amish freeze dryer. Yes, you heard that right: a zero electric freeze dryer which uses the invention above.

Conclusion

So when people talk about creating water from air, creating ice, freeze drying excess food like milk, eggs, fruits and vegetables, and what they did to help other people during the pandemic, I polished up some old ideas and created some new ones. Someday I hope to build all of these inventions and help and show others in extreme poverty how to do the same.

Millions of people around the world do NOT have easy access to safe and clean drinking water to use. AWG(s) and ice can be used to create water where it is needed.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog post. My passion for affordable, scalable, sustainable, and appropriate technology to address food, water, clothing and shelter is something I hope to continue dreaming, inventing, and writing about.

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You Only Have Moments to Live

[The second in a series of my new life hack: Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). First one here]

You Only Have Moments to Live

Ask anybody on the street (!) what that means and I bet you’ll get an emotional response.

When I was in high school, I was into aphorisms. Short sayings.

One I came up with was:

“Nothing Makes Me Happy”.

Ask anybody on the street (!) what that means and I bet you’ll get an emotional response too.

First, “You Only Have Moments to Live” is the title of a chapter of a book I’m continuing to read, Full Catastrophe Living. (Hint: the title is a reference to the book, play and film of the same, Zorba the Greek).

As first blush, one might think it is a rather cold thing to say in the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Nothing could be further from the truth. It is about living moment to moment. Not as the world is coming to an end so get hedonistic and live FOR the moment.

No, it is about choosing to live IN the moment. Breath by breath. Moment by moment, knowing that new moments are coming at us all of the time, like a slice of time in a river of time.

Like being non-judgemental in watching your thoughts and your body’s reaction to things.

We need to unplug- and I’m saying on a daily basis besides sleep or naps. From all screens and headphones and just slow down. Not like on a vacation where some of us still worry about e-mails and tasks piling up.

No, I’m talking about on a daily, even hourly basis. I have some 3M industrial ear muffs and when I put in earplugs then don the muffs, I can literally hear and feel my own heartbeat in my ears. Listening to my breath and feeling the expansion and contraction of my breath becomes real easy.

Doing the 20 Breathes Practice (part of Week 1 exercise, main link to page here) has been a challenge since I started learning about MBSR. I like to work and code and want to keep going and get things done. I can’t always do it as a personal goal every hour on the hour. If I unplug, then it takes time to get my head of steam back up to pick up where I left off. To each their own.

In these trying times, I’m making the sacrifice for my own mental health and to not let the pressures of the world overcome me. I believe in God. And I have also been praying more than in the past. We are all in this together.

I love this quote from Dune, “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

Nothing Makes Me Happy

Second, “Nothing Makes Me Happy” sounds like something someone would say that had no hope or had given up on life.

Again, nothing could be further from the truth. I researched and tried several meditation-style techniques when I was a lot younger. One of them was trying to empty your mind and keep it emptied. Nearly impossible I might add.

I’m into sci-fi and back then thought what would the ultimate version of that look like? I have a penchant for Nth-degree imagination at times.

Thought experiment: You are in a self-contained time machine. You can breathe normally and your ship is dead quiet, zero light emitting from anything. Your machine is encased in a transparent shell and you can see all around you. Machine has been programmed to go back in time then back to present reality in 15 minutes real-time.

You go back in time before the Big Bang, moments before the creation of the Universe. Before the fall of Adam and Eve.

There would be nothing- no starlight, no molecules, just absolute nothingness extending infinitely in all directions.

Resting in that state for a while gives one peace, at least it did for me. Re-stating it: “Resting in the Great Nothingness Before the Big Bang Makes Me Happy”

I remember doing that a few times in high school. And when I opened my eyes, oh my gosh! Colors were suddenly super-vibrant and my senses were super-sensitive. End experiment.

Keeping Our Collective Wits About Us

The trials and tribulations of this world (especially during this pandemic) are shorting out our nervous system. Sometimes it feels as if the positive mental health of our leaders, friends, ourselves, and families are all of a sudden a rare commodity in the middle of a storm that feels like it has no end in sight.

20 Breathes Practice isn’t going to find cures for diseases. But it can give us a much needed break to unplug and re-set during the day. It is a skill which can only get better with continued practice over time.

Just like diet and exercise, no one can do MBSR for you. You cannot outsource aspects of your mental health. You have to take a sincere and active role and do it for yourself.

And yes, myself and others who pray, are actively praying for a variety of things as one can only imagine.

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Full Catastrophe Living (And Getting Into MBSR)

Catchy title, yes?

It is actually the title of a book I am currently reading and getting into about Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).

While I am a strong, practicing Christian, I was initially hesitant to dive into anything that is remotely wu wu.

The author does make overtures to dharma and the Buddhist concept of compassion in addition to other things but I really like what I’m reading so far.

Here in Aurora Colorado, we have the incredible and growing Anschutz Medical Campus. It is also the location of the National Mental Health Innovation Center which I found out that they use virtual reality (VR) in the treatment of mental health!

Using technology like VR to help people rings a deep chord with me. So I’m interested in helping them in the future like maybe a free game jam style event and partnering with other local game dev(s) especially with VR skills to pitch in.

In looking into their past projects, I stumbled across ResponderStrong which helps to improve mental health supports for emergency responders and their families. And in their self-help section I found an eight week MBSR audio course (FREE) here.

While I am just starting out, I can already see just how much my mind is racing 🙂

The exercises via the PDF(s) are helpful, I’m reading the chapters of Full Catastrophe Living reading assignments, and the meditation recordings are good too. And practicing! So while the Penn Medicine course is a separate MBSR course than what Jon Kabat-Zinn teaches in his book (he makes a ton of references to the accompanying CD(s)), it is still a great course that I have found so far helpful to me.

Trying to do the 20 Breaths exercise every hour has been beneficial. It forces you slow down and steer your attention (which is prone to wonder!) back into focus. Sometimes I don’t do it every hour because I’m working on something. Sometimes I do it when the opportunity hits. Starting a new habit is hard.

Now with a lot of advice good and bad flying around about detecting early signs of COVID-19 (like difficulty breathing), learning MBSR in the midst of this pandemic has brought me a new appreciation of living moment by moment- focusing on attention, breath, breathing, and body.

 

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TSQL Tuesday #123: My Life Hack – Flowing in the Morning

Introduction

This month’s T-SQL Tuesday was created and is being hosted by Jess Pomfret and the concept for these once a month blog posts was originally created by Adam Machanic; the torch has now been passed on to Steve Jones. Thanks for hosting Jess!

T-SQL Tuesday #123: Life Hacks to Make Your Day Easier

Flow

Have you ever heard the expression, “In the zone”? Or you are just so into something that you don’t notice the passage of time?

It is both a unique state of mind and physical state of the human body. Truth: I am addicted to the flow state. It would be awesome to be able to maintain flow for your entire waking life but alas, that is not how it works. Just like deliberate practice, one needs to manage when to be in flow and when not to be in flow.

I have read and re-read this book on Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (and his other book on Creativity too) many times.

 

Not every morning but on many a morning, I do the following:

Get out of bed. Count my blessings. There are many people who never got up (read they died in their sleep).

Grab coffee. Nothing fancy, strong and black works for me. Drink two cups. Think about what’s coming up that day or soon.

VR and Volunteering and Oculus Quest Availability

For those who don’t know, I’m into virtual reality (VR). I help lead COVAR and the Denver/Boulder Unreal Engine Group here in Denver. I have several VR headsets, all Oculus based.

Sadly, the Oculus Quest has been on backorder since before Christmas and with the outbreak of the coronavirus in China affecting and killing people, it is also disrupting product supply lines.

It is unknown when the ‘Quest will become available again in 2020.

Enter Stage Left – TiltBrush

Now the fun part.

I put on my ‘Quest with a generous space around me, don my AfterShokz headphones, launch my Jazz station on Pandora, and I jump into TiltBrush:

I prefer to use my ‘Quest instead of my desktop rig as I love the freedom of wireless and don’t have to worry about tangling cables.

While I am nowhere near the level of expert like Rosie Summers, I do love to draw and paint in 3D. Check out her demo reel:

My latest exploration has been geometric shapes. TiltBrush allows you to take pictures from within. Here are a few images of things I have done:

It is a huge challenge for me on what I want to draw/paint as there are only invisible wire guides (capsule, cube, sphere), straight edge and ruler settings. There is no drawing compass.

So I had to attempt to memorize how something is made then attempt to re-create it and figure things out.

Starting out with basic shapes like hexagon and octagon.

Years ago I was really into Unit Origami (also called modular origami). I used to make things and give them away as gifts. Some of these structures take hours to make.

Trust me, this is way beyond simple paper airplane folding. It requires perfectly cut square paper, intense concentration and meticulous attention to detail.

My plan is to get experience with more shapes in TiltBrush and begin to build the individual pieces and then assemble unit origami structures in VR. Might even post them to Poly. By the way, if you think writing and posting blog posts can be intimidating on what others may think, try sharing art 🙂

And yes, of course I have thought about building SQL Server execution plans (i.e. create all of the operators and assemble them) in VR as a teaching and training tool.

Conclusion – And Now You Know

This is one of my life hacks- getting into a flow zone before the start of my formal day job. It’s a great way to wake up, literally get the creative juices flowing and start your day!

Someday I should blog about my journey with lucid dreaming as another source of my creativity and imagination too. Another time.

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Looking Glass – TSQL2sday #122 – Imposter Syndrome

This month’s #tsql2sday topic on Imposter Syndrome is being hosted by Jon Shaulis Thanks Jon!

Definition

One can find the formal definition of Imposter Syndrome here.

Do I suffer from it? Sometimes I feel like I do; yes- especially during job interviews. I have been working with SQL Server for many years and while I will acknowledge up front that I STILL do not know everything about it that I think I should, I know enough to be dangerous. Or do I?

Why Do I Want to Jump Off?

I’ll share an experience I had many years ago. It really bothered me when it first washed over me. This has happened only two times in my life.

When my family went to the Grand Canyon and on the overlook, I felt an odd feeling that I wanted to jump off.

When we went to the Royal Gorge Bridge here in Colorado, I felt the same thing when I looked over the railing in the middle of the bridge.

This didn’t make any sense to me at all. I’m a normal, mentally healthy and stable person so why would I have these strange and odd feelings?

There has even been a study about it: An Urge to Jump Affirms the Urge to Live.

So why compare and contrast Imposter Syndrome with high place phenomenon (HPP)?

Because I think sometimes we can’t rationally explain these odd feelings based on inputs and other thoughts. We fall into the trap that we have put in the thousands (!) of hours so surely we must know a lot about our career field. And yet sometimes we just can’t believe that we have really earned our success when compared to our own individual progress over the many years and even comparing ourselves with our peers with similar number of years of experience.

So we fear being found out, that we have been believing all these years in fake it till you make it– but never did make it! Been faking things since last millennium (when I started working with SQL Server)! However, during a job interview as both an interviewer and interviewee and doing a true technical skills test, fake people can be eliminated pretty quick. In fact when I was interviewing people as a DBA Manager, the technical skills test I created shocked me at times- so many people talked a great game but when asked to do things in SQL Server Management Studio, they froze up or panicked, couldn’t type T-SQL, etc. It was even embarrassing and sad at times. But that was part of the interview process- can you perform under pressure?

Conclusion

I think it is natural to feel like we do not know a subject top to bottom. Do we know enough to demonstrate competency with a specific skill? Can we learn new things and immediately apply them? Do we trust our own imagination, creativity, and troubleshooting skills? Can we jump in and not know anything but trust in our past to figure things out? Another reason why great FSO people are so valued in startups.

P.S.

Learn like there is no tomorrow and your life depends on it!

This year I’m learning many things that right now I don’t have a clue about other than I know I need to learn them.

For me, the “Do or do not” is to focus on the actual doing. You do not improve skills by just reading about skill improvement. You have to do the hard work. Are you willing to suffer crippling, humiliating defeat time and time again to reach that one win? You have to learn the material. You have to immediately practice and demonstrate competency. You have to keep it sharp or you will loose it. You have to practice it everyday. Even Yoda endured failures… And succeeded in the end!

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