Book Review: Orbit by John J. Nance

Just finished re-reading Orbit ($15 or less at Amazon) after picking it up for a $1 at Books a Million on a trip, had read it just after it was first released. The main character is Kip Dawson who wins a free trip into Orbit, and winds up alone and doomed when the pilot is killed – leaving him alone to figure things out because the radio doesn’t work any longer either and only a few days of oxygen.

He panics and gives up, then realizes that he may as well do something with his last few days.  He starts writing the story of his life, good, bad, and ugly, on a computer on the ship. Unknown to him, it’s being sent back to Earth, and it doesn’t take long before everyone is reading his story. He does this for a couple days, then erases it all, and tries to write what he wishes his life would have been.

A little contrived maybe, but if you’re a blogger (or read blogs), I think you may get the power that something like that might have. All the defenses down, and in doing so people realize that they aren’t so very different – all the same hopes, fears, compromises, and frustrations.

It’s a good read, and it might make you think about where you’re at in life and where you want to be. Let me know what you think of it.

I’m Attending the South Florida Code Camp on February 27, 2010

I’m driving down tomorrow for the sixth annual South Florida Code Camp. This will be my third time attending and I’m doing two presentations this time, and as usually SQLShare is sponsoring the speaker event on Friday night. It’s a huge event, typically about 600 attendees, and well worth the three hour drive from Orlando for me. Copy of the most recent schedule below.



Growing the Pool of SQL Speakers – Part 2

About a week ago I wrote Part 1, and got some interesting feedback (which I appreciate). Today I want to try to think about some of those comments and try to evolve the idea some. I want to defend my ideas a little, but not sink into defensiveness. I definitely expect my own thinking to change as I go, but hoping maybe I get yours to change some too!

Overall what I heard was a few different challenges to look at:

  • Opposition to requiring speakers at the Summit to take a year off here and there (and note, I have no say in that – just my idea)
  • How to qualify who gets help in terms of funding to speak
  • Whether there is really a speaker shortage

On the first one about speakers at the Summit, my first thought was that I should have just left that out. We haven’t done badly so far and so far there have been few complaints, so why bring it up? Why not just focus on new speakers and worry about the rest later?


But I like to think long term, and I think the problem will arrive within 2-3 years that will require the program committee to do something. Last year it was 400 abstracts that lead to perhaps a 100 speakers. What do we do when we get 1000 abstracts from 250 speakers, all who have done at least a chapter meeting and a SQLSaturday? If six people want to talk about XML in SQL, how do we pick the best one? Is it the speaker we had last year on the same topic?

Yes, we can do scoring, and in most cases that leads to people speaking that have already been at the Summit. They are a known quantity and certainly should get some karma for having done it and succeeded. That in turn can easily lead to stagnation, as those on the island get to stay on the island.

Now if you’re on the bottom trying to work your way up, my plan probably sounds good! But if you’ve invested the sweat to finally make it to the top, the idea of sitting out a year doesn’t sound good at all – dues have been paid, time to enjoy the fruits of the labor. I get that. I deliberately didn’t submit a session last year, the first time since 2000. Right thing for me to do, but definitely missed having the chance to speak. Undecided about this year so far.

So…I don’t care so much about how we get there, whether it’s scoring, volunteering to just be an attendee for a year, or something else – as long as it’s not waiting on someone to retire to open up a slot for someone new (but not a newbie speaker). I want to see tons of friendly competition, some new faces, and to make sure that if you’re willing to invest the time, you’re not locked out of the top row because you weren’t a first mover (or old enough to have been one).

For now I’m hoping that you’ll just think about it, and as we get closer to that point, we’ll see what happens. What’s best for the community?

Next week I’ll continue with thoughts on the other two points (and maybe more), and we’ll see if I get clobbered for not giving up on this part of it!

Featured Blog: Aloha DBA

If you’ve been around SQL for any length of time it’s hard not to have heard of Brad McGehee, the blogger DBA behind Aloha DBA. Brad ran for many years and now works for Red Gate, spending a lot more time on the road than I’d want to going to events and user group meetings.

He’s been a fairly consistent blogger, and lately he’s come to terms with maintenance plans, realizing that maybe they aren’t entirely evil after all. Seriously, he has some good stuff, usually grounded in things that happen to him or that he observes first hand.

What Would You Do? Management Scenario #1

I’m in the early stages of a book on managing and I’m starting to look for situations that might trigger ideas on areas I want to cover, and for situations that serve as good what would you do (WWYD) scenarios for potential managers. Scenarios give you a chance to practice without pain, and a chance to start to see the world through the eyes of manager. I’d also say that a scenario is a story with the answer withheld!

The Intro

Joe SQL has been in the hospital for some performance tuning. A couple days into his stay he is moved to a different room on a different floor. Upon arrival at the new room he notes that the door has a sticker across it (ala a crime scene) indicating the room has been cleaned for the next patient – kinda cool! Upon entering the room is  noticeably warm and the air conditioner doesn’t seem to be working, so his significant other (Mrs. SQL) asks the assigned nurse to see if can be fixed, as Joe is used to server room temperatures.. Mrs. SQL leaves to backup the databases.

Phase Two

Several hours later Mrs. SQL returns and the room is still warm, no news from the nurse. Calls and asks again for someone to fix it, or to see if another room is available. Hard to tell if the nurse is interested.

Almost There

An hour passes and no action and no update, so on the way out the Mrs SQL visits the executive office of the hospital and is told that the problem will be corrected quickly. Within 10 minutes:

  • Very senior nurse visits Joe to let him know that they are working on another room ready and on getting the AC in his current room fixed. Seems motivated to get it fixed, mildly irritated about the call from the big office downstairs
  • Building maintenance dude arrives, spends 5 minutes investigating and announces it is fixed, turns out the cold water supply to it had been turned off
  • Senior nurse returns to say an alternate room is available. Joe can move now, or wait half an hour to see if the current room cools down enough. Joes figures one cube is as good as the next, elects to delay the move and hope the AC works.

The Conclusion

Senior nurse returns in about 45 minutes and the room is cool enough, seems mildly happy to have it resolved and to get back to business.

Most us look at this and call it bad customer service. Sure! But that’s the view from the customer. What do we see as a manager? If we looked at it from the perspective of each of the people on the hospital staff, who did well and who did not? As managers we often look at these in terms of blame – whose fault was it? I’m not advocating that approach, but it’s important to identify the failure point and reason to see if it’s possible to prevent a repeat of the problem, or of bad handling of a problem.

I know you don’t have all the details, it’s often that way in real life. But there’s enough there to see what you think about the role of a manager and how you think it should be executed. Tell me who did well and who didn’t, and why. Who’s the villain here?

City of Orlando Switches to Google Email

This happened earlier in the year, finally getting around to writing some notes on it – you can read more here. The numbers I found were that they were to save about $230k a year, mainly by reducing the need for two administrators.

I’ve used Outlook and Exchange for years, and about all I can say is that it was better than Lotus Notes. That’s not a knock, it works well enough and I’m used to it (the Outlook part). The admin side has always seemed (saying this with no Exchange experience) complicated, and when you combine virus scanning, email archiving, and all the rest I can see that it might keep someone busy. And of course if it takes one person, you need a backup person for illness and vacation times.

Saving $230k a year is definitely a nice win in the current economy. But what about in a better economy? Is this one of the things you do during lean times like eating at  home instead of going out to dinner? Or is it really a lifestyle change that just makes sense regardless of whether business is booming (or tax dollars are flowing).

As long as it all works, it’s a smart move. But…it’s when it doesn’t work that you start to sweat. It’s the same ‘in the cloud’ discussion we’ve been having for a while, what happens when the cloud fails? When you own the hardware and pay the team you have a sense of control, and can at least see what is going on. If it happens to a hosted solution you’re betting that because they are big, they’ve invested in triple redundancy and have a robust DR plan in place. Even if they tell you that though, you still worry about the rainy day.

I have no reason to think Google can’t provide the uptime, but if something happens, what happens to the city government? Shut down for a day? Running a local copy using Gears (and is that a good plan if so?).

I’d be curious if the Google price was fair, or just the winning bid to get the business. If they really can provide the same services at less than half the cost, I think that’s a challenge for Exchange.

I think they made the best choice they could and I’m fine with that, definitely interesting to watch to see what evolves.

The Adversity Index

Found The Adversity Index while browsing and thought I’d share. It’s interesting to see the economic trends and I’ll let you dig in to see what you think. I was more interesting in thinking about it from a reporting perspective. It’s not enough to capture data, you have to do something with it, and doing something with it isn’t always easy. Here they make a good try at taking a lot of underlying data and presenting it a way that is more useful than a red/yellow/green indicator, and not as mind numbing as endless rows of data.

Perhaps I’m the optimist, but I think the economy is slowly growing again and it will be interesting to revisit this later in the year.