Working on the Road

I spend a decent amount of time on the road, traveling to events. Last year I think I spent 50 nights in hotels for work. That’s a fair amount, and it can be challenging to get everything I need to accomplish done in those situations. I’ve gotten good at ensuring my laptops are setup, I have cloud copies of information, or VPN access to files. While I miss my multiple monitors at home, I can work on the laptop for a week without too many issues.

However there’s one thing I often do before trips: I prep. I get most of my tasks scheduled; I pre-build and prepare newsletters. In short, I try to minimize the work I need to do on a deadline when I’m traveling.

This week I have a slightly crazy week.

  • UPDATE Monday, I was supposed to be in Fort Collins, CO, with the State Knowledge Bowl competition for my son. However he had other work to do and decided to focus on his classes, so I went skiing😉
  • Tuesday, Fort Collins, CO – morning work in the hotel, afternoon Knowledge Bowl competition, evening, a bit more work.
  • Wednesday, home office – Daily work and routine
  • Thursday, Spokane, WA – Hotel working
  • Friday, Spokane, WA – holiday, volleyball tournament for my daughter.

There’s a level of craziness, with changing locations and working sporadically this week. Tuesday should be a holiday, but I’ll have to work around things. I’ll actually try to do some work on Monday around the competition to minimize the disruptions. I have some meetings I couldn’t easily move, so I elected to just work around Tuesday.

Wednesday will really be my only normal work day, though I have an evening flight to Spokane, so I will feel some pressure here.

Thursday is a travel day for my daughter. I’ll be in the hotel working while she wanders around Spokane with her team.

Friday is a tournament, afternoon wave, so if I haven’t finished everything I need, I’ll be working a bit in the am here.

Not my kind of week, but I have these happen at times.

The Jarvis–Standing Desk Update

I started using a standing desk a few years back. While visiting the Redgate Software office, I saw one of my coworkers standing and using boxes of books to lift their keyboard and mouse. I tried that.

My first desk from 2012.

It worked OK, and I found myself adding and removing books to experiment with the process. I first moved upstairs, swapping the desk in the basement for the one upstairs. I added flooring to make things easier on my legs.

Things were fine for a few years, and then last year, I upgraded the platform to a piece of furniture. This was really to give me stability, a place for coffee ( probably the most important) and just a bit more space. That worked OK.

Photo Aug 24, 10 43 42 AM

However I’ve found myself getting a bit worn out at times. I often work most of the day standing, and there are certainly days my knees or back will ache. I do switch over and sit at the kitchen counter, or on a couch with my laptop, but those aren’t ideal. What I’d really like is a desk that’s a desk. I could also use space for my laptop, as I’ll use two machines at times.

With that in mind, I started looking at motorized desks. I saw Tim Mitchell get one for his home office, and found someone that rated desks. The Jarvis was well rated, and it wasn’t too expensive. An IKEA desk is around $500, so this wasn’t much more.

Fortunately I work for a company that values employees, and they do allow for some work related infrastructure. Redgate agreed to buy my desk, and I ordered it immediately. Of course, it wouldn’t ship and arrive until I was gone, but I came home to find boxes in my office. I began unpacking and assembling.

Well, actually I started clearing a space in the office. I needed room to assemble, while I continued to work during the couple days I put things together.

Photo Jan 26, 1 35 01 PM

I’m somewhat handy, but this assembly was easy. There are feet (to the right and left) and then two legs (middle) with a brace (top middle) that connect together. Lots of Allen screws, but no real tools needed.

Photo Jan 26, 2 01 17 PM

I got the bamboo top you see above, with grommets in it for wires. I wasn’t sure about the grommets, and haven’t used them a lot, but they are nice for a few things.

Photo Jan 26, 2 30 27 PM

Getting things together felt good, and once I installed the lift, I was ready to try things.

Photo Feb 25, 11 29 56 AM

Unfortunately, one of my legs didn’t work. The desk lowered, but wouldn’t reset or go back up. A quick call to Ergo Depot got me support, a few things to try, and then a replacement shipped the next day. Once again, I left town, not having a desk to use.

However the leg arrived and was ready for me when I returned. I managed to swap out the leg with minimal hassles, and without taking everything apart. Once back together, the lift mechanism worked great. I started moving things over and getting setup late one night.

Photo Feb 06, 6 57 40 PM

I really just duplicated my existing setup, with the exception that I’d ordered a CPU holder to store and lift my desktop with the desk itself. It’s below the desk to the left.

Here we have the current setup, raised:

Photo Feb 25, 11 23 30 AM

and lowered:

Photo Feb 25, 11 24 11 AM

I did find that I wanted my monitors offset to the right, which took a few days to determine. I’ve moved the monitors up and down a bit, trying to find a good height relative to the desk.

I’m also still torn on whether I want the keyboard at desk height. I can change the height, and I use a few different settings, but I think I may get a keyboard tray that lets me lower the keyboard slightly and also get more desk space to use.

I’ve moved over my mat, which is a bit of a pain when I switch back to the chair. I still have to work out some sort of process to make this easier.

However overall I like the setup. I usually raise the desk if I check things at night, and start the next day standing. If I have webinars or calls, I often lower the desk and sit, and usually after lunch (often yoga or running), I’ll eat at my desk and lower it for the afternoon.

I think I’ve benefitted from not sitting for long periods of time, and plenty of people see my at events, where I often avoid sitting, even in sessions. However I also know I need a balance, and a motorized, standing desk has helped me feel better.

If you can afford it, I’d urge you to get one. However I’d suggest you start with boxes of books, and see what works for you.

Adding Minutes in Excel

A short one, but I found myself wasting time recently. I use an Excel sheet to schedule some items out each day. It’s not my choice to do this, but the service I use requires this to not manually set time for each event.

Tl;dr: Add minutes/1440 to the date.

The format looks like this:

2016-02-05 09_42_25-Settings

I’ve been changing the dates each day to the next day, which involves picking the cell, hitting F2 (or clicking the mouse), moving to the day and editing it to increment. In this case, I’d go to the 10th for the next set of scheduled items.

Manual, time consuming, and when I saw this cartoon, I knew I needed to do something else. It’s a few minutes of my day, and really, it’s 12 hours over 5 years.


But it’s incredibly annoying and tedious. It makes my blood pressure rise, and I delay the work because of it.

I spent 5 minutes considering a few things. I knew I could do any of these, but some would require more work than others, and perhaps not be worth the time.

  • Use a macro to change each entry
  • Get my source system to generate an Excel sheet in this format
  • Write OLE automation to generate a new sheet

In the end, the simple solution was just learn to add time to a base date. If I take the first entry, I can see that I’m really adding minutes (or hours) to this one. So I decided to do that. In this way, I still need to edit the first cell, but then all the rest will work.

However I needed to add minutes to an Excel entry. I wasn’t sure how, but a quick Google search gave me the answer from Superuser. Because of how Excel stores dates, I really need to add minutes divided by 1440 to the date.

So my first date is: 02/09/16 14:05. To get my next entry, which is 02/09/16 14:22, I need to add 17 minutes, but the forumla looks like this:

2016-02-05 09_50_19-Settings

As you can see, that’s the right time. I now had to spend about 10 minutes setting the formula for each time, which is a matter of calculating the minutes for each new time. It’s not too hard, and my ten minutes spent here won’t pay off in time for a long time, especially after this blog post, but it will reduce my stress quite a bit.

Every day.

Back to Work

It’s strange to be back to work on a Monday, with kids still in the house (they start school tomorrow), after being gone for the last 10 days  from work. It was really gone, as I didn’t process email or mess with work in any meaningful way. I did clean some spam over vacation when others were gone, and I added a few Database Weekly links last week, but I didn’t check SQLServerCentral, edit articles, or do anything really SQL related.

About the only computer tasks I’ve done since the day before Christmas were a few hours on the Advent of Code stuff I’ve been working on in my spare time, and even that was minimal. I got stuck on a few puzzles, and didn’t have much time to work through them. I’d give it 20-30 minutes, but then break for family time.

It’s a new year, and I’m starting slow. At least slow this week as I take stock of the publishing queues and start to plan how I’ll proceed forward. As I left last year, there were a lot of new technologies coming from Microsoft in 2016 that I felt I needed to get up to speed on. Some are out, some coming, but they’re a point of emphasis. Like Buck Woody with his Data Scientist work, and Grant Fritchey with R, I’m proceeding to learn more about analytics, including data lakes and statistics, as I move through the year. Particularly I’m focused on Python as the language to use, though from what I see with R, lots of the same libraries and formulas apply.

I’m also looking to continue forward with the #SQLNewBlogger posts and see if I can inspire some of you to move forward with your own skills and thoughts on how SQL works for you. I’m going to look to get at least 2 posts a month out here, and perhaps more.

Travel starts quickly, with a week long trip to the UK in two weeks and then SQL Saturday Austin, but other than that, it will be a light quarter for me. Just one event in Feb, and none in March. I am looking forward to that slow beginning.

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.

In and Out

Travel always causes issues with work. It was the same when I was a production DBA as it is now as editor and evangelist for Red Gate. The tasks I have to manage and complete don’t seem to ever be scheduled with the idea that I might be away from my desk.

I was off Monday with holiday and family celebrations (and the last ski day of the ’14-’15 season). I also leave Thur morning for SQL Saturday in Huntington Beach and will be gone until the weekend.

As an editor of what’s essentially a newspaper, the issues must go out regularly. That means that last week before I took time away I had to ensure that I had newsletters scheduled for Fri-Tue, as well as working on content for this week. That compresses the schedule of tasks, with more being done before I leave. Today I need to catch up things that occurred while I was gone, as well as prep for tomorrow and Thursday. I’ll also need to get enough done that I have things scheduled for Friday and Monday.

Time management can be hard, and over the last 10 years I’ve learned a few tricks to ensure I can handle the variety of tasks that come my way. What has worked for me is to take some of the lessons from the Boy Scouts and apply them to work.

Be Prepared

For those items I need regularly, I have learned to look ahead and always have a couple items prepared. This mainly means questions, articles, and editorials. Since I’m not sure what will happen in a week or two, my plan is always to hold a few items back and ensure I have at least a week’s worth of items planned.

Like my son works on merit badges, the other thing is to regularly work on items I need rather than wait until I need them. My son often completes a work requirement before he needs it. I may have to remind him, but he’s learning to adopt that on his own. I do the same thing at work, writing, editing, soliciting content before I have the actual need.

Vacation Isn’t Free

Perhaps it’s an American thing, but it seems that vacation is rarely a free gift of time away from work. Even when I worked at a job that was 9 to 5 and few hard deadlines, I still found the need to prep systems or people for my time away.

In addition to the daily work.

There are others on staff at SQLServerCentral that help me out and I really appreciate the time, but there still is an additional load for me to prepare to be away. It helps to tackle this like saving for vacation (or the future).

A little at a time. On a regular basis.

A Week Away

Almost. I’m off this week in Steamboat Springs, enjoying a vacation with the family, but I’ve got one commitment: Database Weekly.

We rotate the workload, and most everyone else has something this month, so I got stuck with it. I didn’t want to try and mess up anyone else’s schedule, as we’re all on holiday, so I’m going to fit it in.

It will be short, so don’t be disappointed next weekend.

Back to Work

After surgery Fri am, I’ve been mostly taking it easy, but now it’s back to work. Got kids to school and at the standing desk. Overall I feel good and can walk fairly normal. Other than this big brace on my leg that slows me down and makes walking funny.

Doing well and looking forward to getting back to full strength, and also being able to travel to events again Smile