Mar 122018
 

I think one of the reasons I like computers is that they’re so much easier to deal with than people. They’re predictable, emotions never get in the way, and there’s always a logical explanation for everything if you dig deep enough. All that being said, I am grateful for my hobbies that don’t involve sitting in front of a computer all day. Thinking through the things I enjoy in my spare time, three central themes that seem to keep popping up are art, architecture, and railroads. Here’s two examples of that:

Turner Family Christmas Cards

The University of Illinois will always be a special place to both me and my family. I graduated from there, was a proud member of the marching band, and got my start in public speaking there. It’s also the place where I met my wife, and to top things off we were married on campus. We have plenty of Illinois memrobilia of varying degrees of rarity, but the collection I’m most proud of is something so obscure that most Illini fans won’t even know they exist.

Fred Turner spent nearly 50 years of his life at the University of Illinois, beginning as a student in 1918, and ending with his retirement in 1966 as the university’s first Dean of Students. Turner loved Illinois and its history, and in 1946 he and his wife, Betty, decided to highlight these topics in Christmas cards they sent to their friends and family. Turner had recently picked up the Japanese art of woodblock printing, and decided to share it by creating a hand-carved woodblock print of a historical site in Illinois each year as the cover of their Christmas card. For an extra tie to campus, the blocks for printmaking were carved from wood salvaged from one of the University’s earliest buildings. They printed 260-275 by hand at their kitchen table each year until 1974.

The cards contain a main image on the front, a brief description and Christmas message from the Turners on the inside, and a fact sheet with more information on the historical building or site chosen. Here’s what they are like:

Turner Christmas Cards
I can only imagine that most of these cards have been lost to a combination of time and people just not knowing what they are. I know of only two complete sets of all 29 cards. As for my own collection, I’ve got a long way to go – I only have three. I found my first one five years ago, and have only come across two more since. Our trips to Central Illinois frequently involve trips to flea markets and antique shops, and now you know exactly what I look for.

If you’re curious to see what more of these cards look like, the university archives has a website showing cards from different years.

Railroad Photography

I’m guessing you’ve never heard of O. Winston Link. He was a civil engineer by degree and a photographer by trade, who in 1955 undertook a personal side project which would end up becoming his life’s work. The Norfolk and Western Railway was the last major railroad in the United States to still use steam locomotives at that point, and Link obtained full permission from their president to photograph the last days of the steam era on their railroad, primarily in Virginia and West Virginia coal country. He was even given a key to the railroad’s switch boxes, allowing him to phone dispatchers to obtain exact arrival and departure times for trains and, occasionally, the ability to request a train be held so a photo could be taken at a particular moment.

Hawksbill Creek Swimming Hole. Luray, VA. August 9, 1956.

Link’s photos were not ad-hoc snapshots in any way. The majority of them were taken at night (making him one of the first to popularize nighttime photography), and illuminated by enormous flash arrays he built himself. Link said that not only did nighttime photos romanticize the trains further, but steam locomotive smoke appears white, and therefore not dirty, when lit by flash. Utilizing his background in advertising and marketing photography, his photos were carefully composed to tell a story, and almost always incorporate people to add a humanizing element.

I wish I could tell you I collect his photos, but that’s not possible. I can only afford to be an enthusiast. Original prints typically sell for thousands of dollars at auction. I do own all of his books, which are absolutely beautiful. The tales he tells in black and white are richer than anything I could ever imagine in color.

Link lived in relative obscurity, his photos were popular with railfans but didn’t start to gain mainstream popularity until decades later. You won’t find many photos of him – he preferred to stay behind the camera, but he did have a cameo appearance in one of my all-time favorite movies, October Sky. If you’ve never seen that movie, add it to your list!

I like to say that if you watch October Sky, and you recognize the train engineer to be O. Winston Link, you’re really smart and observant. But if you’re a true rail nerd, you’ll also know that the locomotive he’s driving is a 2-8-2 “Mikado” #4501, which was actually owned by the Southern Railway and painted to be a Norfolk & Western engine just for the movie. The N&W never used 2-8-2 locomotives.

If you made it this far, thank you for reading about my hobbies. I promise to return to my regularly scheduled technobabble in short order.

This month we celebrate the 100th edition of T-SQL Tuesday, originally created by Adam Machanic back in November 2009. Adam had asked us to write about what topics we might be covering 100 months into the future. I’m not good at predicting the future, but in the spirit of time travel, I am going one month into the past and writing about last month’s topic which was hosted by Aaron Bertrand.

Nov 142017
 

It’s been quite a while since I’ve written for a T-SQL Tuesday, but I saw this month’s topic and felt compelled to throw my 2 cents in. Our host for the month, Ewald Cress (@sqlOnIce) is asking for us to write about people who have made a meaningful contribution to our lives as data professionals.

There have certainly been a lot of people who have helped me get to where I am with my career today, but for this post I’d like to take things back to the very beginning. He wasn’t my first boss, but was the first DBA I ever encountered in the professional world. He also got me my first real DBA position when a spot opened up on his team. Chuck Rummel (@crummel4), this post is for you.

The first time I met Chuck was at a job interview for what would come to be my first job out of college. I recognized Chuck’s name from all my years of Boy Scouting, and I seem to remember that he had highlighted the line of my resume that said I was an Eagle Scout. That served as a pretty darn good icebreaker, and we ended up spending just as much time talking about camping and outdoor adventures as we did about technical topics.

Like I said, I ended up getting the job…as a .NET developer. It turns out that even though I wanted to be a DBA really badly, most companies aren’t going to hire one straight out of college. Oh well – gotta start somewhere, and for me that was writing and optimizing code that pulled lots of data from databases. Databases maintained by a team that Chuck was in charge of. I can remember very clearly the first time I needed to add an index to improve a query’s performance, but I couldn’t add it myself due to lack of permissions. I marched around the corner to Chuck’s cube to request rights to create indexes and very promptly got shot down. It turns out that denying requests from developers is kind of a core job skill for DBAs, and I got to learn this first-hand by being on the receiving end for a while.

Helping and teaching others – what Chuck does best.

I can also remember the first time I passed a certification exam – it was something for SQL Server 2005. I was so proud of myself, and made a point of showing my result sheet to Chuck, partially (ok, maybe mostly) to show him that I really can do this DBA stuff. After about 2 years of developing applications, learning good querying practices, and maybe dropping hints that I wanted to work for him every once in a while, a position opened up on Chuck’s DBA team and I don’t even think I had to apply for it.

So now I’m a DBA, living the dream! I’ve got sysadmin rights and a boss I really look up to. Then my education truly began. Of course there was tons of database skills to learn along with details about the environment, but there’s also the finer points of business. While it’s quite easy to shoot down a rookie developer’s request for permissions, it’s slightly different when such a request comes from someone above your pay grade. Chuck, you taught me all of these things, and so much more. You taught me what it’s like to work on a good team with great chemistry. You taught me what to expect from a great boss, something that I’ve really only experienced once more since leaving your team. You also taught me that there’s no shame in wearing Far Side T-shirts that might have a hole or two in them to the office, because when your workplace explicitly states they have zero dress code these things need to be taken advantage of!

In short, thank you for getting me going on the path to where I am today by being a terrific leader, manager, and friend.

Mar 222016
 

This post took me a little longer to put together than it should have, but seeing as how I now have a two week old son at home, time is a little harder to come by these days! My T-SQL Tuesday topic ended up attracting 4 excellent responses, which I’m very happy to recap.

The first post was from Rob Farley (@rob_farley). Rob has some great insights into text search, but not full-text search. (That’s perfectly fine, I left the topic open on purpose and never intended for it to be limited to full-text search.) He tells us all about how collation can affect text searches and can greatly influence your results. Collation matters, folks! If you don’t believe me, try Rob’s example and you’ll see that he’s not joking. Rob finishes up talking about how indexes and collation can affect columns included in the GROUP BY clause, and includes a great tidbit on how collation can necessitate transformation of text when calculating hash values.

Next was Kenneth Fisher (@sqlstudent144). He walks us through the query in the header of his blog, which does a bit of text manipulation to create a hidden subtitle. I’ll admit I’ve never tried running that query myself, but the results sure are nifty. Good work, Sir!

Anders Pedersen (@arrowdriverolled his own full-text search back in the days before SQL Server supported it. Sounds simple and effective, and if it worked for the business, that’s all that matters, right?

Last, but certainly not least, is Jon Morisi. Jon tells us about his experiences with full-text search in terms of migration, and how recent developments in Azure sound most interesting to him. He is hopeful for the future.

So that’s T-SQL Tuesday for this month. Thanks to Rob, Kenneth, Anders, and Jon for posting, and to everyone else for reading our work. Thank you to Adam Machanic for dreaming up the idea for this a mere 76 months ago. If you’d like a complete listing of all 76 (and counting!) T-SQL Tuesday topics, Steve Jones has been kind enough to compile one.

See you next month!

Feb 292016
 

I’m so happy to once again be hosting T-SQL Tuesday. If you’re not familiar, T-SQL Tuesday is a blogging party hosted by a different person each month. It’s a creation of Adam Machanic, and it’s been going on for over 6 years now! Basically the host selects a topic, defines the rules, and then everyone else blogs about it. Once everyone’s done, I’ll summarize each of the submitted posts here on my site.

The Topic

This month, I’d like to talk about text, particularly searching and processing it. Many systems contain large amounts of text in one way or another. Often, that text ends up being stored in a database, and SQL Server has offered Full-Text Search for quite a while now to handle such usage cases. But that’s only a small part of the story.

If you’re using SQL Server Full-Text Search, I’d love to hear from you. But I’d also love to hear from anyone using any other kind of text searching or processing methods. Maybe your organization previously used SQL Server Full-Text Search but you’ve since moved to a different application. Maybe you have a tale of success or woe from a previous job. Maybe you don’t let any of your text search operations touch a relational database with a 10-foot pole. Whatever your story is, I hope you’ll please consider sharing it with us all on Tuesday, March 8.

The Rules

There’s only a few rules for T-SQL Tuesday:

  • Your post must be published between 00:00 GMT Tuesday March 8 2016 and 00:00 GMT Wednesday March 9 2016.
  • Your post must contain the T-SQL Tuesday logo (see above) at the top and the image must link back to this blog post.
  • Trackbacks should work, but if they don’t, please put a link to your post in the comments section so I (and everyone else) can see your contribution!

There’s also a few optional you can do that might help:

  • Include “T-SQL Tuesday #76” in your blog post’s title.
  • Tweet about your post using the #tsql2sday hashtag
  • Contact Adam Machanic and tell him you’d like to host a T-SQL Tuesday from your blog.

And that’s all there is to it! I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone writes about!

Jul 142015
 

I’m so happy to be able to contribute to this month’s T-SQL Tuesday! Andy Yun picked an excellent topic: default settings. Defaults exist for a reason: in the absence of a user’s preference, they represent the option that the application’s author(s) believe will generally work the best for the greatest number of people.

All that being said, if you’re reading this blog, you probably aren’t the average computer user, and you probably aren’t a fan of all the default settings your applications choose. I’ve got plenty of defaults for different applications that I despise and do my best to change as quickly as possible. Here’s a few that really grind my gears:

Windows File Extensions

I like to see the full names of my files, including the extension (the “.”, typically followed by 3 or 4 characters after the file name).  Windows tries to be helpful and by default doesn’t show the extension if it recognizes the file type. For example, the Microsoft Word document “Letter to Grandma.docx” would be shown as simply “Letter to Grandma”. This may be fine for many, but I’m not a fan.

No file extensions. Boooo.

File extensions. Much better!

To enable their display in Windows 7 (yes, that’s what I use at home) from any Windows Explorer window, go to “Organize” > “Folder and Search Options”, then the “View” tab. Here you’ll find a list of checkboxes, one of them is called “Hide extensions for known file types”. Uncheck this box and you’ll be able to see the extensions for all files, not just the ones Windows can identify.

Hidden Files

Not only do I like to see file extensions, I also like to see all my files. Windows allows files to be marked as hidden, which means they still exist on disk, just they are not displayed in Windows Explorer. While this can be useful to keep prying eyes away from files, it is not a security feature in any way, shape, or form.

To enable the display of hidden files, go back to the very same window we found the file extension option in (“Organize” > “Folder and Search Options” > “View” tab). The list of checkboxes has a section for “Hidden files and folders”, and its options are “Don’t show hidden files, folders, or drives” or “Show hidden files, folders, or drives.” Now you’ll be able to see everything.

Line Numbers in SQL Server Management Studio

This is primarily a SQL Server blog, after all, so I had better include something SQL-specific. SSMS has plenty of default options that are worth changing, but one of the first ones I take care of is adding line numbers. I like to be able to quickly see what line I’m on by glancing at the left margin of the query window. I understand why the default doesn’t include them, but being a programmer at heart, I like to see them. They comfort me.

To add line numbers in SSMS, go to Tools, then Options. Under “Text Editor”, select “All Languages”, then check the box to display line numbers.

(click to enlarge)

So there you have them, arguably my top 3 favorite defaults to change. I hope you found this helpful, and thank you Andy for the excellent topic!