Playing with Themes

I’m not much of a designer. Indeed, I’m best at just putting up tables and information, not producing visualizations. However I wanted to make the blog look a little better (and SSC, for that matter). As a result, I’ve carved out a few minutes here and there to play with themes for this blog. I haven’t often found one that I liked, but ran across one today that I thought I’d try.

I’ll see how this looks for now. I don’t love that all my sidebar stuff moved to the bottom, but that’s a cleaner look for sure. I may play around with this a bit, and comments are certainly welcome. I’d like to use a few more images in writing as I think they can break up the text, and certainly some of the scrolling images convey interesting thoughts. I’d like to start using some for code as well, showcasing results as wide images.


Standing Desk Update

It’s been a long time since I wrote about my workspace, however I made a change recently. This was the "short term test" situation I set up a couple years ago:

Photo Aug 24, 9 14 19 AM

After just using boxes for a few days, I decided I liked things and got monitor stands. However I left my boxes in place for the keyboard and mouse. Mostly because I wanted a few months of playing with heights.

I actually did experiment, adding and removing books a few times, but mostly I let things languish. I wanted to build my own keyboard stand, but kept finding excuses. I lived with the setup, getting annoyed with no good place to place a mug of coffee or a piece of paper. Precariously balancing my laptop on the books at times.

A few weeks ago I saw some friends on Facebook mention they were getting standing desks. I’d seen Brent Ozar’s desk, but had no desire to spent that kind of $$. I wasn’t even sure I wanted an adjustable one as when I sit, I usually go to a table or couch with my laptop.

Someone recommended a simple desk, which I liked, but wasn’t sure I wanted to ask my boss for $700 for a hand crank desk. However I did spend a few minutes shopping when my daughter asked for a desk for her room. She got a normal desk from Ikea as she’s starting high school and wanted a workspace.

I saw a $400 electric adjustable one, and was tempted, but decided to go for a $40 upgrade for mine. I got a small table, and added it.

Photo Aug 24, 10 43 42 AM

This one isn’t perfect as it’s a touch high. I did add a couple more foam mats and raised myself to a good level, but I’m not sure I love this.

I do, however, like the extra shelf and space for putting a couple mugs down. I usually have two (coffee and water), so this is handy. I also have space for a few pieces of paper if I need to set them down.

I’m not sure if this is a good move. For now I want to leave things alone as I’m not in a hurry and want to be sure I would use an up/down desk. I certainly have some tasks that work better sitting down, like webinars, so I am tempted to get a chair and work here at times.

The one good thing I have going for me is Redgate is good about ergonomics and ensuring a good workspace. I am tempted by the treadmill desks, but I think I’d just as soon just walk away from the desk if I need a break.

Have a Think

I’m used to working at a chaotic pace. I have lots of diverse projects and deliverables that constantly force me to change my focus. I have short term and long term projects. I work with diverse technologies. My workload is a mix of development and administrative tasks. It’s a hectic schedule that gets worse when I travel since SQLServerCentral must continue to run.

Years ago I was struggling with daily deliverables, the bimonthly SQL Server Standard magazine, and a couple book projects a year. It was maddening, especially when my business partners also wanted me to experiment with ways to grow our business. I wondered, how would I ever find time to dream up new ideas or implement a proof of concept.

Andy Warren helped me slow down by scheduling “thinking time.” He told me it was important, and he had to make some at his job. Carve out an hour once a week or so and just spend time thinking about a project. Don’t do; just think.

I have kept that advice in mind over the years, and I try to take some time to just think about the tasks I need to accomplish. I don’t worry about actually getting anything done, but instead try to just think about the best way to move forward. I don’t always succeed, but I continue to try to make time and just think.

Whether you run a business or just write code for one, I think the art of stopping and thinking is a bit lost. So few of us actually stop to spend some time planning. Instead we’re very quick to start writing code or trying out a configuration change. While I am a proponent of experimenting, I still think it’s worth taking a few minutes and just consider different ways to experiment. Often we can choose better experiments if we have a plan.

Try it this week. Take ten or fifteen minutes and think about the next task rather than diving right in. You might find it to be a more valuable tool than just experimenting.

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA Podcast

Listen to the MP3 Audio ( 2.7MB) podcast or subscribe to the feed at iTunes and LibSyn.

A Clock With Benefits

One of the difficulties I think that developers face is that so few people understand what actually goes into producing software. The end result that a user sees can mask the effort and complexity of the underlying code. A person might see one application that required months of effort and not understand how it’s different than a similar (in their view) application that was prototyped and completed in a week.

I’ve seen a few efforts to try and explain how code is written, and I think the huge piece by Business Week was a really good explanation for the layman. It tries to simplify concepts, and does so in a humorous way. I suspect that this piece might actually help our clients and customers gain some appreciation for the difficulty of producing a basic application.

However I think we need some additional articles like this to help explain our database world. While there are some good, basic pieces on what a database is, we don’t necessarily help anyone understand the complexity of assembling disparate data, especially at scale.

I don’t think end users would care much about why database performance can be an issue, but I do think that some well written, easy to read, enjoyable pieces on the issues of writing poor database code might give developers some appreciation for why indexes matter, what RBAR does to performance, and what solutions might help their code shine.

No one wants software written poorly, and no one wants deadlines missed. However the world of software development is complex and the more that we can help our clients understand this, the less time we waste on explanations.

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA Podcast

Listen to the MP3 Audio ( 2.3MB) podcast or subscribe to the feed at iTunes and LibSyn.

OT: The Next STEM Generation

Now, it’s not a Star Trek reference. I’m actually breaking a bit from life this weekend to try and move my son forward in life. We’ve arranged a tour of the University of Colorado – Boulder campus, specifically with an eye on the aeronautical engineering program. He’s interested in that area, and we are trying to give him options for university next year.

I’ve hoped my kids would enjoy computers, and they do, but not like I enjoy them. They aren’t interested in building things with computers. They just want computers to do their bidding.

My oldest wasn’t very interested in computers at all, though I was able to teach him some SQL for his college GIS class the last year. We worked on understanding how to query data, but he never really understood the concepts well and needed help regularly. However he did learn enough to be able to alter my queries to meet the changing needs of different data sets.

My middle son is a math/science whiz, and spent a few weeks one summer learning programming at a camp. He built a few small applications, but beyond that he wasn’t interested in learning more. While he like chemistry and aeronautics, programming seems silly to him.

My daughter is the most savvy in moving data around, building web pages for visualizations and working across platforms. She seamlessly will use Windows, OSX, iOS, and Android on any given day across her four devices without blinking. She moves and uses data all the time, but hasn’t ever wanted to do more. She has done well in math and science, and is on pace to get to calculus her senior year of high school.

I do want to encourage kids to try STEM subjects, and feel comfortable. My daughter certainly has felt pressure, and has female friends that feel the same pressure, to not work in STEM fields. I’d like to eliminate that, but more importantly, I want everyone to try the topics and really get a chance to experiment.

If you don’t like STEM topics, that’s fine. Find another area you do enjoy more, but at least give STEM a try.

Halloween at PASS–Donate for some fun

This year’s PASS Summit will end on Oct 30, which is just before Halloween in the US. I’m sure lots of people will have some fun on Friday, though I also suspect we’ll see no shortage of people leaving early to get home to spend the holiday with families.

A few of us in the #SQLFamily community are going to have fun with this. There’s a campaign to raise money for Doctors Without Borders, and it’s been named Argenis Without Borders 2.0. We did this last year and raised over $13,000. This year we’ve already gotten $2k in donations are are looking for more.

Argenis is on the hook for a TED costume, and I’ve asked for ideas. So far the Goldmember one looks like the most fun, though I may go Austin Powers instead. However feel free to continue to suggest things to me.

This is a great cause, and it should be fun again. Who knows, maybe you’ll get yourself a great picture with me if you’re there, like one of these.

Photo Nov 06, 1 50 47 PM

I’ll probably have some hat, so I might even convince you to wear one and pose with me.

Photo Nov 05, 8 48 00 AM

And if you dress up, I’m more than happy to snap a shot with you.

Photo Nov 06, 1 52 26 PM

This is all in fun, and for a good cause, so I’ll likely be costumed just for those reasons. The goal for me is to raise some awareness and some money, so I’d ask you to donate if you agree.

Donate to Argenis Without Borders 2.0



Argenis Without Borders – v2

Last year at the PASS Summit, Kristen Benzel and Argenis Fernandez put on a fundraiser to raise money for Doctors Without Borders. It was very successful, bringing over $13,000 to the charitable work this organization does.

We had fun with it, with some great rainbow costumes that were displayed at the PASS Summit, including me.


This year, 2015, there’s a new campaign. Once again, we’re raising money for Doctors without Borders. The goal is $20k, but we’re already close to $1,000 raised. That means that Argenis will be dressed like Ted.

Halloween Steve

My costume has yet to be chosen. I’m not usually a Halloween person, but in this case I’ll make an exception. The last day of the PASS Summit this year is Halloween, so I’m thinking that’s the day to

However, I’m not sure what to commit to. Should I be a super hero? A classic horror look? What would make you donate a little to the campaign? I’m looking for a few ideas, thoughts, things that you think would bring a smile to your face, and the willingness to help raise some money for a great cause.

Donate today and post your costume suggestions below. Feel free to see if you can come up with something that might embarrass me.

Information on the Go

I have been very interested in smart watches over the last couple years. I like wearing a watch that allows me to glance at it for the current time. While I can pull out my phone, and I’ve done that for little over a year, I preferred a watch. There are plenty of times that my phone isn’t easily pulled out.

After considering lots of watches out there, I eventually settled on a Pebble, which I wrote about after living with it for a few weeks.

Since that time, I’ve continued to use the watch and have enjoyed getting data on the go. Today I was traveling and getting a flight notification (priority email) through the watch as I was traveling through the airport was nice. I didn’t have to pull out the phone, and in fact, because it was in a low pocket, I didn’t feel it vibrate. Not that I would have had issues today, but there are times it would have been handy.

One the plane, I saw someone with an Apple Watch. In fact, I’ve been seeing them more and more. My wife had asked me if I wanted one for my birthday this year. I like Apple products, and it was tempting. However the more I’ve looked at the product and read about it, the more I agree with Troy Hunt. It’s beautiful and awesome. And pointless.

I want simple, quick information on the go. For me, that boils down to a few things I’m looking to learn without finding my phone while I’m walking, running, driving, or even talking with friends:

  • time
  • text messages – This is so I can decide if I want to, or need to, respond.
  • high priority emails – In the iPhone, these are my “VIP” people.
  • music – current song, play/pause, skip/restart
  • pace and exercise time

The last item is really nice. If I start a workout on the Map My Run app, it starts the display on my wrist

Photo Jul 17, 2 29 11 PM

There’s not much more I want to appear on my wrist. Having this track my steps  would be nice, but I haven’t seen a way to track this in the background, which is what I would need to get rid of my flex.

Responding to texts might be nice, but I can’t see how that would work smoothly, nor do I want to use speech. I don’t want to answer the phone on it, ala Dick Tracy, nor am I looking to play games.

Really, I’m looking for a little bit of data. The Pebble seems to be the best choice for me, with a long battery life, flexibility to control notifications from the phone, and get a bit of information in an easy to consume fashion.

Your needs might be different, and I’m sure some people would prefer a better device that does more, perhaps with GPS or other functions, but for now I haven’t seen a better device for me.

Trust People

This editorial was originally published on Jan 6, 2011. It is being re-run as Steve is away on vacation.

I saw an article recently with a great title: Put your trust in systems, not in genius. It is a great read, and starts out by talking about the Gauls and their sacking of Rome in 4BC with a superior army. However by 200 years later, the Roman army was the strongest in the ancient world. How did this happen? Many people believe it was the creation of a set of processes, management, and training that used standards and synergies to achieve greatness.

Many companies today try to implement standards, and strong management of their staffs, but they don’t achieve greatness. Why not?

I think it is because we have failed to grasp the important fact that building a system, a set of processes and procedures and unleashing managers to enforce the rules is not the important part. The really, really important thing is using the thoughts and ideas, the brain power of the individuals to evolve and adapt the procedures to work better. We too often don’t “trust” our individual knowledge workers to make good decisions.

We have to hold people accountable for results, for building better systems, and then let them bend rules, change procedures where it counts. Most people want to do a good job. If we give them the responsibility to do so, I think most people will rise to the challenge.

Steve Jones

I have an ask…

I heard this quite a bit recently while up in Redmond.

"I have an ask for you"

"Do you have an ask?"

and more. It’s annoying, and disturbing. Hearing that distracts me from the conversation taking place. I keep wanting to say “do you mean you have a request?”

Even Microsoft employees don’t love it. However, the usage is not necessarily incorrect, which surprises me. And further annoys me.

I’m sure there’s no way to stop it, but it reads like poor choice of words, picked to seem cool or hip.

It’s not for me, and it doesn’t encourage me to do anything for you.