Category Archives: Misc

Odds and Ends To Think About

Got this in morning email from Khan Academy. Not sure if I agree that we all can learn anything, but I love the video anyway because the best lesson to learn is that learning takes time, effort, and stumbles. I watch my own kids struggle with this, and think how long it took me to understand it. Worth 90 seconds to watch it.

Khan Academy


I happened to read When A Flight Vanishes From The Sky, Amateur Trackers Know It Instantly on and that took me to It varies from real time to a 5 minute delay in the US, showing all the planes that are in flight with a transponder active. They use FAA data, but also lots of local users with a $40 device plugged into a USB port in return for premium access to the service. It’s interesting, really it is, to see all the planes in flight on an average afternoon. You can see the flight path, speed/altitude, plane type. Great idea, and it has me thinking about the data. Not complicated data, it’s the crowd sourcing that makes it work. What could I apply that to?

And last, I also read a post about Getting Images for Every Kilometer of the UK, also at 538. Very similar idea, except this uses photos.

Giving Away Woodworking Magazines

I read a lot and one of the topics I enjoy reading about is woodworking. Recently I’ve been on a de-clutter kick and part of that is a trimming down a big stack of wood working magazines. I sent some to a friend, and was thinking to drop the rest at the used book store at the local library as better than dropping in the recycle bin, but then I thought maybe there are people I know (or know me) that would enjoy some of them, or have a friend or relative that would. If you’re interested in getting a handful of magazines, some current and some years old (but still relevant!), drop me a note in the comments and I’ll split what I have across the first 10 people that comment by June 19, 2014 . Has to be a US address, and I’ll contact you via the email address attached to your comment to get the address. I’ll pay the shipping. Read, enjoy, donate, forward, recycle, it’s up to you.

D-Day, Family, Vets, and Life

Today is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, a day worth remembering and celebrating to be sure. I like that we do so, and that we have Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day too. My grandfather served in the Navy in WW2, my father was drafted and in post-war Korea, and I served 8 years in the US Army. I wasn’t shot at, maybe my grandfather was, but we all arrived back home undamaged. Not all do. Damaged or not, may struggle to adapt when they exit the military. There are differences in military and civilian life when it comes to work. Military experience is always a plus in my view, but it has to adapt to the civilian world, and that’s just one of the challenges. I know few vets that consider themselves victims. I’ve always felt funny about checking the veteran box on job applications. Listing it on my resume is fine, but I’m not sure I want any preference – hire me, or not, for my skills.

My perspective is, of course, American. Proudly so. But I’m sure vets in other counties are the same, as they should be. I worked with soldiers from the UK, Germany, Panama, and more, and while we all like to talk about who is better, when you get down to it soldiers (and airmen, and the rest) are soldiers. They do work that is hard, mundane, scary, exciting, for a relatively modest salary. They don’t always agree on politics or anything else, but they are still so similar – they’ve done some hard things and respect others that have, same country or not.

Later this year I’ll write about an idea I have where we – the SQL community we – might do something to help and celebrate veterans without losing focus on what we do and why, and how that same approach might extend to other causes. But for today, you might stop and think – as hard as our jobs can be at times, no one ever shoots at us. Changes your perspective some.

Peace Officers Memorial Day and Half Staff

Today is Peace Officers Memorial Day and that’s why the flag is at half staff (Had to search, I didn’t remember). Small comfort probably to those that have lost someone in the line of duty. Also a reminder to the rest of us that though we may have bad days at the office, it’s never about having someone trying to kill us.

The Wikipedia entry for half staff is interesting – half mast is reserved for naval vessels and you don’t have to fly the flag at half staff. There are a few sites out there that show when/why the flag is supposed to be at half staff, the one that seemed best to me was

Logistics For All Day Meetings

Quick thoughts about the work required to make all day meetings run smoothly:

  • Suitable space with enough seating (and reasonable chairs!)
  • Turn down the AC if the room is going to be crowded to help with the heat load
  • Plenty of power strips – few people will make it through the day on laptop battery only
  • At least one extra laptop power cable (someone will forget)
  • Might be worth bringing a couple USB cables or setting up a phone charging area
  • Know how to use the projector and who to call if any problems
  • Dry erase markers, post it charts, etc
  • Good phone and a conference bridge if needed
  • Printed instructions for connecting to WIFI (remember some laptops don’t have network jacks anymore)
  • And yes, an agenda and a facilitator to drive the agenda
  • If you’re using LiveMeeting or any of the similar products make sure you know how to use it and ideally get everyone set up ahead of time
  • Coffee and water near by, ideally in the room
  • Throw in a map to the break room, restrooms, and any on site cafeteria if you have people from outside joining you
  • Big trash can for lunch garbage (and you are providing lunch, right?)

I’ve seen a lot of meetings derailed just trying to get everyone on the network. Right behind it is trying to get someone to show something on LiveMeeting that hasn’t used it before.

A New Stressor

I tend to be amused when I run into something that causes me stress because I like to think – foolishly – that I’ve learned to manage stress and even avoid it by dealing with the underlying source of the stress. Last week I was in a meeting for 3-1/2 days. More workshop than meeting. I was there because they expected to get down to close to technical details and it was a chance to just learn more about this particular business. It turned out to be far more discovery than anyone expected and at a higher level than expected, which made me an observer struggling to stay engaged with topics far beyond what I was going to be involved with. It’s surprisingly hard to pay consistent attention in that situation, at least for me.

I tried to evolve a strategy on the fly. Part of it was working on my observation skills, assessing who ended up not meeting my first impression expectations for example. I watched how the meeting worked (and a couple times didn’t work) and though about the mechanics of all day vs 1 hour meetings. Note taking didn’t seem to work well because there just weren’t that many aha moments or action items for anyone. Going down the hall for coffee worked pretty well. The stress diminished once I realized I wasn’t going to be able to exit the meeting with a holistic picture. I’d have facts and ideas, but not correlated.

A strange week, and a stress lesson only partially learned.

Quarterly Goals

Over time I’ve settled on quarterly goals as the best way to focus on the stuff I most want to get done. I still think about my long term goals and I still have to do short term planning, but quarterly goals work out to be the most useful measure when explaining my goals to anyone else, including my family. This past quarter I had two things I wanted to get done, but one of them had to get done, and by mid quarter even my daughters could tell you about my goal and why some things were getting pushed aside. Not all goals have make or break deadlines and goals can always be adjusted (carefully), but they clarify the expenditure of time, money, and energy.  Sometimes a deadline is real, painful though it may be!

I will probably end up the year with about 3-1/2 quarters worth of goals because I tend to lose a few days planning the next quarter. I could be more rigid on this and when I’m managing at work I am (because cadence matters), but for my home/career there is a little more room for flexibility. Getting stuff done matters. Getting 100% of what is possible done isn’t a goal worth pursuing though, and there is nothing wrong with saying this quarter has no goals either.

I’m still thinking on my goals for this quarter. There is some writing I need to get done and I need to finish the SQLSaturday Orlando marketing plan and I’ll be presenting at oPASS and I need to plan summer vacation and I have an idea that I’ve been thinking on for a while and a book project that is lagging too. I’ll decide in another day or two, but right now I think it will be a quarter with 2 or 3 goals of similar size, with the total hours being something that won’t impact life at home much.

It’s still early in Q2, what will you get done this quarter?

A Nicely Made Smoke Detector

This may not be the exact model, but I bought 2 First Alert detectors at Costco for $23. Not a lot to installing any smoke detector, most have two screws that go into the ceiling and a cover that pops off so you can replace the 9v battery. Sounds easy enough, but getting the screws in the right place isn’t always simple and its always hard to remember how to pop the cover when you do the battery change (twice a year if you do it right). This one takes care of both problems. There is a separate base that fits a variety of existing screw patterns and if you don’t already have screws in the ceiling, you can just hold the base up and mark the location for the holes perfectly. Mount the base, then the detector gets fastened with just a simple quarter turn. The battery (AA below, but 9V in mine) is in a pull out tray. Pull out, change battery, push back in, done. It’s not a Nest Protect, but it works out to be $235 cheaper for the two (which doesn’t mean I may not buy one, just not today).

Thinking you haven’t changed batteries lately? Go do it, you’ll sleep better knowing it’s done.